Forging Ahead 2: Rich Buffalo


The house that Thomas J. McKinney built. Credit:

As rich as grass shipped from Belgium

Just how rich was Buffalo in the early 1900s?

This rich: Oil tycoon Thomas J. McKinney built a mansion on Lincoln Parkway. It cost $1 million at the time — 1927 — and has 24 rooms and nine bathrooms.

To sod the yard, McKinney had grass shipped from a chateau in Belgium. It was watered regularly as it crossed the Atlantic and was installed in Buffalo, complete with an irrigation system to ensure it would never dry out.

The lawn was particularly impressive to neighbourhood dogs. McKinney ended up building an ornamental fence around the yard to keep them off of it.

On Delaware Avenue, otherwise known as millionaires row, was the Butler house, owned by prominent newspaper publisher Edward Butler, Jr.

The mansion was built on a hill, man-made to ensure its residents were physically higher than passersby. The hedges grew so tall, it was hard to see the home from the street.

A staff of 16 maintained the grounds even when the only resident was Butler’s wife Kate, who died in 1974.

Tiffany glass.

Tiffany glass.

Their churches too, reflected this wealth. Buffalo’s First Presbyterian Church has the longest-standing congregation in the city. Built in 1812, it features Tiffany stained glass throughout. No surprise, since church-goers at this location included prominent businessmen and industrialists.

Decades-old seating charts still hang in the hallways, showing where everyone sat. The more you paid into the collection plate each week, the closer you were to the altar.