The home on Pine Ridge Road known for years as the Urban House located at 280 Pine Ridge Road is one of the last vestiges of the stately historical home is in the Town of Cheektowaga. Five generations of Winspears and Urbans lived at “Pine Hill”, Hill Top” or “Urban Hill” Estate. The family’s life accomplishment would parallel the development of the Town of Cheektowaga.
On January 29, 1841, after the Town received its Charter which created the Town of Cheektowaga, the Winspears purchased property on Pine Hill road (in 1893, the name was changed to Pine Ridge Road) from the Ebenezer Society. Early tax assessment records indicate that Pennock Winspear owned more than 60 acres of land. The Urban family also owned property in Cheektowaga subsequent to their union through marriage with the Winpears and by the early 1860’s the two families owned over 120 acres of the Town of Cheektowaga.
The sections of the estate extended as far north as Genesee Street and south to Doat Street and extended east to Harlem Road. The geographical formation of the Urban land prior to 1930 was much different from what it is today. The Scajaquada Creek bed was the land that now forms the southern edge of George Urban Boulevard, as the flow of the creek was diverted and the bed was filled in with soil. It now separates the residential section from the present Town Park.
Part of the the Urban – Winspear Estates, east of the diverted creek was given to the Town of Cheektowaga in 1946 and is now the Cheektowaga Town Park. The entire tract of land that forms the convent and schools of the Felician Sisters was once part of the Urban Estates. The Order of Sisters purchased a small tract in the early 1920s and continued to build. The original Old Sisters’ Infirmary was formerly the home of William Urban, the brother of George Urban, Jr. Land west of the Felician property was sold in the 1950s for residential development. Markus, Parkview, Parkedge, Pinewood, Pennock are some of the present day streets that were part of the Urban Estates.
The Urbans were a prominent family not only in Cheektowaga but throughout the Niagara Frontier. The Urban name was synonymous with the flour milling industry in Buffalo. For several generations, the family was a mainstay of the Republican Party of Western New York. The Urbans were early supporters of hydroelectric power. All of the Urbans were interested in horticulture helping to create some of the most beautiful and exotic gardens on the family estate.
Although the Urban interests were concentrated in Buffalo, the family home remained in Cheektowaga. The by-laws of the Urban Companies required the Board of Directors meet at least once a year at the Urban Family home at “Pine Hill”.
The many generations of Urbans and Winspears were members of numerous civic organizations, cultural groups and financial organization. Members of these groups were invited to the Hilltop Farm. The hospitality of the Urban Family was famous throughout the area. Old-time residents of Pine Hill could recall parades of carriages coming down Genesee Street to attend parties. These affairs were not always formal, more often beer parties and clambakes prevailed. Entertainment was often furnished by a “human band”. Members imitated various instruments with their hands and mouth. One of the young musicians, Frank X Schwab, later became Buffalo’s 48th Mayor.
It was in 1882, on the Urban Farm that the campaign for Grover Cleveland was launched. Over forty prominent politicians and businessmen had gathered at Urban’s home, where Gerhard Lang raised a toast to “Grover Cleveland, our next President”. Grover Cleveland laughed at the time, but in 1884, was elected President of the United States.
In 1939, the Urban Home was the site of the Cheektowaga Centennial Exposition. The small rural community was to hold one of the largest celebrations of its 100th Anniversary unparalleled in Western New York.
The Urbans became famous for breeding horse in the early 1900s. Their primary love was trotters, but also bred saddle horses and Percherons. George Pennock Urban extended his interest to show horses in 1912, but their first love was trotters and the Urbans loved to race. A story was related regarding the Urban Family encounter with the city of Buffalo’s Law Enforcement. There were many horse races held by visitors at the Pine Hill Farm between Pine Ridge Road and Genesee Street. They would encounter the mourners from the area cemeteries often resulting in serious accidents. The buffalo Police assigned their first mounted police officers to this stretch forcing George Pennock to move his races to another location.
The first owners of the Pine Hill Farm were James Winspear, who was born on January 22, 1784 in Glaisdale Yorkshire, England and his wife, Mary Bennison who was born in the Town of Danby, England on November 17, 1793. They were married on June 21, 1812 and migrated to the United States in 1832, They first settled on Genesee Street in the Town of Lancaster , purchasing the Pine Hill Estate on January 29, 1841 and settled there in 1842.
It would be Pennock Winspear, James and Mary Winspear’s fifth son who would remain at the Pine Hill Farm. Pennock was born in Glaisdale Yorkshire, England on April 10, 1822. The other Winspear children had married or moved from the farm. After the death of James on January 20, 1849 and his wife, Mary on April 13, 1862, Pennock inherited the farm.
On June 3 1852 Pennock Winspear married Emma Watts, who was born in Bungy, England on June 25, 1829. Pennock and Emma had two daughters, Ada born October 23, 1853 and Clara born on March 13, 1856. The urban Family would move to the Pine Hill Farm following the marriage of Ada Winspear and George Urban, Jr. on October 6, 1875.
Emma Watts Winspear died on June 9, 1863 in the Town of Cheektowaga and Pennock Winspear would live until June 21, 1903 and would also die in the Town of Cheektowaga.
GEORGE URBAN, SR.
George’s father George Urban, Sr. was born in the Town of Morsbrunn, Alsace on August 19, 1820 and immigrated to the Unites States in 1835, settling in the Black Rock Section of the City of Buffalo. He would remain there until his death
George Sr. took a position as a clerk with Mr. H Colton, who had a general merchandise business on the corner of Main and Genesee Streets. He worked there until 1846 until he found his own business on the corner of Genesee and Oak Streets with flour as a specialty. In 1882 the firm of which he was the senior member completed the first roller mill in the city of Buffalo. The product of this mill became well known over a wide territory for general excellence.
George Urban, Sr. held a position of prominence in Buffalo and throughout Western New York. He was one of the directors and First Vice-Presidents of the Wester Savings Bank of Buffalo and also a member of the Parks commission. He was responsible for the development of the East Side Park System including Humboldt Parkway and Parade. His interest in horticulture helped to create the landscaping and walkways of this section.
Mr. Urban married Marie Kern who was also a native of Alsace on August 14, 1848. They had three children, George Urban, Jr. born on July 12, 1850, Caroline born on October 15, 1854 and William C. Urban born on July 28, 1861. George Urban, Sr. died on October 13, 1887 and his wife Mary on January 30, 1979.
GEORGE URBAN, JR.
On October 6, 1875 George Urban, Jr. married Ada Pennock Winspear and settled on the Pine Hill Farm. The family would continue to liver there until the 1950s.
George Urban, Jr. received his education in the public schools of Buffalo and entered his father’s business in 1868. In 1870 he became a full partner and directed the growth of the Urban Mills resulting in its incorporation in 1903. He then became president.
It was George Urban, Jr. who experimented with electricity and eventually a close personal relationship with Thomas Edison would evolve. This relationship may have been one of the reasons buffalo was the first major
American city to use electricity as a means of lighting the city’s streets. On July 14, 1881 his company established the first municipal electric lighting plant in Buffalo with nine street lights. He was one of the organizers and first directors of the Brush Electric Light Company.
In 1881 he built the large Urban Roller Mill, the first east of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He equipped it with the first incandescent light machine that had been built by Thomas A. Edison. In 1887 he founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Light Company and became its president. He served in this position until the company was consolidated with the United States Electric Light Company and the Brush Electric Light Company under the name Buffalo General Electric Company. In the field of electric lighting he was also active in the establishment of the Niagara Falls Electric Light and Power Company.
George Urban, Jr. steadily increased the scope of his business activities being instrumental in the incorporation of the Buffalo Loan, Trust & Safety Deposit Company, where he would serve as vice-president and later as president for many years.
The Urbans commitment and community involvement also branched out into the political arena. Although never holding a political office, their influence was well established in the community. George Urban, Jr., a staunch Republican, served as chairman of the Erie county Republican committee between 1892 and 1895 and treasurer for nine years. In 1884 he was a delegate to the Republican National convention and was a presidential elector in 1896 for William McKinley and in 1900 for Theodore Roosevelt.
During the 1880s a surprising relationship between George Urban, Jr. and Grover Cleveland, the Democratic sheriff, mayor and governor from Buffalo would develop. It began through mutual acquaintances in the flour milling business and culminated when George Urban, Jr. purchased land from Cleveland on what is now Urban and Kehr Streets, Buffalo New York. The Urbans built a small mill there which eventually became the family mill. Members of the group who gathered in 1882 at the Urban Estate, to promote Grover Cleveland as President of the United States would become the nucleus of a strong committee to support Cleveland. In 1883, Cleveland came to Buffalo to make an address and was invited to a picnic at the Pine Ridge Road estate. It was there that Gerhard Lang raised a glass and toasted, “Here’s to Grover Cleveland, our next president.” Of the forty people there, only Cleveland was surprised. George Urban, Jr. although refused to cross party lines to support Grover Cleveland they remained firm friends with him despite his failure to endorse him.
George Urban, Jr. was involved with the Niagara Frontier for over five decades. He was a member of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, the New York Produce Exchange, Saturn Club, the Park Club, Ellicott Club, Buffalo Club, Buffalo Automobile Club, Buffalo Country club, New York club, Tuscarora Club of Lockport and the Batavia Club.
George Urban, Jr. and Ada Winspear the daughter of Pennock Winspear had four children. The eldest George Pennock was born May 29, 1877; Emma on August 5, 1879; Ada on January 12, 1885 and Clara on October 12, 1886. They were all born at the Hilltop Farm.
Ada E. Winspear Urban, who had been born at the Pine Hill Farm, was also very active in the community. She was a graduate of Central High School in Buffalo and was the winner of the first Jesse Ketchum gold medal presented by this school. She was a member of the Twentieth Century Club and for many years was the manager of the Home for the Friendless. Mrs. Urban died on December 31, 1919 and George Urban, Jr. died on February 23, 1928.
GEORGE PENNOCK URBAN
George Pennock Urban who was born in 1877 was to be the last of the Urban family to live at the estate. It was during his lifetime that the family estate would be broken up into segments in direct relationship to the development of the Town of Cheektowaga and the growing need for recreation, education and housing. He would donate the land that would become Cheektowaga Town Park. He also was deeply involved in the establishment of a Free Library System for the Town.
As early as 1938 the Urban Home was offered as a permanent location for a library but due to its location, Urban’s offer could not be acted upon. Pine Hill in the early 1900s was an unlit dirt road away from the mainstream.
It was not until 1947 that the Winspear Library was opened. What a beautiful atmosphere that must have been. The library lasted on a year when the County took over the Library System and another location close to more heavily trafficked area was found.
George Pennock Urban was educated at School #9 in buffalo and old Central High School. He graduated from Westford Academy in Massachusetts in 1898 and received his bachelor’s degree from Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in 1901.
Following his graduation he joined the family firm. His father was the President of the newly incorporated George Urban Milling company in 1903 and George Pennock served as treasurer and secretary. Upon his father’s death in 1928, he became president. He also was president and director of Thornton & Chester Milling Company, Mill Sterilizing Corp., and the Riding Club Realty Co. Inc.
George Pennock Urban was past president of the buffalo Corn Exchange, director of the Automobile Club, a member of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and director of the Buffalo Convention and Tourist Bureau. He was also a member of the Society of Natural Sciences, the Humane Society, the Public Library, Buffalo Country Club, Saddle and Bridle Club, Buffalo Trap and Field Club, Buffalo Orpahns, Rotary club and the Yale Alumni Association of Western New York and the New York Produce Exchange. He was a life member of the buffalo Orpheus and a member of the Buffalo Canoe Club, University Club, Saturn Club Buffalo Club, Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society and Bowmansville Grange.
INTEREST IN HORSES AND FLYING
George Pennock Urban became very interest in horses, especially trotters. For several year he served as President of the Buffalo Road Driver’s Association. He helped found the Saddle and Bridle Club in 1922. As mentioned earlier races along the roads near his home had been greatly discouraged therefore George Pennock needed another location for the races. In the summer the races were held at the Humboldt Parkway speedway from Delavan to Kensington Avenues. During the winter they were held on Richmond Avenue from Bryant to North Street,
In 1912 George Pennock became very interested in show horses. He showed them first in Hamburg then in Syracuse and finally in the National Horse show to Madison Square Garden. The Urbans would win two blue ribbons. Their most famous horse Peter pilot won first prize for trotting stallions and Fata Custer won first prize tor two year old trotting mares. He also became interested in Percherons, which were used to pull the flour wagons. He would be a marshal of the work horse parades and show his horses at the local fairs – the State Fair in Syracuse and the Easter States Fair at Springfield, Massachusetts. The Urbans had the only six stallion team in the country.
His interest in horses influenced him to become a member of Troop 1, the first new York Cavalry Regiment. He road with Captain Sherman S. Jewet who was succeeded by “Wild Bill” Donavan. The Troop was unique in that all the horses’ names began with the letter “I” – Imp, Ink, Ivy, Ira, Ike and Mr. Urban rode If.
In 1910 George P. decided to learn to fly. After a half-dozen flights he lost interest when he learned that at 33 years of age he was too old to become an Army Pilot. He did become one of the five incorporators of the Aero Club of Buffalo and flew from a cleared field at the foot of Porter Avenue.
Politically George Pennock was as the rest of his family a staunch Republican. In 1912 he served as an alternative delegate to the Republican National Convention and a delegate in 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932. He was elected to the Electoral College in 1920, 1924 and 1928. When Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were nominated he represented New York State on the committee that went to Northampton, Massachusetts. He had the honor of notifying Mr. Coolidge that he had been nominated by the Republican Party as a candidate for Vice President of the United States.
Despite the many active interests of Mr. Urban he was intensely involved in the business of the family mill as well as diversifying his business interests. He had served as President of the Urban Milling Company from 1928 to 1953. George like his father and grandfather before him had a keen business sense and curiosity. He developed a way to improve the patent flour process that was first developed in the milling industry in Buffalo. The processes used a purifier to separate the whiter and clearer portion of the flour from the lower grades. It consisted of using an electrified bicycle wheel that revolved inside an electrical frame. Each spoke giving off a spark every time it passed a certain point. The process was used for years until the development of chemicals. George Pennock Urban was elected to the Board of Millers National Insurance Company in 1910 and became a director of this company when it was taken over by the Illinois Fire Insurance Company of Chicago, a position he held until his death. In 1928 he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Ellicott Square Company and in 1930 to the Board of Trustees of the Erie County Savings Bank. He remained active in this position till his death as he considered retirement at sixty-five “as a curious and almost disgraceful modern fad”. As Urban became a director of the Cataract Power and Conduit Company soon after his graduation from college. Following the absorption of this company by Buffalo, Niagara and Eastern Power Corporation in 1925 he became a director of the corporation. In 1939 he was named to the Executive Committee. In 1940 he was elected to the Board of the Niagara Falls Power Company. In 1945 the Buffalo Niagara Electric Corporation absorbed Buffalo, Niagara and Eastern Power Corporation together with several other corporations in Western New York. He was a director of the Buffalo Niagara Electric Corporation. In 1950 following the assimilation of the Buffalo Niagara Electric Corporation and the Niagara Falls Power Company by Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation his directorships in these companies was terminated.
George Pennock Urban married Mildred Pierce on October 6, 1913 and had one son George Pennock Urban Jr. on July 15, 1914. On August 17, 1914 Mildred died. George married Florence Lenhard Zeller on June 5, 1918 and had four children – Katherine, Henry Zeller, Florence and Ada Marie Urban.
Henry Zeller Urban was the president and publisher for The Buffalo News from 1974 to 1983..
The family winter home was moved to 218 Linwood Avenue, but the summers were spent at the home on Pine Ridge road. George who was really a country squire at heart had ridden horses almost daily until the age of 75. His first memories were at the age of five when he received his first Shetland pony form his great grandmother. The tradition would continue as he gave his own children their first Shetland ponies.
THE ESTATE AFTER THE URBANS
George Pennock Urban died on August 16, 1966 at the age of 89. By the time of his death the Urban Estate had completed its transformation from a sprawling farm to a residential home in a large suburban Town. The change paralleled the growth and expansion of the Town of Cheektowaga. The Felician Sisters’ development, the residential growth, Cheektowaga Town Park, street lights, paved roads, electric and telephone lines had replaced the rural dirt roads and raceways in the area still known as the Pine Hill. The small rural locale, called Cheektowaga from the Indian “Land of the Crabapple” that had been chartered in 1839 was now a sprawling industrial and residential community of over 100,000 residents.
The Urban Estate was sold to 1954 to Pauline Fracasso a prominent executive in Cheektowaga and owner of Pauline’s Furs on Genesee Street. She often held elaborate parties at the elegant home. It was sold in 1971 and again in 1983. The Estate is now owned by Derrick and Olivia Warburton who will host a reunion of over 60 members of the Urban Family on June 27 and June 28 2015. The Warburtons are working to have the estate placed on the National Historic Register.