Schoellkopf -Vom Berge Manor - Table of Contents

The Schoellkopf -Vom Berge Manor

by Julie Robinson Hazzan, Show House Historian

This stately English Manor, built in 1912, reflects the grand scale of life in Buffalo, New York for many large and influential German families at the start of the 20th century.

The Show House is located along Chapin Parkway - a greenway from Gates Circle to Soldiers Place.

Chapin Parkway originates at Gates Circle, originally known as Chapin Place. Gates Circle, named in 1902, was completed under the generosity of Mrs. Charles W. Pardee, a member of the Gates family, who was a resident of  938 Delaware Avenue. Mrs. Pardee underwrote the extensive work, done by E.B. Green, to upgrade this public space. Fountains, stairways and greenery were added to the circle and created an appropriate venue for the grand homes along Chapin Parkway.

Very few residences existed on Chapin Parkway prior to the Pan American Exposition - in fact, just three estates were on the property between Gates Circle and Delavan Avenue in 1899.

The Original Property

The property, which included the plot where the Show House stands today, was initially part of the Granger farmland and estate. Dating back to the early 1800s, the property incorporated an enormous tract of land that included what today is Forest Lawn Cemetery. At some time in the late 1800s the property along Chapin became the Augusta C. Graves Estate, which included a main residence facing West Delavan, a separate carriage house and a third structure, possibly used as a private stable. In the early 1900s, the First Church of Christ Scientist owned an additional portion of the property where the Show House now stands.

The Pan-American Exposition, which opened just north of this home in 1901, attracted visitors from around the world. At the construction of the exposition, and in conjunction with Buffalo's growing economic strength and population expansion, there was a high demand for residences. Many larger estates were divided down to allow for construction of stately homes, built on smaller pieces of property along the city's more distinguished Frederick Law Olmstead Parkways including Chapin, Bidwell Lincoln, Richmond, Porter, Red Jacket and McKinley.

Building permits for residences were approved at break-neck speed by Buffalo's Common Council, with each permit noting residential address, the name of the deed holder and the architect.

The Architect

August Carl Esenwein was a founding partner and prominent architect of Esenwein & Johnson, the firm who designed the home at 121 Chapin. Like the original owners family, the architect was a German who benefited greatly from immigrating to Buffalo, New York. At a time when a strong work ethic, education and talent provided great opportunist, Mr. Esenwein took full advantage. He was rewarded for his talents and hard work with many jobs, including designing the Temple of Music, the Administration Building and Alt Nurnberg for the Pan American Exposition.

In addition to other residences on Chapin -- a large home at 142 Bidwell was featured in a 1907 issue of American Architect & Building News -- Esenwein handled many large public projects, including the original Buffalo Public Library, the old Iroquois Hotel, the Statler hotel, Lafayette High School, the original Saturn Club and six Buffalo grammar schools.

A Southern Colonial house designed by Esenwein & Johnson in 1902 for Harlow C Curtiss, was featured in July, 1904 House Beautiful. The reporter noted, "There is a spacious dignity about this house which is often lacking in the modem colonial dwelling." Esenwein also designed a massive residential compound at 154 Soldiers Place for E.M. Statler, which included a large home, a pool dipping well pergola, playhouse and exedra.

Designed in 1912 and incorporating many English manor characteristics, the architect's renderings for 121 Chapin Parkway indicated a side entrance brick structure with a separate carriage house. Rooms were large with high ceilings and massive windows, stairwells were wide, common gathering areas were designed to allow for a large number of guests and bedrooms were comfortable and spacious. Kitchen space, back stairs and servants' quarters allowed for discreet service. The manor was designed for the home's first resident: Genevieve Schoellkopf-Vom Berge.

Telling of the closeness amongst prominent Germans in Buffalo at the start of the 20th century, when August Carl Esenwein passed away in 1926, C.P. Hugo Schoellkopf, Genevieve's uncle, was among his honorary pallbearers.

The First Owner: A Strong Woman from A Strong Family

A home can have a rich history - one noting the physical structure of the residence, including detail on all the design elements, building materials, architectural influences and structural dimensions.

But far richer is the history of the occupants. Many times, they represent the historical period and society. The history of this residence is compelling -- it is rich both in the variety of owners and the stories of their time in the home. The elegance of the home, the furnishings, and the social memberships give us a glimpse into the lives of the residents who occupied 121 Chapin Parkway throughout the 1900s.

Genevieve Schoellkopf was born in Buffalo 1884, the daughter of Myrtle and Louis Schoellkopf. Genevieve was a granddaughter of "King Jacob," Jacob Frederick Schoellkopf, one of the most successful German immigrants in Western New York at the turn of the century.

Jacob Schoellkopf epitomized a true industrialist, with interests in tanneries, banking, paper milling, hotels, flour milling, and perhaps most lasting, harnessing power from Niagara Falls and producing hydroelectricity. The Schoellkopf Generating Station eventually became part of Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation. Jacob and his wife Christine had six sons and one daughter, among them Louis, Genevieve's father.

Not much is known about Genevieve's youth. However, all of Jacob's grandchildren were clearly part of a close-knit family. All of the sons played an important part in establishing and overseeing Jacob's business interests. Children and grandchildren were educated in the United States, and many were also sent to Germany for part of their final years of higher education. Schoellkopf homes were in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Pennsylvania (near their tanneries), and homes in View, Wanakah and Derby were also purchased as summer residences.

Henry Vom Berge.
Click on photo for larger size

It is in this setting, after the conclusion of the Pan-American Exposition, that Genevieve was introduced to her first husband, Henry Vom Berge.

Henry, also of German descent, was the son of city engineer George Vom Berge and mother, Marie Vom Berge. Marie Vom Berge was born in Denmin, Germany in 1846 and came to the U.S. in 1863. Nine years later, at the age of 26, Marie married George Vom Berge. In 1887, Mrs. Marie Vom Berge began employment at Buffalo Public School #37 as a German Teacher. In 1892, she was appointed to the position of assistant principal, a position she held at School #37 until her retirement in 1918.

Marie Vom Berge's son, Henry, was a graduate of Canisius College and an employee of the Schoellkopf & Company tannery. Henry married Genevieve Schoellkopf in 1907 in an impressive ceremony in Westminster Presbyterian Church. Jacob Schoellkopf Jr. stood in for his late brother, Louis, and gave the bride away. The normal decorations, both at the church and the home of the bride, have never been equaled in Buffalo and were as artistic as they were elaborate," a local newspaper reported.

The ceremony was performed in the presence of a "large and brilliant assemblage and the reception followed at the Schoellkopf mansion on Oakland Place.

Genevieve and Henry had one son, Henry Schoellkopf Vom Berge, born in 1908. Genevieve was active in charitable organizations and in church activities at Westminster. Four years after his marriage to Genevieve, Henry Vom Berge died in 1911 of typhoid fever.
After her husband's death, Genevieve kept the Vom Berge name and with her son, moved into the home at 121 Chapin Parkway in late l912.

Genevieve Marries Again

Genevieve was surrounded by her uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews during those years after the death of her first husband. Her son Henry had many cousins located in Buffalo, all part of the Schoellkopf extended family.

On December 1, 1915, Genevieve married Mr. Jefferson Penn. Penn was raised in the world of tobacco farming, his family having founded Penn Tobacco Company in Reidsville, North Carolina. He attended the University of Virginia and had ties to the Schoellkopf through his sister Mattie Irwin Penn, who had married Paul Schoellkopf, Sr. in 1911.

Jefferson and Genevieve maintained their home at 121 Chapin, and also purchased a summer home on the lake shore at Wanakah, near Seeheim, the Fred Schoellkopf estate. They had one son, Spencer, born in 1918.

Genevieve Schoellkopf Vom Berge Penn died April 22, 1919, at the age of 35, and was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. In tribute to his late wife, Jefferson Penn announced in November 1919, that he would construct and equip a hospital in his hometown of Reidsville, NC, as a memorial to his wife. In April, 1922, Mr. Jefferson Penn made a gift to the Buffalo Foundation, establishing the Genevieve S. and Spencer Penn Memorial Fund. Sadly, his son had contracted polio and died in 1921 at the age of 4.

Mr. Penn remained at the house at 121 Chapin until 1923, then returned to North Carolina with his second wife, Margaret Beatrice Penn. Margaret was Genevieve's cousin, daughter of Arthur and sister of Paul.

Paul, who succeeded his father as president of the Niagara Falls Power Company upon its merger with Niagara Hudson Power Company, (now known as Niagara Mohawk) became chairman of the board of that company.

A Second Family Takes Residence In The 1920's

The second family to reside at 121 Chapin lived in the home for over 30 years. Mr. James H. McNulty and his wife Harriet, originally from Chicago, had relocated to Buffalo in 1902, where Pratt & Lambert built its main plant. They had moved the principal office from New York City to Buffalo. Mr. McNulty became president of Pratt & Lambert in 1917.

Mr. and Mrs. McNulty's first residence in Buffalo was 116 Oakland Place.
They took residence at 121 Chapin in 1924. The family also owned a summer home, Oak Crest, in Lake View, NY.

Mr. McNulty was a well-respected leader in the community, guiding Pratt Lambert during his tenure as president. An article on James McNulty noted, "Probably among all of his interests, the University of Buffalo was nearest his heart. His leadership in its behalf, in its reorganization and in its drive for its $5 million endowment to build a College of Science and Arts on the University campus, endeared him to the whole community."

James McNulty was a member of The Buffalo Club, the Country Club of Buffalo, The Ellicott Club, Wanakah Country Club, Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, and the Lake Shore Hunt Club. He also maintained memberships at the Chicago Athletic Club, Seaview Golf Club and the Engineer's Country Club of Long Island.

Mrs. McNulty was active in various civic organizations, and served as president of the Women's Board of Millard Fillmore Hospital. She was active in Westminster Presbyterian Church and served as a trustee of the First Church of Evans, near her summer home.

After her husband's untimely death in 1926, Harriet McNulty maintained memberships at the 20th Century Club, Country Club of Buffalo, Wanakah Country Club and Buffalo Athletic Club.

Most notable, however, is the fact that at a time when few women were present in board rooms anywhere in the United States, much less in the board room of a large industrial firm, Harriet McNulty became a member of Pratt & Lambert's board of directors at the time of her husband's death and remained a board member for 23 years.

Mr. & Mrs. McNulty had three daughters:

• Mrs. Robert E. Dillon (Marion Alice)

• Mrs. Burton F Wilkinson (Elizabeth)

• Mrs. Willcox B. Adsit (Harriet)

All three daughters attended The Buffalo Seminary, followed by the completion of education at Miss Porter's School, in Framington, Conn.

At the time of James McNulty's death in 1926, a tribute noted that his interests were large and varied, but he made few appearances before the general public. In 1927, Mrs. McNulty and her daughters, in memory of James, established an endowment at UB, and also provided a fund to assist needy students at The Buffalo Seminary. In addition, the family made a gift in Mr. McNulty's memory to Children's Hospital for a nursery.

Mrs. McNulty stayed in the home until her passing in 1956.

A Notable Third Residence

Dr. Leslie H. Backus, his wife Helen Torrey Grant and Daughter Leslie Ann moved to 121 Chapin Parkway in 1956. Dr. Backus was an internationally known plastic and reconstructive surgeon. A member of numerous medical societies, Dr. Backus served as a medical officer to President Roosevelt and his advisers at the Yalta Conference during World War II. The home remained in the Backus family until 1963.

Through the Sixties to Today

The Schoellkopf-Vom Berge Manor passed through a number of families from the mid sixties to today. At times, the home was vacant. Reflective of the region's economy, the home dropped in value during the seventies and eighties.

Like many grand residences within the City of Buffalo, this home has been rediscovered. As a Show House, its doors are open to thousands of visitors who can only imagine the history of those who resided here in the past. The enduring design of August Carl Esenwem takes us back to a period of grandeur. The Schoellkopf-Vom Berge Manor has now reached a facelift and polish, and is truly a welcoming residence as we begin another century in the City of Light, the same light that was the legacy of the owners first resident.

Special thanks to Patty O'Brien of the Junior League for her cooperation and patience

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