B U F F A L O N E W S
once owned by Cleveland's family recovers gates auctioned off 43 years ago
By EMMA D. SAPONG
News Northtowns Bureau
The wrecking ball never touched the Riverlea farmhouse because a fledgling group of Grand Island historians stepped in and persuaded the state to buy the home, which now houses the Grand Island Historical Society.
But by that time, the ornate gates - and just about everything else in the house - had been sold. The gates went to a home on Towerwood Road.
But after more than 40 years, the gates have returned to the property. The Makowski family, recent owners of the Towerwood Road home, donated the gates to the society. The gates were sandblasted and repainted, and were remounted Wednesday on the original stone pillars at the East River Road entrance to the house.
"It's probably the biggest thing that's happened to the society since the society helped save Riverlea," said Curt Nestark, president of the society. "To have an original piece returned is amazing, it's great."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. next Wednesday. A reception will follow. The event will include presentations by a member of the Makowski family, society and elected officials.
The property was built in 1849 as the summer home of Lewis F. Allen, a businessman and uncle-in-law of President - and former Buffalo Mayor - Grover Cleveland. The prominent Hussey family, who lived in the house from 1908 to 1962, installed the gates in the early 1920s or '30s.
Michelle Makowski, whose family donated the gates to the society, said she and her relatives were not aware of their history. Last year, after the family put the house up for sale, the society contacted them, seeking to buy the gates. But Makowski said the family opted to donate them.
"We just decided we would rather give them to somebody that would take and care and preserve them," said Makowski, who now lives in Rochester. "We really thought it was great thing to know we were part of something like that."
Makowski said her family had only one request - that the gates memorialize her father, who died in 2003 after a battle with cancer. Nestark said a plaque will be placed in the garden next to the gates.
He said he hopes the return of the gates will inspire other residents to contribute other pieces from the home or encourage them to share their stories about the historic families that once lived there.