A stately building on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo has a unique role in U.S. presidential history.
The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, 641 Delaware Avenue, is home to a museum and National Parks Service unit dedicated to the events that made Roosevelt the U.S.’s 26th president- and his presidential legacy.
In September 1901, Theodore Roosevelt took his oath of office to become president inside of the building. President William McKinley had just died, several days after being shot twice by an assassin at while giving a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
“It was a very tense time,” Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site interim deputy director Lenora Henson said. “They didn’t want to do anything overly fancy because they were in mourning for McKinley- they decided to inaugurate the president right here in the library.”
The building was a private residence at the time, owned by philanthropist Ansley Wilcox. Wilcox was acquainted with Roosevelt, Henson said, and Roosevelt spent several days at his home after McKinley was shot.
It originally looked as though McKinley would survive the assassination attempt, and Roosevelt left Buffalo to join his family in the Adirondacks, Henson said.
“It was seen as a sign of faith in his recovery,” she said.
However, McKinley’s condition worsened, and Roosevelt was called back to Buffalo.
Roosevelt was sworn in as president after McKinley succumbed to complications related to his wounds.
“There were a lot of issues he was going to face, and frankly, they aren’t that unfamilar to us today,” Henson said. “There were concerns about big business and labor, concerns about immigration, racial concerns, and what the U.S.’s role in the world was.”
While he was staying at the Wilcox house following his inauguration, Roosevelt wrote a letter to civil rights leader Booker T. Washington, inviting him to visit the White House.
“It was the first time an African-American dined as a guest of the president at the White House, and the invitation was actually issued from this house, right here in Buffalo,” Henson said.
After the Wilcox family died, the home became a restaurant for about 20 years, Henson said.
At one point, it was vacant and slated for demolition.
“There was a big movement to save the house and get it established as a national historic site,” Henson said. “We wouldn’t exist without the community support that gathered around us in the 1960s.”
The Inaugural Site allows guests to look at several rooms in the home exactly as they looked when Roosevelt took his oath of office- down to a wrinkle in the rug and the details of the curtain rings, based on photographs from the time.
No photos of the actual inauguration were taken.
A guided tour is available on the ground floor, and the upstairs includes interactive exhibits about Roosevelt’s presidency.
“We like to think of ourselves as one of Buffalo’s hidden gems.” Henson said. “There are not too many cities that can say that a presidency started right in their backyard.”