from Wellsville Daily Reporter Researched and Submitted by Mary Rhodes
Destruction of Beautiful Robertson Home Kindles Memories of Old Wellsville Days
By Jane Rooth (Reporter Staff Writer) August 1951
One of Wellsville’s oldest and most famed landmarks passed from the visual records of the village early today, but with its destruction the embers of memory blazed brighter than ever before.
The home of Alexander L. and Doctor Anna M. B. Robertson, in late years the Morrison B. Hayes Post American Legion Home, was begun in 1871.
In that year, Charles H. Simmons started the construction of the 22 room residence. This wealthy businessman died in April of 1875 before the pretentious home was completed. He had come to Wellsville in April 1864, from Oswayo, PA.
Mr. Robertson and his famed wife, a pianist of note throughout the United States and the world as well, came to Wellsville in 1883. They financed the completion of the Simmons home, only half done at the time of its originators death.
Until 1890, the Robertsons lived in comparative luxury in the splendid home which was graced by beautiful landscape, particularly for that time. In that year, the oil business in which Mr. Robertson had been engaged, met with financial reverses. Because of this monetary setback, Doctor Robertson opened the Wellsville Conservatory of Music on Sept 18, 1899. She conducted classes in several rooms located in the Newberry Building, present location of the L. C. Whitford Contracting business.
For many years, recitals of her pupils were conducted in the ball room on the third floor of the Victorian mansion. The local musician taught classes in piano, stringed instruments and base and harmony. She was instrumental in bringing teachers of merit from Buffalo and Rochester to join her in this cultural enterprise. Miss Carolyn Jenkins of Rochester taught voice; Professor F. W. Krafft of Buffalo gave instructions in instrumental music. These were only two of those on the Conservatory’s staff.
The home became more than a recital hall. In later years, Miss Gertrude Robertson, daughter of the owners and herself an accomplished harpist, conducted one of the most distinguished tea rooms ever to be operated in this section of New York State. It was known as “the Evergreens.” She and her staff catered to many wedding parties after the nuptial vows had been exchanged in a chapel, or summer house, on the North Main Street end of the grounds.
Miss Robertson, a painter of considerable merit, did much to make the home a place of lasting beauty. Not only did she paint chinaware fired in her kiln at the residence, but she also collected and refinished antiques with fascinating histories, which were used to furnish the home.
Among the furnishings which remained in the home in 1936 was a bed used by Governor DeWitt Clinton, a highboy, a Chippendale desk and a Hepplewhite chest, then more than 100 years old. A harpsichord used by the brother of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Jerome Napoleon, also graced the interior together with fabulous Florentine inlaid work. The latter may have been around one of the many fireplaces.
The 1896 history, “Allegany County and Its People,” makes no mention of the business in which Mr. Simmons was engaged. The book says “The 10 years succeeding the war period witnessed a very great change locally…many businessmen of energy, intelligence and honesty became citizens. Among them was C. H. Simmons, who came April, 1864, from Oswayo, Pa., where he had been in business. His goods came via the Erie to Wellsville and thence by old plank road to Oswayo..It (the road) was of immense benefit to Wellsville.” The history goes on to tell that in 1864 the road was getting out of repair and that “Charlie” decided to move to Wellsville. After the fire of 1867, Mr. Simmons financed the building of several business places here.
Among these were the Pioneer block and the Simmons block on the corner of West State Street and Main Street. Another of his well known buildings was the Riverside Collegiate Institute, once located on the site of the present Clifford Button residence.
Many persons in Wellsville have assisted the writer in gathering information about both the Robertson’s and Mr. Simmons. Mrs. Eva Harder, Miss Norma Dexter and Lin Dexter, all of Riverside, are the local living grand nieces and nephew of Mr. Simmons. Mrs. Harder says that her grand uncle operated a general store and used to make trips to Paris to purchase his merchandise. She says that he would bring her mother, his nieces, and her aunt may lovely gifts from these expeditions. Lumber business and construction work were also included in his investment ventures.
Conrad Arnold told the writer that Al Stadel, Newton Watson and his son, Herman Watson, and Fred Hauselt were carpenters who worked at various times on the Robertson home. They built additions and wings to suit the needs of the occupants. Mrs. Alexander B. Roberson also furnished newspaper clippings of invaluable worth from 1936 files.
Mrs. Lewis Thornton provided the writer with the anniversary historical volume and was helpful in explaining that the old plank road extended form Brooklyn Avenue to the present dirt road beyond the Sinclair Refinery.
The American Legion Home became that in 1944 and the Post had done considerable redecorating.
A wistful note of interest, we think, is that the William F. and Gertrude F. Jones home, now being replaced by a modern Jones Memorial Hospital, is probably the only other home of the same architectural design in Wellsville. How strange it is that one imposing structure should go by purposeful determination and that the other should “perish” by fire. But as we said, many memories will continue to blaze concerning the Robertson homestead and the Legion Home.