Torn-Down Tuesday: The Fargo Mansion, home of a Wells Fargo founder - The Buffalo News
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Torn-Down Tuesday: The Fargo Mansion, home of a Wells Fargo founder

William Fargo, a founding partner in Wells Fargo and Co., also served as Buffalo’s mayor from 1862 to 1865. (Buffalo News archives)

A cursory glance along Fargo Avenue shows little evidence of the express mail magnate whose name not only adorns the street signs of this neighborhood but also once adorned the iconic stagecoaches of the Wells Fargo.

In 1872, William Fargo, one of two founders of Wells Fargo & Co., built a lavish mansion on five acres of land bounded by Fargo and West avenues and Jersey and Pennsylvania streets. But just as the way express mail was delivered across the country changed, so, too, has this neighborhood, and only a marker at the intersection of Fargo and Jersey hints at the mansion that once stood along these grounds.

William Fargo got his first taste of mail delivery while delivering it on horseback as a 13-year-old boy. Later, as a partner in American Express, he saw the need for the delivery of letters, goods, gold and money as the nation continued to grow. During America's westward expansion, the U.S. Postal Service was slow, costly and unreliable, as packages were often lost or stolen. It also failed to deliver to some areas.

Upon the discovery of gold in 1849, Fargo sought to expand the company’s footprint into California, but he was rebuked by his business partners. Undeterred, he created the Wells Fargo & Co. with Henry Wells in 1852.

Wells Fargo quickly set up offices in mining towns across the territory, offering not only express mail but banking services as well. It participated in the Pony Express, delivering mail from Salt Lake City, Utah – where 70,000 Mormons had fled to escape persecution — to San Francisco.

The Pony Express, despite its place in American lore, only operated for 18 months and folded with the first transmission of the transcontinental telegraph. Wells Fargo was likewise adversely affected, as news could travel by telegraph as opposed to stagecoach. The company continued to deliver goods, but it was struck yet another crippling blow with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

A Wells Fargo & Co. wagon in Deadwood, S.D., in 1890. It carried $250,000 in gold bullion from a nearby mine and was heavily armed. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Three years later, in 1872, William Fargo resigned from the company that bore his name and moved into the lavish mansion at the intersection of Fargo Avenue and Jersey Street. From inside, Fargo – who had also served two terms as the city's mayor – welcomed fellow politicians such as Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland and author Mark Twain.

Fargo spared no expense on the mansion, which was built at a cost that would exceed $12 million today; it was even rumored the doorknobs were made of gold. In 1963, The News described the home as "one of the show places of the Northeast," a "huge and ornate mansion" with the aforementioned gold knobs and "the first residential elevator in the city." It had a five-story-tall tower, fountains and elaborately landscaped grounds.

In 1881, Fargo died in his beloved home. Nine years later, his widow, Anna, died, and the home sat vacant for 10 years. It was finally demolished in 1900, and the 5-acre estate that this industrial titan once called home was divided into lots for the houses that stand there today.

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