The Lilacs

Harry M. & Eva Fowler Barker

Harry was born in Oswego, NY in December 1863, the youngest of a family of 7 children. It is unclear when the Barker family moved to Buffalo, although Harry’s father (Henry M. Barker) was a cashier for Commercial Line Steamers on Ohio Street in Buffalo by the latter 1870s. Henry went on to become a very successful accountant, providing consulting and expert services, with offices in the Chapin Block in Buffalo. Eva’s father, Theodore Fowler, had established the Buffalo office of the General Chemical Company in 1884 and was in charge of it for the next 40 years, retiring in 1924. The Fowlers lived in a grand house on Hodge Avenue, where Eva grew up with 2 sisters and a brother.

Harry and Eva were married on October 9, 1890 when Harry was 27 and Eva was 24. Their wedding was a major event on the social calendar for that season, and was well reported in the society sections of the Buffalo newspapers –
“The Church of the Good Shepherd was the scene of a very pretty wedding on Thursday evening, when the Rev. Mr. Berry, rector of the church, married Mr. Harry Munger Barker and Miss Eva Isabel Fowler. At seven o’clock the ushers, Mr. Clinton Bidwell and Mr. Henry Clifton, led the way up the aisle, followed by the bridesmaids, Miss Woodring and Miss Heyl of Dunkirk, one in soft gray, the other in white, and carrying La France roses. After them came little Alice and Theodore Fowler, and then the maid of honor Miss Grace Fowler, who immediately preceded the bride and her father. They were met at the altar by the groom and his best man, Mr. Frederick Russell. When the bridal party returned home, a dinner was served by Oaks, covers being laid for fifteen. The bride’s dress was white faille, softly trimmed with lace, with which she wore the veil of tulle, while the maid of honor wore white Lansdown and carried Marshall Neils.”

At one time, Harry had been the champion skater of the city of Buffalo. Upon leaving school, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps in the business world, where he was destined to enjoy great success and accumulate considerable wealth. His first job, at age 17, was as a clerk with the Central Rail Road. After a few years with the Rail Road, he became a bookkeeper, with offices in the same building as his father. Harry next moved into sales with DuPont Powder Co. which also had offices in the Chapin block. Clinton Bidwell (one of the ushers for Harry’s wedding) was the long-time general agent for DuPont in Buffalo. After a few years as salesman for Dupont, Harry migrated back to his bookkeeping business before turning to the grain industry in 1897. He joined with Charles Kennedy in the latter’s business Charles Kennedy & Co., grain commission merchants, with offices in the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce Building. After some 10 years with Charles Kennedy, another opportunity arose and Harry became the President of Electric Elevator & Milling Co., whose offices were also located in the Chamber of Commerce building.

A small group of Buffalo businessmen, led by Edward Eames, started a grain handling business in late 1896 that became known as the Electric Elevator Co. Eames had been a very successful grain merchant and well understood that profits in the grain business could be maximized by combining both the grain trading and grain storage ends of the business. As such, he was desirous of constructing an elevator. When constructed in 1897, the Electric Elevator had a 1 million bushel capacity and was internationally significant, as it was the first to use steel bins, and the first to use electric power. In 1908, Eames and his partners (including Henry Kneeland who was the treasurer and on-site manager of the business in Buffalo) decided to organize another company named the Electric Elevator & Milling Co. to handle the grain merchant side of the business, and they were able to attract Harry Barker to become president of this new company. It was also about this time that the Electric Elevator was enlarged to a capacity of 1 ¾ million bushels. Taking on this new responsibility must have not only been a most challenging assignment for Harry, but also a very prestigious appointment. Indeed, that year must have been exciting and memorable for both Harry and Eva, as it was the same year that they purchased The Lilacs and moved to East Aurora.

Harry’s tenure at the Electric Elevator & Milling Co. only lasted a few years. Following the death of Ed Eames in 1909, there apparently were some management disagreements amongst the remaining directors, resulting in the grain merchant business ceasing operation in 1911. Harry re-joined Charles Kennedy & Co. as the Treasurer until his retirement in 1915 due to health reasons. Altogether, Harry worked with Charles Kennedy for some 17 years.

Harry and Eva moved to The Lilacs in the spring of 1908 and immediately commenced making extensive alterations and repairs to the house, under the direction of Green and Wicks, Architects of Buffalo (E.B. Green and W.S. Wicks). Green & Wicks were Buffalo’s most prolific architectural firm at the turn of the century. In addition to designing commercial buildings, the firm was also much sought after by Buffalo society for private residences. As reported in the book “Buffalo Architecture: A Guide” they were particularly known for “the verticality and boxiness of late nineteenth century design”. It is also worth noting that about this same time Green & Wicks also designed and built the new Chamber of Commerce building in Buffalo where Harry had his offices. Although the exact details of Green & Wicks work at The Lilacs has apparently been lost to posterity, it primarily centered on the grand front rooms of the house - the Central Hall with its neo-classical entrance and archways flanking the Living and Dining rooms, and displayed their genius in the construction of the spectacular Conservatory.

Although Harry and Eva did not have any children of their own, they maintained very close ties with their respective families. They also became quite involved in community affairs. Eva was involved with the East Aurora Country Club when it came into existence in 1916, and was listed as the chairperson of the Refreshment Committee for the opening of the club.

Harry was confined to his home by illness in the summer of 1916, and passed away in late January 1917 at the age of 53, while staying at the Markeen Hotel in Buffalo. The Markeen was a grand hotel which catered to the carriage trade, and was located near the Buffalo General Hospital. Harry had done very well in business and, before he died, established a trust for Eva which generously provided for her comfort for the rest of her life. The Trust also provided some funds for all of Harry’s nephews and nieces, as well as Eva’s two sisters. Harry seemed to have been especially close to his oldest sister Helen (known as Ella) who married into the Richardson family. Ella’s son Harry H. Richardson and his wife Grace and their young family also lived in East Aurora and seemed quite close to Harry & Eva. Harry Richardson worked at the elevators in Buffalo, and his oldest son, Harry Barker Richardson (Harry Barker’s namesake) subsequently moved to Springville, NY and became a longtime banker in that area.

Following Harry’s death, Eva sold The Lilacs in December 1917 and moved back to Buffalo to live with her father and 2 sisters, Grace and Alice, neither of whom ever married. She occasionally returned to East Aurora to spend weekends with Harry Richardson and his family. Eva and her sisters spent the rest of their years living together in the family house on Hodge Avenue. They were clubwomen and were active in various charitable and club activities. They acquired a summer residence at Spruce Point, a popular upper crust area of summer residences in Boothbay Harbor, ME where they spent their summers. Alice was also an artist who specialized in painting watercolor seascapes during their summers in Maine. Eva passed away at the summer residence in August 1959, just short of her 93rd birthday – having been a widow for 42 years. Eva had continued to drive her 1958 Oldsmobile 98, 4 door sedan, up until shortly before her death.