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HISTORY AT HULL HOUSE <br> RESTORATION AIMS TO MAKE HOME A LIVING MUSEUM

The oldest stone residence in Erie County was built in 1810 by Warren Hull, a Revolutionary War veteran.

In the 1800s, Hull House -- 5976 Genesee St., at Pavement Road, in the Town of Lancaster -- was part of a 347-acre farm, one of the county's wealthiest. When the British burned Buffalo during the War of 1812, people fleeing the city found shelter at the Hull Farm.

"Architecturally, it's a rare surviving Federal-style stone structure, retaining a great deal of its original features and woodwork," noted Iris M. Drzewiecki, a former school librarian from Elma.

"The Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier plans to restore it, eventually presenting a museum for children and adults" that, she said, would link "our future with our past." Many original features, such as doors, doorways, mantelpieces, wainscot and window treatments, have been retained. The house has six working fireplaces and a basement kitchen.

It also was a stop on the Underground Railroad, used by escaped slaves on the East Aurora-to-Williamsville leg of the journey to freedom in Canada.

"There are two bricked-over areas in the cellar that could have led to a tunnel for hiding fugitives," said Drzewiecki, a member of the Landmark Society, which now owns the house. "It's a treasure here, and there's nothing like it here in the area."

In 1838, Hull and his wife, Polly, who raised three sons and nine daughters, were buried in the family's backyard cemetery, where their graves remain. Not long ago, Dr. John Lester, a retired physician from Kansas City, Mo., and the Hulls' great-great-great-grandson, placed pink roses on the graves.

Initial restoration would involve repairing and rebuilding chimneys to serve those wood-burning fireplaces, restoring wood-shingle roofs, correcting drainage problems, installing a central heating system, removing overhanging tree limbs and other landscape work. Last summer, Boy Scouts rolled up their shirts to help clean up the place.

Volunteers estimate renovations could cost $500,000, which organizers hope a combination of private and public funds will cover. Work could begin next year, with completion expected in 2003.

In addition to providing tours conducted by trained docents, the house could be used for meetings of small groups and local organizations, continuing-education seminars on local architectural history, and elementary school field trips with such themes as "Daily Life in the Early 19th Century," "Pioneer Settlement of the Holland Purchase" and "The Underground Railroad in Western New York" -- possibly incorporating Lancaster's other historical sites.

Students "would be amazed by the fact that all nine daughters shared one bedroom, with the three boys in another," said Drzewiecki. Her fascination with this landmark led her to write "The Ghost and Me, Joey," a work of historical fiction aimed at middle school youngsters and set in Hull House.

"They would realize how fireplaces provided only area heat. Cold bedsheets needed a warming pan that held a few hot embers from the fire," she said. "Students would gain a glimpse of the past by gazing up to the beam in the attic that displays original ax strokes made by Hull and his sons. They would enjoy hearing how children who misbehaved might be sent to the frigid attic to shell beans. Sometimes those corners let in more than a draft, and provided fun with a snowball fight.

"In the cellar, they could feel the coolness that lent itself to summer cooking," she continued. "The circular brick bake oven still survives. They could envision the secret hiding places behind the walls for runaway slaves heading to Canada. They could enter the back yard and observe the outhouse or privy, imagining how pioneers had to be resourceful by using dried corncob as toilet paper. They could hear how Lancaster pioneers held singing schools in a hollow buttonwood tree, big enough to build benches in, with holes to admit light."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com.

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