The Lilacs

David P. & Kate Page

David P. Page (mostly known as D. P. during his lifetime) was born in 1827 in Pennsylvania, where his parents had moved to from New Hampshire. Kate (Catherine Van Keuren) was born in 1832 in New York and lived in Orleans County before marrying David. They were married on May 17, 1852 with Rev. William Putnam officiating. D. P. was the Deputy Superintendent of Erie County Penitentiary and Supervisor of Buffalo’s 8th Ward at this time and the wedding was prominently featured in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser newspaper.

D. P. and Kate had two children – a son (Bryon F - born in 1853) and a daughter (Ida J - born in 1855). The 1870 census finds them all living on Prospect Avenue in Buffalo, along with a 23 year old English domestic servant, Emma Feltham. Ida died in May 1872 just a couple weeks short of her 17th birthday. Byron worked in the ironworks business with his father at Pratt & Letchworth for a few years in the mid 1870s, while still living at home. He then moved out on his own to a sales related job for the rest of that decade. The last we know of Bryon was in the early 1880s when he was running a boots and shoes business called Emery & Page located on Main Street in Buffalo.

Although D. P. had been born in Pennsylvania, he spent most of his adult life in Buffalo, where he achieved considerable business success. While most of his success was connected to the Erie County Penitentiary, it is interesting that he both started and ended his long business career in the livery related business. He started out in his early 20s partnering with G. W. Taylor in Taylor & Page, canal stable keepers, which business was located near the commercial slip in Buffalo. In fact, both D.P. and his partner shared living accommodations near their business. The business lasted a few years, after which D. P. moved on to become the Keeper of a work house (per the 1850 Buffalo City Directory). He then joined the Erie County Penitentiary, which had been constructed on Buffalo’s west side in 1846, becoming Deputy Superintendent and then Keeper. In the late 1850s he left the Penitentiary and became involved in a hardware business for a few years, known as Grove & Page (lime and brick dealers).

However, during the 1860s he returned to the Penitentiary, this time as the Superintendent of the Pratt & Letchworth (P&L) iron works unit there (he was listed in the Penitentiary’s Annual Report as Superintendent of Factories) (* note also that John A. Case, an earlier owner of The Lilacs, was on the Board of Commissioners of the Penitentiary at that time). When constructed, the Penitentiary included a workhouse for prisoners convicted of minor crimes, and the Penitentiary entered into a contract with Pratt & Letchworth for the use of prison labor in the company’s operations. Buffalo was one of the major manufacturing centers in the U.S. at this time, and P&L was one of the largest of Buffalo’s many iron works businesses. The P&L unit under contract to the Penitentiary produced saddlery and harness wares. This unit was of great importance to the Penitentiary as the largest portion of income the Penitentiary received was from P&L for convict labor.

Being responsible for this unit must have been a very challenging assignment for D. P. because the workers (inmates) were generally not productive people, and also because the work force was very transitory (prisoners serving over 90 days were classified as experienced workers and paid more). For example, the 1876 Penitentiary Report shows that 3,520 inmates were committed during the year, but only 338 people were in confinement at year-end (the major portion of inmates were incarcerated for relatively short periods, primarily for public intoxication or drunk and disorderly related charges). As Buffalo was a major industrial center, it had a huge labor work force, a good portion of which was transient in nature. Buffalo also had a large number of saloons, taverns, etc to serve this segment of the population – with the predictable result of the level of “drinking” incarcerations outlined above. P & L had built another shop on Main Street near the Penitentiary, and subsequently determined that productivity at this shop (with regular full-time workers) was approximately double that of their Penitentiary shop (i.e. 300 workers in their regular shop could produce as much as 600 inmate workers in their Pen shop). As a result, and after more than a 30 year relationship with the Penitentiary, P&L terminated their Penitentiary contract in December 1886. This may also have served to bring to an end the work house era at the Penitentiary. This also led to retirement for David Page, then 59 years old, and his and Kate’s subsequent relocation to East Aurora. As a matter of interest, P & L had spun-off their saddlery and harness hardware unit into a separate company in 1877, and it subsequently grew to a dominant position in its field, being the largest manufacturer of saddlery hardware in the U. S.

It seems that David and Kate moved quite often. For example, during the 1870s and 1880s they lived in a number of different houses in Buffalo. They moved to East Aurora in 1890 following his retirement, and lived on Walnut Avenue for less than one year before purchasing The Lilacs in May 1891. Their purchase of The Lilacs from Rhoda Griggs may also have entailed an exchange of their property on Walnut Street. Electricity came to East Aurora in early 1891 – a mere 10 years after Edison invented the electric incandescent light bulb – and David & Kate may have been responsible for bringing electricity to The Lilacs. However, they only lived at The Lilacs for approximately one year before selling it to Robert Van Keuren (Kate’s brother). They then moved to another house on East Main Street (in the village), to which they made extensive repairs and improvements. They subsequently moved back to Buffalo in 1895, exchanging their East Main St. property with A. D. Husted for his Lafayette Avenue, Buffalo property.

Upon returning to Buffalo, David continued to be active in his business life. He was listed in the Buffalo City Directory in the latter 1890s as operating a livery and boarding stables business at 42-44 Seventeenth Street (just off Richmond Avenue). Prior to D. P. assuming control of this business, it had been known as Adams & Brown for several years and enjoyed a good reputation – their advertisement stated “Boarding & Livery Stables, Coaches, Coupes & Cabriolets, Boarding a Specialty”. Incidentally, the beautiful old red brick building on Seventeenth Street that housed this livery business still survives, and is used today for a photography business.

As noted previously, Kate was the older sister of Robert Van Keuren, to whom David and Kate sold The Lilacs when the Van Keuren family moved from Iowa to East Aurora in 1892. Kate may have also had other relatives and acquaintances in Sioux City, Iowa as she and David traveled there on several occasions both before, and for several years after, Robert and his family moved to East Aurora - for example, the East Aurora Advertiser reported that the Pages spent the 1892-93 winter in Sioux City, IA. In fact, David & Kate traveled frequently, and appeared to enjoy spending the summers at Ashbury Park on the New Jersey shore. During their time in East Aurora, the Pages made many lasting friendships and continued to return to East Aurora quite frequently to visit friends. In addition, Kate Page would occasionally spend time (a week or so) visiting with Robert and his family.

Kate passed away in Buffalo in October 1897 at the age of 65 years, followed by David’s death some 3 years later in October 1900 at the age of 74 years.