NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — In the late 1890s, North Tonawanda was the world's largest lumber port. The so-called lumber barons built their mansions just a couple blocks from the waterfront.
"Goundry Street was known as Millionaire's Row," said Howard Roeske, executive director of the North Tonawanda History Museum.
Over the years, many homes lost their luster.
"Unfortunately, too many of them have been cut up into apartments. There's a lot of ornate woodwork in them, but unfortunately some of it has been painted and the richness of the wood, the finish is lost," said Roeske.
Protecting that history and splendor is the goal of the North Tonawanda Preservation Commission's effort to turn the neighborhood into the Lumber Baron Historic District.
They recently received a $10,000 grant to survey the 400-some houses in the proposed area from Tremont Street to Christiana Street as part of work on a pitch to get the the group onto the National Register of Historic places.
"We have a lot of development going on downtown, but we want to keep that history of our city and the homes over there are gorgeous," said Donna Braun (R), North Tonawanda Alderwoman for the 2nd Ward. "I just saw one that was flipped to seven apartments, and now that person is flipping it back to its original form."
"He bought his own man lift and he reaches up there now and he's painting all the fine details in multiple colors. It's really brightening up the neighborhood," said Roeske.
Those working to get this designation say not only would it help preserve the history of the neighborhood, but it would also make homeowners eligible for repair work.
"I know the cost of doing improvements to your home, but it keeps escalating. And to keep the historic preservation of those historic homes, is going to be quite a task," Braun said.
If the designation is obtained, homeowners wouldn't have to do a thing. If they wanted to apply for the tax credits, they'd have to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and be approved by the National Park Service.
Consultants will start surveying in the next couple weeks. If everything goes well, officials say they could be on the National Register by next spring.