Broadway 5601 - Oakwood Institute Building

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Date: 1851 [unknown]
Location: Lancaster, Lancaster, Erie, New York, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: burwell oakwood_institute scheier
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Theodotus Burwell had the small brick portion of this building constructed in 1851 to house his agricultural school, known as the Oakwood Institute. The primary teacher at the school was botanist William H. Brewer, who went on to become the first Chair of Agriculture at Yale University's Sheffield Scientific School. The Oakwood Institute closed after one year, and the building became a private residence.


Oakwood Institute

In 1848, Theodotus Burwell purchased land in what is now the Village of Lancaster (it was not yet incorporated at this time) from Thurston Carpenter.[1]

"When [Burwell] retired to a farm of one hundred and fifty acres at the village of Lancaster, in 1848, his health was thoroughly impaired. It was a rough piece of land not long before rescued from the Indian reservation, watered by the Cayuga creek, the main branch of the Buffalo creek or harbor. With an ox team and the aid of two or three assistants, he at once addressed himself to the extraction of stumps and clearing of the fields, so that in about seven years he had probably the most attractive country place in the neighborhood of Buffalo. During all this time, although working with his own hands from four to six hours a day, he went daily to the city and attended at his office, which was in charge of a junior partner."[2]

"In 1851 Judge Theodotus Burwell who lived in the house now occupied by Dr. James, (Dr. Nowak's residence is built on that lot), started a school for boys and put up the building now occupied by Matthias Scheier (East Main and Woodlawn) as the beginning of the institution which he called Oakwood Institute. Judge Burwell, a graduate of Union College, was a remarkable man, industrious, energetic, a great student who loved his farm and his school far more than the practice of law or even his seat on the bench. He had excellent teachers; one, Wm. Brewer, & cousin of the Field family here has since been head of Sheffield Scientific School at Yale."[3]

"There was Judge Theodotus Burwell, graduate of Union College, a lawyer by profession, with an office In Buffalo--restless, industrious, energetic, aspiring, visionary. He never could make both ends meet. He aimed at founding an agricultural college, or something of the sort, in Lancaster, and actually went so far as to put up a small brick building--it is still to be seen, the small dwelling next west from Thomas Leary's [see 1880 map, below]--Oakwood Institute was its name; and in this the Judge started the work of instruction with a few lads who were sent him, and boarded in his family. One of his teachers was a Dr. DeYoung, who soon left his place on account of certain unsatisfactory experiments he was in the habit of making with fluids little used in agricultural chemistry. Dr. DeYoung was succeeded by an excellent young man, Mr. William H. Brewer, who has since risen to eminence as a professor in the Sheffield Scientific School connected with Yale College. But he was the last Professor at Oakwood Institute. The Judge's finances did not prosper; and a great and beneficent school was killed in the germ. The Judge himself moved away."[4]

"Later Judge Theodotus Burwell secured the foundation of an agricultural college known as Oakwood Institute; its only teachers were successively Dr. De Young and William H. Brewer. The institution soon went down, and the building erected for its use is now occupied for a barn." [5]

"Another and less fortunate scheme was that of Judge Theodotus Burwell, an energetic, industrious, but somewhat visionary lawyer, having his residence in Lancaster, but keeping an office in Buffalo, who, among the other projects, aimed at founding an agricultural college at the former place. He actually brought about the erection of one or two small brick buildings, to which he gave the name of Oakwood Institute, and in which the work of instruction was commenced, with a few lads as students, who boarded in the Judges family. A Dr. DeYoung was one of the first teachers, but was soon succeeded by William H. Brewer, then a young man, who has since risen to eminence as a professor in Sheffield Scientific School, connected with Yale College. He was the last teacher at Oakwood Institute." [6]

William H. Brewer's Role

"Greatly to [Brewer's] delight, in the spring of 1851 he was invited to take charge of the Oakwood Agricultural Institute at Lancaster, in Erie County, New York. This he accepted with alacrity, thinking that here he might be able to put in operation some of the plans he had outlined in his mind for a school of agriculture, but when he took up the work at Lancaster he found conditions so impossible, students so few in number, and equipment so poor and scanty, that no satisfactory progress could be hoped for. It was a grievous disappointment, but he remained there through the year in accordance with the agreement, doing the best he could under the adverse circumstances. As he wrote in his diary, however, there was no chance to do any satisfactory work, but perhaps it was good discipline for him. At the close of the school year, in April, he returned to Ithaca."[7]

Statement by William H. Brewer:

In the winter of 1850 to 1851, some gentlemen of Buffalo undertook to establish an agricultural school at Lancaster, a small hamlet in Erie county, ten miles east of Buffalo, on the farm of Judge Burwell, who was the originator and chief mover of this scheme. As in most of these earlier attempts at agricultural schools, the material foundation was to be in stock, and subscribed for the same as stock for any other corporation.

The “Oakwood Agricultural Institute” was thus founded on 200 shares of stock, subscribed by five gentlemen, who hoped to get the school started in that way, and then after it should be in successful operation to turn it over to the state in some way, so that it should ultimately become the State Agricultural College, an institution so many were then advocating and looking for.

I was employed to take charge of the Agricultural Department. An older man was to be principal, but just before the school opened he was found to be unfit, so I had to take charge. The school opened early in April, 1851, using the buildings on the farm, a house previously occupied as a dwelling being used for the classes. We had about a dozen boys of fourteen to seventeen years of age. I soon became convinced that the school could not succeed on the plan laid out by the founders, and gave notice that I would leave at the end of my year. The school closed in the fall, and we sent the boys to their homes, and I spent the winter in giving public lectures on elementary and agricultural chemistry in that county. I delivered one course in the village of Lancaster, and another in the village of East Aurora, some eighteen miles southeast of Buffalo.

In that winter a severe fire in Buffalo burned out three of the gentlemen, who held 196 out of 200 shares of the stock, so when I left the school at the end of March, 1852, all that remained of the Oakwood Agricultural Institute was an excavation for part of the cellar on Judge Burwell's farm, and some lithographs of the fine building that was planned to be erected.[8]

"Country boys did not see the use of it and city boys did not like it."[9]

Ensuing Years

The building was later owned by Mathias Scheier and occupied by Rev. William Waith and his family.

Waith mentioned "the cottage on the corner of Woodlawn and East Main" (the location of this building) as one of 14 brick buildings in the village when he arrived on May 31st, 1851, and noted that "After serving as assistant pastor for two months, he was engaged by the [Presbyterian] society, and with his wife and baby son, moved to the brick cottage at the corner of East Main and Woodlawn."[10]

1880 map showing building and lot at 5601 Broadway, labeled as Mrs. M. Scheier Estate

The 1909 Erie County Atlas by Century Map Co. shows much smaller lot. Building consists of brick front portion with a frame addition at the rear. Owner not labeled.

1923 Sanborn map depicting 5601 Broadway (163 East Main). Significant subdivision has occurred and Woodlawn Avenue is sufficiently established to appear on the map.
1949 Sanborn map depicting 5601 Broadway. A small porch addition has been constructed on the east side of the building and a garage has been built onto the front.
5601 Broadway, c. 1986


  1. Deed from Thurston & Lucy Carpenter to Theodotus Burwell, 22 June 1848, book 99, page 365 (Erie County, NY Clerk)
  2. Magazine of Western History, Vol. VIII, May, 1888 - October, 1888
  3. Rev. James Remington, June 1869
  4. "The Past of Lancaster," The Lancaster Times, 20 Feb 1896, page 3
  5. White, Truman C., ed. Our County and Its People: A Descriptive Work on Erie County, New York. Boston: Boston History Co., 1898.
  6. History of Buffalo and Erie County, Edited by H. Perry Smith, Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co., 1884.
  7. Chittenden, Russell H. “Biographical Memoir of William Henry Brewer, 1828-1910.” In National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 12, 1927.
  8. Bailey, Liberty Hyde, ed. Cyclopedia of American Agriculture: Volume IV, Farm and Community. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909.
  10. Rev. William Waith, November 1873

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