A $200,000 Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency grant gives East Side preservationists a chance to showcase a piece of this city's history on a national stage next summer. With luck, the historic Nash House, linked to the Niagara Movement for racial equality, will be ready to welcome members of the nation's premier black history organization for a celebration of that movement's centennial.
The Michigan Street Preservation Corp., which is working to preserve the city's black history, especially its role in the Underground Railroad, will operate the house. And, as exciting as this project is for showcasing the city's history, it also provides a model for preserving that history.
Unlike so many other cases, where preservationists said nothing while a building deteriorated, and then worked to save it just before demolition, these East Side preservationists identified a historically significant structure, and then mobilized to enhance it before the wrecking ball began to swing.
Exterior work on the home of the Rev. J. Edward Nash Sr. has been completed, and the BURA grant will fund completion of interior renovations that will turn the old two-family home at 36 Nash St. -- renamed in the reverend's honor in 1953 -- into a museum, research library, offices and gift shop.
That could let the Nash House, home to one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, serve as a showpiece during next summer's national convention of the Study of African-American Life and History. The group is coming to Buffalo because this is where the civil rights organization that became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born in 1905.
Although that historic gathering had to be held in Fort Erie because its founders had trouble booking hotel rooms in Buffalo, it's an important piece of the city's history. And the Nash House is an important part of a key East Side block envisioned as a cultural tourism attraction and celebration of local and national African-American history.
With the older -- and even more historic -- Michigan Street Baptist Church, an 1845 structure that's the oldest African-American church in the city, the Nash House will anchor that historic block. Nash was pastor of the church for 61 years.
National figures such as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Dubois preached in the church, and many visited the pastor's home. Nash worked with Mary Talbert, who lived nearby, on the civil rights movement. He lived in the house until 1957, and when his family turned it over to preservationists, it was virtually untouched and filled with his records and copies of his sermons.
The renovations and restoration also have drawn major support from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Zemsky Family Foundation and Erie County.
The project is important for the history it preserves, for the pride it can instill in today's African-American community and for the role it plays in showing how historic preservation can be accomplished through careful planning rather than impromptu crises.