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A Tribute to the Power of Determination, Cooperation, and Volunteerism
By Carole Barnard

Many people know the Historical Society of the Tonawandas has operated the Benjamin Long Homestead for forty years. Few realize, however, that efforts on the building’s behalf were initiated twelve years earlier.

On January 27, 1969, Society members Willard Dittmar, Robert Lloyd, and Stuart Tuck met with Tonawanda Mayor Creasey and members of the City Council. They discussed the acquisition of “Jay’s Log Cabin” and the surrounding land for use as a museum and park. At this meeting, City Fathers agreed to purchase the property if half of the price could be obtained from New York State as a grant-in-aid. The 1829 log home would then be turned over to the Society for restoration and use as a museum. Efforts languished until late 1976. The January, 1977, THE LUMBER SHOVER reported that work on the acquisition was progressing. Mayor Sheridan Creekmore was responsible for securing funds for the purchase with restoration work to begin that Spring.

Work on the grounds was begun and the sale of the property to the City was finalized in September, 1977. Mayor Sheridan Creekmore appointed Willard Dittmar to the Mayor’s Civic Advisory Committee. Its purpose was to see the building restored to the 1829 period. Society members Jack Carney, Richard Garrity , Kathy McKenzie, Jane Penvose, and Stuart Tuck formed the nucleus which would implement plans drawn by the Shelgren and Marzec architectural firm.

The 1800 to 1840 Empire period was chosen, partly inspired by furnishings from the family of Congressman Henry P. Smith III, great grandson of Christiana Long Smith, the middle daughter of Benjamin and Mary Long, at the time of their arrival in the Tonawandas.

Edway Construction of North Tonawanda was the successful bidder for the structural work which commenced in early Summer, 1978. By October, the building had a new roof. Cedar siding had been placed over the exterior timbers. Plumbing, heating, and wiring were installed, a concrete floor was poured on the ground floor, and interior walls were plastered. Due to a lack of funding, the decision was made to leave the third floor, intended as a spinning and weaving room, unfinished.

By January, 1979, all work by Edway Construction was complete, including the installation of pine flooring on the first floor, painting the exterior trim and priming the interior woodwork. The building was turned over to the Historical Society for interior painting and the remainder of the restoration.


Interior painting by John Dahl, Willard Dittmar, Richard Garrity, Joseph Penvose, Carl Roth, Robert Schweitzer and Stuart Tuck commenced in April, 1979. Charles Dahl crafted and installed wood brackets and poles for hanging curtains. Kathy McKenzie and Jane Penvose selected period appropriate fabric for the curtains which they, along with Marjorie Bellinger, Delores Biles, Mildred Garrity, Karen Hoyer, Ann Montante, and Betty Tuck, hand stitched.

By September of that year, the ground and first floor painting was complete. Flooring on the first floor had been sanded, stained and finished. The curtains were ready to hang. The grounds had been graded to prepare for the execution of landscape plans drawn by Ed Grapes. The work was to be financed by Community Block Grants. The Society had signed a five year lease making it responsible for the interior routine maintenance, upkeep and utility bills.

Finish work continued through the Spring of 1980. Monetary donations by such entities as the Rotary and Zonta Clubs, plus individual donations financed interior furnishings to supplement what the Society already had.

Grand opening ceremonies on June 1, 1980, included the reading of a history of the Homestead and its ownership by the Benjamin Long family. Mayor G. Delwin Hervey surrendered the key to Willard Dittmar. Attendees included City officials, Boy and Girl Scout troops who had participated in the restoration, Society members, and the general public. Sunday tours, coordinated by Marjorie Bellinger, Willard Dittmar and Jane Penvose, commenced that day and continued through November 1, setting a precedent continued to the present.

Through the winter, volunteers catalogued the artifacts decorating the building. The City installed plexiglas over the ground floor windows to improve heat retention.

In September, 1981, Charles Dahl, Willard Dittmar and Carl Roth used sand donated by Morningstar Concrete Products and old brick from Grove Street and an abandoned street on Goose Island to form a walkway in front of the Homestead. Two sugar maples, a semicircle of five black walnut trees and two red oaks were planted by the City Parks Department under the direction of Bob Peters.

When the Homestead reopened in June, 1981, a loom had been installed in the second floor weaving room. Wilson Hardleben made missing pieces and put it into working order

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Official Home:  The Historical Society of the Tonawandas, Inc.
Museum and General Office:  113 Main Street, Tonawanda, NY, 14150-2129
(716) 694-7406     Email  tonahist@gmail.com
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