Homes with heart

Mark Saturday Sept. 13, the date of Dunkirk’s second annual house tour, on your calendars. A part of Dunkirk Heritage Days and a fundraiser for the Dunkirk Historical Society, the house tour will run from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The houses on the tour are different from last year’s group.

One of the houses on display will be the Sam family’s “Big House.” Many people have been watching this family compound develop along Lake Shore Drive West, across from the Shorewood Golf Course, and wondering what it all means. Through the generous cooperation of the A. Sam family, the tour will provide the opportunity to explore their crowning achievement in front of the family business, where cabbage is king.

Two humongous Chinese temple dogs stand guard near the entrance to this 3-year-old luxurious home, built on the site of the family’s original first generation home. Behind these sacred temple dogs, a waterfall tumbles into an active Koi pond surrounded by Chinese ceremonial gardens. The back of the house faces Route 5 and feng shui, the yin and yang balance of chi energy, is symbolized throughout. The modernized colonial farm style house spared no expense to create extra dimension and exotic wooden and granite floors with inlaid Biblical quotations. Solar and geothermal energy heat the structure which serves as a guest house for business associates and family reunions. More than 15,000 geranium plants adorn the property and will welcome visitors to this part of the tour.

The historic “Carnegie” Dunkirk Free Library is part of this year’s tour and a special treat awaits there. Michele Bautista and Cindy Tuning will host a separate fundraiser for the Historical Society and the Dunkirk library. A Victorian tea, including sweets and savories, will be served for $10 per person in three separate seatings – 11 a.m. to noon, 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 2- 3 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Michele Bautista at 366-8395. Those who remember the pristine Victorian home at 706 Park Ave. from last year’s tour will have an idea of what treats might await at these tea parties. Bring your favorite little girl, her grandmother or your best friend and experience an elegant and tasty trip to yesteryear.

Four additional houses are part of the tour. Two of them are Dotterweich houses.

George Dotterweich immigrated to America from Steindorf, Germany in 1851 and established a brewery alongside Crooked Brook on the corner of Sixth and Dove Streets in Dunkirk.

In 1897, his brother Edward H. Dotterweich built a house at 533 Swan St. near the family business.

This house remains a private residence and has been recently renovated. The original design was by R. W. Shoppell, an architect who greatly influenced domestic architecture in the 1880s.

The house has a central tower two stories above the porch roof with three-sided walls that jut out much as a large bay window. There was an immense attic space which has recently been converted to a master bedroom suite by the current owners.

The second Dotterweich house, located at 418 Eagle St., is a bonus house on this tour. The Resource Center, a not-for-profit agency serving people with disabilities, uses it as a residence for its clients.

The Queen Anne style house was built in 1879 by Seth Hamilton and was occupied by Andrew C. Dotterweich from 1938 to 1959. It was once the home of John T. Madigan who served as Dunkirk mayor in 1906. The Eagles Club House, an organization formed nationally in 1898 and originally engaged in the performing arts, was also once located at this address.

One of the most spectacular stained glass windows of the region can be seen at this address. Efforts are underway to preserve this window for posterity. If adequate funding is obtained, it will be moved to the Dunkirk Historical Museum.

Visitors to 418 Eagle will learn about The Resource Center’s current programs and services at the house.

The Morrissey House, another Queen Anne style house at 415 Deer St., dates back to 1905.

Because of the extensive ecclesiastical collection of the current owner, Wayne Mori, it has a sanctuary feel to it. The house was built by Miss Mary Morrissey who lived with her siblings, none of whom married. The sisters all taught school and the brother served as an official for the city.

“Embellishments common to the Queen Anne style include dentil, egg and dart and bead-and-real borders, wreathes and ribbons, fluted columns and brackets. The house might be called “Urban Queen Anne” as these types were designed to fit the long and narrow city lots which allowed little space between houses.” said Mori when describing the house.

And finally, residents will have an opportunity to visit 768 Eagle St, the first Land Bank Corporation house completed in Dunkirk. This transformational project was completed by Ryan Mourer. He took a Cape Cod cottage of the ’40s, first occupied by Marty Wiser’s family and subsequently neglected by later absentee owners, and brought it boldly and proudly into the 21st century with upgrades and new young owners.

This is an excellent opportunity to see how hopeful and effective this new countywide housing initiative is. Seven more homes in the city are in line for similar renovation. The mission of the Land Bank Corporation under the administration of Gina Paradis is to salvage still valuable properties, to put them back on the tax rolls and to stabilize local neighborhoods.

On Sept. 13, the five homes on the tour will be marked with bright yellow banners. Start at any point and allow about two hours for the tour.

Tickets are $15 and are available at the Dunkirk Library, P&G Foods, the Dunkirk Development Office, the Historical Museum on Washington Park and at the Historical Society booth at the Heritage Days exhibit on the waterfront by the Clarion Hotel. Tickets will also be available at each house on the day of the tour.

The diversity of the homes and the stories associated with them will reward every participant.

The cause is truly meaningful. The Dunkirk Historical Museum is seeking a new location and every dollar earned will go toward improving the current displays and identifying a secure, accessible, new home for the artifacts reflecting the city’s proud history.

The museum’s current building is not handicapped accessible and has predictably expensive maintenance issues.

Members of the Dunkirk Historical Society encourage visitors to come and enjoy the house tour and help secure the fascinating collections at the museum: the old fire engines, railroad memorabilia representing an industry which brought Dunkirk into prominence, other early commercial endeavors, inventions, hometown heroes, records and research materials for genealogical studies and the newly acquired George W. Eggers art collection.

The museum is currently run exclusively by volunteers and is generally open three afternoons a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. It will be open the afternoon of the tour.

With support from the city and its residents, this museum could become a more significant tourist draw, create more interactive displays and serve as an educational tool to present and preserve the unique history of our region.

Hopefully, one day, it will be able to support a professional curator to lead it into the future.

Harriet Tower writes monthly for the OBSERVER. Direct comments on this column to