The Lilacs

Robert S. & Delia L. Van Keuren

Robert was born in the town of Rhinebeck in the Hudson River Valley of New York State in 1834. His early adult years were spent in Connecticut where he was married in 1858 to his first wife, Kate Fairchild. They had 2 children before Kate passed away in 1865. Robert subsequently married Delia Louise Baker. Delia was also from the Hudson River Valley area, and her mother’s family (the Marshall family) had been one of the pioneer families in Vermont. Robert and Delia moved to Iowa where they had four children – Charles (who died in infancy), William, George and Floyd.

Robert enjoyed a very successful business career in Iowa, first in wholesale grocery and then in banking. Upon Robert’s retirement, he purchased The Lilacs from his older sister and her husband, Kate and David Page, and moved to East Aurora in the spring of 1892. George and Floyd had actually moved to East Aurora a few years earlier to get enrolled in the East Aurora schools, and stayed with Kate and David Page at The Lilacs. The year 1892 was a very wet year in East Aurora, with the constant rains quite a problem for everyone, especially the farmers. The East Aurora Advertiser reported in early December 1892 that the Van Keurens gave a delightful dinner party to some of their friends, complete with music and dancing, and that the guests “had a merry time returning home on foot, as the road was in such poor condition”.

Although retired, Robert remained active in both commercial and community affairs and later served as the Confidential Accountant to W. I. Buchanan, the Director General of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Robert and Delia were also strong supporters of the church - Robert was Episcopalian and Delia was Presbyterian, and they primarily attended the Presbyterian Church in East Aurora.

The 1900 Census finds Robert and Delia living at The Lilacs with their three sons, William (a law student), George (hardware store clerk) and Floyd (at seminary). The sons carried on their parents’ strong sense of commitment to the greater community. William and Floyd both left this area in pursuit of their careers, although they regularly returned to visit their parents.
Floyd became a minister in the Episcopal Church, serving for a number of years in Erie, PA, then on to Indianapolis, IN and Columbus, OH – where he also lectured at Bexley Divinity School at Ohio State University - and then moving to the New York Episcopal Diocese in New York City in 1931. All this while, he frequently returned to East Aurora to visit his mother and his brother George. In the autumn of 1917, Floyd and his wife received a commission from the American Red Cross to do civilian relief and social reconstruction work among the refugees in the reclaimed villages of war-ravaged France and Belgium.
We don’t know very much about William after he left East Aurora, other than he worked for the Wall Street Journal in New York for a time, and died at 40 years of age in 1911 in El Paso, TX.

George was the only son to remain in this area, and subsequently became a long time East Aurora businessman. After graduating from high school and then the Bryant & Stratton Business School, he started work as a hardware store clerk in the 1890s. By 1910 he was a partner in a hardware business, which was expanded in 1926 to include appliances and refrigeration (Frigidair), as well as automobiles. In 1928 he sold off the hardware business, but continued on with the refrigeration and appliances for another 30 years. Both of his businesses were located in the Van Keuren Building, a brick building built in 1903 on the northeast corner of Main & Pine Streets. – a building which still stands. Advertisements in the local paper noted him selling DeLaval milking installations to large dairy farms, as well as various other high end items (Victorola), and autos (Cadillac, Chalmers, Hudson, Essex, Peerless). George was very involved in social affairs of the community, and remained active in business until his death in 1955 at age 79.

Robert and Delia moved from The Lilacs to a residence on Walnut Street in East Aurora for their remaining years. Robert passed away in 1912 at the age of 78. Delia continued to be active for another two decades, traveling frequently and spending winters at Southern Pines, NC. She passed away in 1934 at the age of 91.

Remnants of the February 8, 1897 morning edition of the Buffalo Express with “Mr. VanKeuren” clearly written in pencil on the upper right corner of the paper (presumably by the paper delivery) still survives at The Lilacs, having withstood all subsequent owners and changes to the house.