Monday, October 8, 2012

Lewis Hamilton Redfield House (1816) Remodeled Beyond Recognition

 Lewis H. Redfield House at 314 Millburn Drive, built ca. 1812, before and after recent changes.
Photo top: PACNY 1976.  Photo bottom: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2012

Lewis Hamilton Redfield House (ca. 1812)  Remodeled Beyond Recognition
by Samuel Gruber

I had a great shock yesterday when I visited Millburn Drive in Onondaga Valley, a small street north of West Seneca Turnpike, and one of the oldest areas of European settlement in Syracuse.  The tiny Lewis Hamilton Redfield House built ca. 1812, one of Syracuse's most historic houses, has been remodeled beyond recognition.  Until just a short time ago the house was one of the best preserved early settler structures in the region.  You can still go to Google Streetscape and see how it looked.  The house facade was made of flush boards to imitate masonry, a feature now lost beneath the new siding.  The door frame, windows and moldings have been changed.  The chimney is gone and other features have been altered. 

According to Evamaria Hardin, in Syracuse Landmarks (p 277), the one and half-story frame cottage has been altered before, though probably not to this extent.  It was built by Syracuse's first journalist Lewis H. Redfield along West Seneca Turnpike, on the site of the present-day Unity Church, formerly St. Paul's Methodist Church.  It was moved slightly north on Millburn when the church was built, and subsequently served as a parsonage between 1884 and 1900.  A front porch was removed in the past.  The shutters seen in the 1976 photo may have been a late 19th-century addition.

Redfield, who is commemorated with a recently restored statue at Forman Park, built and lived in this house when he first published in 1814 the weekly Onondaga Register, the region's first newspaper.  In 1820 Redifeld was postmaster and the house served as a post office.  Redfield moved his paper to the new and expanding village of Syracuse in 1829. 

The changes made to this house (and the recent re-siding of the late 19th-century Levi Chapman House on Westcott Street), should be a wake-up call that so many of our historic (and attractive) buildings are at risk of sudden transformation.  West Seneca Turnpike, the site of the Village Green, a locally protected site, still retains many historic and notable houses.  These is no guarantee, however, that these houses, which have survived for more than 175 years, will maintain their form and appearance.  West Seneca Turnpike between Onondaga Creek and Valley Drive should be a Protected Historic District.


  1. Sam,
    I think someone should print and mail this blog post to the owners of this house. These "renovations" are horrendous.

  2. This is sad, as was the transformation of 321 Westcott. Were these properties on our local register? If so, can't the City let the owners know about the historic significance when they take a permit out. If not, then we do need to take all necessary steps to get these properties on the list. One of my goals with the Westcott Sunday project has been to raise awareness of historically and architecturally significant structures and spaces in the hopes that awareness will encourage preservation. I am now thinking that notifying owners (in the case of Westcott Sundays, perhaps sending them the tours) of historically/architecturally structures is a great idea.

  3. I know personally that this home had extensive damamge to it. The NEW owner should be commended for taking the chance on being able to reform/restore it. If you didn't bother to purchase it yourself SHUT UP.

  4. Mary Jane - you are correct the house had extensive damage. Although nice, the above photo of the 1976 version of the house does not portray a more current state of the property. A more recent photo would show you the massively overgrown lanscape the hid most of the facade, a roof ready to collapse, peeling paint, and rotted "flush boards" that Samuel speaks so intimately about. The house had become nothing more than an eyesore for the neighbors to look at everyday. What a relieve it must be to everyone in the neighborhood that someone was willing to take on such a daunting project. Not to mention, it is clear that the new photo is not of a finished product but merely that of a work in progress. I wait in anticipation to see what the finished product will look like. The new owner should be applauded for all of the hard work that has been put into house and to have the courage to put a modern spin on an otherwise forgotten treasure

  5. Can you tell me the architect of the Allen St house? My home near SU is very similar in style and I would like to know more. Thanks...