In a community with decreasing evidence of its once rich history, a home owned by two men who played important roles in the city's past has been put up for sale on Riverside Drive.
The Holley Rankine House, at 525 Riverside Dr., was once home to a prominent local resident George Washington Holley. After his death in 1897, it became the home of William B. Rankine, who was largely responsible for constructing the Adams Power Plant.
The historic mansion, considered by some as one of the city's best-kept examples of Gothic Revival, has a newly expanded view of the Niagara River due to the removal of a portion of the Robert Moses Parkway.
"I believe it's one of the best locations in the Falls," said Anthony Otto, the realtor who is listing the seven-bedroom, four-plus bath home for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. An open house will be held at the property today.
"There's just no better footprint than this little historic district in Niagara Falls," added Otto, who lives across the street and owns Niagara Agape House, a vacation rental location.
The Holley Rankine house is listed for $525,000, and has a R4 historic zoning designation, due to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the nomination, written in the late 1970s to obtain a place on the national register, the Holley Rankine House served as the residence of two men prominent in the economic, political, and social life of Niagara Falls during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The author of the nomination, Francis Kowsky, a now-retired Buffalo State College professor of architecture history, said on Friday that whoever purchases the house will receive tax credits for any work done to the place.
"They can’t change the historic character of the building, but they get an investment tax credit for any kind of work," Kowsky said. "It would make this house more attractive to a buyer, as well as it being a beautiful house."
Kowsky, when he wrote the nomination, detailed how the home was built during a time when the city was developing around the abundant power of the Niagara River. Numerous mills were built on the river, one of the largest owned by Porter Brothers, A. Augustus Porter and Peter Porter, together with George Washington Holley who was a distant relative of the Porters.
Holley, whose family was involved with politics, was elected to the New York state Assembly in 1853. He was later appointed to serve as U.S. Consul in Naples before becoming deputy collector of customs at Niagara Falls in 1865.
In 1855, Holley purchased from Peter Porter a wooded tract of land overlooking the Niagara River and built his substantial villa with elaborately landscaped grounds.
According to Kowsky's nomination, Holley became enamored of local history and surveyed the falls and the surrounding landscape, which he described in his book "Niagara, Its History and Geology, Incidents and Poetry," as being "an excellent mistress, (for) the faithful lover may return to it with ever new delight, ever growing affection."
The nomination describes how, after Holley's death in 1897, the house was purchased by William B. Rankine, a lawyer who took a more pragmatic view of Niagara than did Holley. Early in his career, he became interested in the possibility of harnessing the falls for the generation of electric power. In 1890, he gave up his practice to devote himself entirely to his dream of utilizing the falls to produce electricity and became largely responsible for the establishment of the Niagara Falls Power Co., which built the famous Adams Power Plant Complex from 1895 to 1900.
Kowsky wrote: "The Adams plant was the world's first hydroelectric plant to transmit power over long distances. Power lines were extended to Buffalo in 1896 and to Syracuse in 1905. This application of long distance power transmission eventually led to the present Niagara Mohawk system which distributes electricity throughout western and central New York.
In recognition of his service to the city and the state, a bronze bust of Rankine stands on the grounds of the Niagara Falls City Hall, dedicated to his memory as "Father of Niagara Power."
Since Rankine's death in 1905, the house has passed through several owners, but it has always remained a private residence. In the 1920s through the 1940s, it was the home of Frederick Laurens Lovelace, director of the Niagara Falls Power Co. and a man "prominent in business and banking in Niagara Falls."
The house was later owned by Catherine and Joseph Costanzo, and then sold to their daughter, Virginia Celenza, and her husband, Joseph Celenza. Virginia ran it for many years as a bed and breakfast. Joseph died in 2014 and Virginia died last February at age 87.
City Historian Elaine Timm said the neighborhood of Riverside Drive is a beautiful one and she lauded the quality of the old homes there in both materials and workmanship.
"The workers were very proud of their work," she said. "They did a very good job and that's why the homes are still standing after all these years."
"People are recognizing the historical value and the uniqueness of some of that architecture," she added. "Once they're gone, they're gone. They cannot be replicated."
Otto will be holding an open house to show off the Holley Rankine home from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today. For more information, call Otto at 603-5500 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.