Turning east onto Virginia Street from Elmwood, the first sight you see is a house whose survival makes for an amazing tale. The house at No. 414 Virginia, is commonly known as the Coit House. it is thought to be Buffalo’s oldest structure, and it has traveled far.
On December 30, 1813, one of the nastier episodes of the War of 1812 left the Village of Buffalo burned to the ground by the British Army. George Coit, born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1790, had come to Buffalo in 1811 with a partner, Charles Townsend, to start a pharmacy on the village’s main street.
Coit was never deterred by much. After Buffalo burned, twenty or thirty large houses were built: Coit built his at the corner of Pearl and Swan Streets, a stone’s throw from his business. Coit married Hannah Townsend in 1815. The couple had 8 children and soon needed more space, so a rear section was added to the house in 1825. By that time, Colt and his partner were out of the drug store business, a smart move in the growing city. The partners, together with one Samuel Wilkeson, signed the $12,000 note which made it possible to begin work on the Buffalo Harbor, vastly easing the mind of Governor DeWitt Clinton. As a political matter, Governor Clinton wanted the Erie Canal to terminate in Buffalo; as a practical matter, Buffalo had to steal a march on Black Rock, and provide the developmental impetus to justify his decision. After the canal was opened, the Colt partnership joined with a Black Rock company to form the Troy and Erie Line, which plied the canal trade with great success.
After Coit’s death in 1865, and during the Post-Civil War boom, downtown residential properties were increasingly in the way of progress. Most of the oldest houses in Buffalo were simply demolished, but the Coit house was moved (no easy task in the 1870’s) to the present Virginia Street site. By 1966, the house had fallen so tar from its former grace that it was actually slated for demolition. Then the preservationists went to work. Attorneys John S. N. Sprague and John Anderson initiated the effort, staying demolition and involving the Historical Society (of which George Coit had once been a member) as well as the Chamber of Commerce. The Landmark Society took over the Coit House project in the early 1970’s but since it was a non-profit, unincorporated body, its ability to purchase the property was nul. Unwilling to see so many years of effort wasted, the Society’s president, Tony Fryer, took title to the property himself and sold it in less than a month to Henry and Linda Priebe, who completed the restoration. Covenants running with the property guarantee it against all inappropriate exterior changes.
The house is a three-storey Federal style building with a side-ending gable roof. The side gables are marked by returns, dentilated eaves, and half-circle fanlights. The facade eave is dentilated as well. Flat-capped six-over-six-light windows on the facade are crowned by pediments. Federal-era buildings are characterized by a symmetrical distribution of living space surrounding a central entryway. The Coit house has a simple center entry, a panelled door surmounted by a two light transom and brackets with sidelights along the full length. Chimney stacks are typically placed at either end of the house.
Don’t abandon Virginia Street yet. Walk east another block or so to No. 469 Virginia, which faces Virginia Place, the most well preserved of the few remaining carriage alleys in Allentown.
No properties were found on this street.