A day or two after a unique, historic home at 115 Kennedy Street in Bradford was torn down this summer, I happened to mention its demolition to a friend and heard the shocked response, “Nooooo, you’re kidding!”
The two-story house, which had been built in 1884 by Benjamin Dikeman, a noted river pilot and an early settler of Bradford, stood out among other historic homes in town with its unique, flattish mansard roof, second-floor dormer windows and ornate bottom-floor shuttered windows.
I lived in the South for several years, and this style of home, with its quaint front porch supported by columns topped by a gingerbread design, reminded me of historic homes tucked back under live oaks in New Orleans.
Consequently, during my walks or rides along Kennedy Street, it was fun to stop or slow down to look and imagine what the home next to the Tunungwant Creek must have been like back in its day — when women in long skirts and men in straw hats might have stopped by to sip on a glass of cold lemonade on the front porch during a warm summer night.
Yeah, I know this all sounds pretty corn ball, but it was one of those structures that made me, and I’m sure other historic home nuts, drive down Kennedy Street just to see it and drink it in.
Sally Costik, curator of Bradford Landmark Society and a member of the Historic Architectural Review Board in town, said there had been little hope for the vacated Dikeman home as it had heavy mold and decay that had been left unchecked for years.
Costik, who had chronicled a number of older homes in her “Historic Homes of Bradford” book that was published in 2001, noted that since its publication, at least five of the homes featured, including the Dikeman structure, have been demolished for one reason or another. A number of others likely have uncertain futures due to decay or general neglect.
In explaining why the historic structures should be preserved and saved, Costik provided the obvious reason, which is that they attract tourists and lend to the beauty of the community.
A case in point was the preservation of Old City Hall on Kennedy Street, which came very close to a visit with the wrecking ball a couple of decades ago. Thanks to the perseverance of former mayors and city leaders, state and federal money was found to save the landmark building in downtown Bradford.
Now, years after its renovation, it is hard to imagine the city without this majestic, 122-year-old brick structure with its Victorian Romanesque Revival design.
Costik noted Old City Hall, which is fully occupied and an integral part of the community, is such a landmark that it’s found on logos, signs and advertisements for Bradford.
Fortunately, there are other old structures in the area that are being saved by owners who want to restore them for the sake of holding on to a part of Bradford’s past when dozens of mansions and lovely homes were built by millionaires during the oil boom of the late 19th century.
There’s the former home of George G. Blaisdell, founder of Zippo Manufacturing Co., at 162 Kennedy Street that was in a state of disrepair and was literally saved from demolition by Brad and Kim Preston. There are other old structures, such as the Flatiron Building on Boylston Street, whose owners are ensuring it remains a vibrant part of the community. The Flatiron, owned by Tim and Kristin Asinger, is regularly rented as an Airbnb and was also opened to the community during a Bradford Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event this year. A gorgeous home at 139 Jackson Ave. is also finding new life in the community with Dennis and Patty Stromberg, who bought the property last year and will share it with visitors during Bradford Landmark’s tour of historic homes on Sept. 28. Also on that tour will be the Flatiron, as well as the Prestons’ and Strombergs’ homes, among others.
“The theme or goal of this year’s house tour is that you don’t have to demolish an old building, or turn it into apartments,” Costik said. “You can actually restore it into something nice and bring it back to what it was … too many of the big houses are apartments.”
Perhaps a show of support by the community during the tour will not only provide funds for Bradford Landmark during its 50th anniversary this year, but will also bolster interest in nurturing and saving Bradford’s lovely past.
(Kate Day Sager is a reporter with The Bradford Era and Olean Times Herald. She can be reached at email@example.com)