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Over a Hundred Years Old, Knox Estate Still Retains Mystique

Written by Rachel Dobiesz
Imagery by Betsy Wallace (house), Sandra Kicman

The Knox Estate may well be one of  Western New York’s best-kept secrets. Located in East Aurora and owned by the prominent Knox Family from 1898  until 2000, the 633 acre property is a mini Downton Abbey in the middle of the Southtowns.
     From April 27 to May 19, the estate’s main house was the site of the 2013 Decorators’ Show House, presented by The Buffalo News and the Junior League of Buffalo. Although many Buffalo-area homes were in the running, the Knox Estate was the favorite because of its unique atmosphere and beauty. 
    “It was truly just so spectacular,” said Show House co-chair Janice Worobec. “There’s a whole mystique with that property because for so many years it was a private residence and unless you knew the family, chances are you weren’t behind those stone walls.”
    Venturing past the aforementioned stone walls became possible for the public in 2001, when the property became a state park. Despite increased accessibility, the landscape still retains the aura of a 1920s estate and it isn’t hard to picture past generations of the Knox family playing polo or simply going for walks amid the sweeping grasses.
    Family patriarch Seymour Horace Knox was a founding partner of F.W. Woolworth Company in 1912. His son, Seymour Knox I, lived on the estate until his death in 1915. The main house was built in 1916, when Frank H. Jr. and Dorothy Knox Goodyear, son-in-law and daughter of Seymour Knox I, owned the property. Designed by Frank Bell Meade and James Montgomery Hamilton, the main house features 26 rooms. Frank H. and Dorothy sold the property to Seymour Knox II in 1929, which he used as his summer home until his death in 1990.
        More recently, Buffalonians may remember his son Seymour H. Knox III, who brought the Sabres to Buffalo in 1970 and who, along with his brother Northrup, owned  the team until 1993. It was the vision of Seymour H. to have the park be available for public use.  After his death, Northrup, and Seymour’s widow, Jean Knox, sold the land to the state.
     “They got together and decided instead of selling the land to the sub dividers, to sell it to the state for a nominal fee, so that it would remain an open space,” said Betsy Wallace, Vice President of Friends of Knox Farm State Park, Inc., a
nonprofit organization.
    There are several buildings on the property and the land has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, including farming and cattle breeding, as well as recreation. In addition to the main house, the estate also features several barns, a greenhouse, polo stables, a squash court, a guest cottage, and a pool house, among other structures. Over the years, the Knox Family hosted a variety of leaders and dignitaries at the property, including Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 
    Although the 2013 Show House is now over and the decorations have been removed, the main house is available for weddings and private events. With permission from New York State, Friends of Knox Farm State Park, Inc. manages the rentals, with all proceeds used to fund the restoration of the main house and other buildings. “The Friends together with the State have to deal with putting in a whole new kitchen. We have to deal with putting in insulation and painting the exterior and doing a lot of work with the roof,” said Wallace.
    Despite any work that needs to be done, passing through the gates and onto the property feels like time travel. For fans of the Gatsby-era or just those who want to get away from it all for a few hours, it’s well worth a trip to this country estate right in our own backyard.

Project Resources
Lockwood’s Greenhouses
Arthur’s Home Furnishings
Mark Taylor Interiors
Webb Trading Co.
MTN Designs
White Orchard Home Furnishings, Gingham Gallery
Floors courtesy of M P Caroll Hardwood
Eden Interiors,  Auburn Watson
Murchison Interiors, Ltd.
Ann Medinac Interiors, babs Design, Carol Schaper Interiors Inc.,
Design of  The Times, Chochkey’s

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