The Oaks: A History
A part of Jamestown’s rich history as first a logging settlement, then a village, and ultimately a city chartered in 1886, this property was contained among the first acres purchased by James Prendergast and his family in 1809. James Prendergast, after whom the city is named, correctly envisioned the value of the area’s vast pine and hardwood forests, and how the Chadakoin River and its rapids could be harnessed to produce manual power for lumber mills. Administered through the Holland Land Company, one thousand acres were purchased for development.
The plot of land upon which today’s home sits was once part of a larger parcel bordered by the modern Hall, Palmer, Hallock, and West Third Streets well before the introduction of Lakin and Ellis Avenues that now define the property. Throughout the 1800s, some or all of the original parcel’s lots were owned by such well-known founding family names as Prendergast, Broadhead, Barrett, Baker, Palmeter, and Ellis who all prospered by following James Prendergast’s vision that the natural resources of the area would make possible the success of saw, grist, and woolen mills and associated commerce.
The West Third Street home of today was built in 1930. It was designed by Raymond Freeburg, a prominent Western New York architect and native of Jamestown, for use as his own residence which also included a number of apartments. In addition to private homes, Freeburg’s projects included schools, municipal buildings, and industrial facilities throughout the state’s southern tier and as far east as Rochester, many of which are still in use. Among the home’s many design details are images inlaid in its exposed beams, a river-slate roof, elegant ceramic tiling, and specially imported, handmade Belgian brick with which the building was constructed.
In the early 1950s, the home’s five rental units became known as the Freeburg Apartments while the main first-floor living, dining, and kitchen areas were preserved for common use. In 1952, the apartments were purchased by Leo H. Ludwig who described the building as “unquestionably the finest apartment house in the city.” It changed hands again in 1958 when Earl Sanford purchased it from the Ludwig-Jamestown Realty Corporation.
The story of The Oaks, however, cannot be told without its close connection to another one of Jamestown’s fine old mansions. In 1911, a grand home on Forest Avenue (at the modern intersection of Forest and Arterial) was bequeathed by the prominent Warner family to be used by the Agnes Association, a charity whose mission was to provide dignified care and comfort to the elderly. The business of the Warner Home was managed by a board comprised of some of the city’s most prominent and philanthropic families, among them such familiar names as Dow, Taylor, Tinkham, Tew, Hultquist, and Prendergast.
In 1961, the State of New York took claim of the Warner Home and ordered its demolition, deemed necessary to construct the Washington Street Bridge between the vicinity of Forest Avenue and Second Street, crossing the Chadakoin River. The Warner Home’s directors, however, were quickly successful in identifying a source for new living quarters for their residents and so arranged a partnership with the Lutheran Retirement Center in Falconer on Jamestown’s east side where plans progressed smoothly for the construction of a new facility. Unexpectedly, however, the Freeburg Apartments became available for purchase, and the Warner Home’s Board of Managers saw the opportunity for a more expedient solution to its housing problem. Hence, until its newest incarnation as The Oaks in 2008, the West Third Street building became the second Warner Home, still serving its mission to provide exceptional care to older individuals. (One tangible feature that survived Warner One’s demolition was its elevator which was moved to and installed in Warner Two where it remains in use today for freight and custodial purposes.)
In its conversion to the Warner Home, the house underwent major remodeling to create individual rooms, and in 1962 a sizeable brick addition was annexed in keeping with the architecture of the main structure. A garage was taken down to create the “social room” at the back of the house in 1967.
The Oaks Bed and Breakfast Hotel is named to reflect the cathedral of century-old oak trees that have been the hallmark of West Third Street for citizens and visitors for generations. Several of its guest rooms are named in honor of both former owners and the leadership of the early Warner Home, some of whose oil portraits are on display throughout the home. Most importantly, today’s hotel preserves as many architectural and design features as possible while welcoming guests with all modern amenities, superior interior decorating, and warm hospitality.