Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tour of River Lea

When I walked through Beaver Island State park on November 7, I took pictures of the exterior of River Lea, which was President Grover Cleveland summer home. The building was closed so I did not get a chance to go inside.
On March 9, I got my opportunity. I went with members of the Friends of Allegany State Park on a tour of the house. Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society, gave the group a synopsis of the house’s history.
The history of the house actually started well before the house was built. In 1825, Mordechai Noah, who was a politician, diplomat, writer, editor, and playwright (he was a very busy guy), got the idea that he would buy Grand Island to be a homeland for the world's Jewish population. He bought a small portion of the island (he didn't have enough money to buy the whole thing), and he named it "Ararat." He then had a ceremony at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Buffalo. He had wanted to have a flag raising ceremony in Grand Island. Unfortunately, there was no way to transport all of the people who were attend to Grand Island. So... the ceremony was in Buffalo. It was followed by a giant parade, featuring the Buffalo Civic Band and the Masonic Band.
After the big event, Mordechai Noah left Buffalo, never to return.
Mordechai Noah had big dreams but realizing the dreams turned out to be too difficult.
After it became clear that Mordechai Noah’s dream of a Jewish homeland on
Grand Island was not going to be fulfilled, Lewis Allen, who was elected to the New York State Legislature in 1838, purchased a large percentage of Grand Island’s southern tip. In 1873, he built River Lea as a summer home for his son, W. Cleveland Allen, who was noted for being Grand Island’s first postmaster. River Lea also became famous for being the summer home of President Grover Cleveland. He was the first president to be married while serving as president and the first president whose wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland, gave birth to a child, their daughter Esther, in the White House. Cleveland was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, serving as president from 1885 to 1889 and as the 24th president from 1893 to 1987.

The picture above is a typical desk in a schoolhouse at that time. It was donated as a display in River Lea.

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