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Metz House, West Seneca's 'jewel,' is target of rehabilitation effort

One of the most historic buildings in West Seneca the Christian Metz House -- has fallen on some tough times in recent years.

The town-owned circa-1840s building at 12 School St., reduced to a storage house for used town office equipment and other junk, remains shuttered over health concerns about mold. Before now, it was previously occupied by a scandal-ridden AmeriCorps program.

There had even been recent reports of squatters living in the building and damage from animal intruders.

All of that, it seems, might finally be about to change.

This 170-year-old home, which is important not just to the town's history but the entire region's, appears to be on the verge of getting some of the needed love it deserves.

That's where West Seneca Town Historian James C. Pace comes in.

Pace, a retired school music teacher who now dedicates his time to researching and presenting West Seneca's rich history throughout Western New York, is spearheading the town's efforts to move ahead with reoccupying and rehabilitating the historic Metz home.

"It's just incredible from a historian's standpoint," Pace says of the Metz House, which was originally constructed as the residence of Seneca sawmill operator George Stanart and later used by Metz as his personal cabin.

Metz was the religious leader -- and believed to be a prophet -- of the Ebenezer Society whom they believe was told by God to flee Germany for the New World in the 1842. Incidentally, Pace noted, that was the same year the Buffalo Creek Treaty was signed, relinquishing the Senecas of their claims to the land.

The agrarian-based religious group was impressed with the land upon arriving in the United States and started a settlement -- Ebenezer, which, as it grew, was incorporated by the Ebenezer Society as the town of Seneca in 1851. When it was learned that a Seneca community already existed in the Finger Lakes region of the state, the town's name was changed to "West Seneca."

"You're dealing with a building that is not only so historic to the town but also significant to the Ebenezer Society, which is still in existence today," Pace said.

It's not as if the Metz House has been wholly neglected over the years. The home has had a lot of occupants in its history, having even served as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

It has even come into some money -- a $200,000 grant from the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Department in 2000 -- under AmeriCorps' auspices. Critics charge that the group tended only to cosmetic issues on the property, however, and are upset the historic building was encapsulated in vinyl siding and outfitted with modern windows and updates not in tune with home's history.

"Ultimately, down the road, I would love to see the building restored close to its original condition -- that's the real ultimate dream," said Pace, who believes it's high time to recognize the historical significance of the home to the town and preserve its rich history.

But until a wildly successful fundraiser is held or money falls from the sky, Pace says he's just happy at the prospect of getting back into the building to freshen it with new paint and carpeting in advance of plans to modestly repurpose the home for use as an auxiliary facility for the West Seneca Historical Society and Burchfield Nature and Art Center.

Pace said the historical society plans to use the added space for exhibits and meeting space while the Burchfield center hopes to utilize a portion of the house for classroom space for lectures, public presentations and other special occasions.

His ideas, which he formally presented to the public last wek, are garnering support from town officials and residents alike.

"This is about preserving the town not only for us, but our children as well," said Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan, who called the Metz house "a jewel of West Seneca."

"It's a historical footprint over there," added Paula Minklei, a West Seneca resident who is also associated with the Burchfield center. "I think it's an important building to the town. I think it should be put to good use."