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Buffalo was transported this week into a haven for architecture, culture and art from the 19th Century, as lovers of the Victorian age flocked from across the country to snap pictures and walk through the city's turn-of-the century architecture.

The Victorian Society in America, a national organization devoted to preserving the history and culture of the Victorian era, is holding its annual meeting in the city. It collaborated with organizations such as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

The 95 members of the group scheduled walking and bus tours of the city, East Aurora, Rochester, Chautauqua and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a gathering that began Tuesday and winds up Monday.

"We were wowed over by some of the famous buildings here, but I guess everybody would be," said John Simonelli of Philadelphia, the society's executive vice president.

"We're hoping that people here appreciate the architecture that they have, because it really is incredible," he added.

Among the sites toured were Ellicott Square, the Darwin Martin House, the Linwood and Allentown areas, South Park and Our Lady of Victory Basilica.

William Siener, executive director of the Historical Society, said his organization was thrilled to learn of the national society's interest in Buffalo last year "because we know we have an extraordinary array of places and buildings from their era of interest."

"We quickly discovered there is simply too much to fit into their unusually-extended visit schedule, but we think we came up with a schedule that gives their members a great taste of the many things to see and do in this very rich region with the hope we might encourage a future repeat visit," Siener said.

Thursday afternoon Tim Tielman, head of the Campaign for Buffalo, led the group on a tour of 127-year-old Erie County Hall, the High Victorian structure of Maine granite that serves as the county judicial headquarters, on the site of the old Franklin Square Cemetery downtown.

Members of the group who couldn't get enough Buffalo architecture during the day took to the streets Thursday night, to supplement the morning's sightseeing.

"The die-hards among us went on a two-hour walk downtown in the dark," said Simonelli, adding that one of the highlights was the chance to check out the moonlight streaming in on a darkened St. Louis Catholic Church on Edward Street.

The group also got the chance to tour some private homes during Thursday evening's impromptu tour, he said.

Niles Pixley, a retiree from Omaha, Neb., said that it is the knowledge and connections of the society that has kept him a member for nearly 20 years.

"The nice thing about this is that because these people are the way they are, they know people, or sometimes just sweet-talk people into letting you see things that you'd never normally get to see," Pixley said Friday as the group concluded a tour of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site on Delaware Avenue.

The house was built in 1840 and served as officer's quarters for an army post before it was sold and converted into a private residence. In 1901, the building was used for the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt after president William McKinley's assassination, according to Mark Lozo, education director at the site.

Lozo, who has been working there since 1990, said groups like the society give the staff a chance to learn, because many of the visitors are as knowledgeable as the employees.

Simonelli said he hopes tours and groups like the Victorian Society in America will spark more interest in Buffalo's Victorian architecture and its restoration.

"I think people are really going to fight to save it -- to save it and use it," he said.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.

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