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Summer Hours: Telling the stories of Buffalo’s mansions

Jessica Seabury leads a walking tour for Explore Buffalo.

Jessica Seabury fields a question while leading a recent Explore Buffalo Delaware Mansions Walking tour. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Photos and text by MEREDITH FORREST KULWICKI

Published August 6, 2021

Editor's note: Summer Hours is a photo series focusing on UB staff members who use the longer days to pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs.

You’ve driven down Delaware Avenue, maybe even run the annual Turkey Trot. But how often do you look at the homes?

The mansions along Buffalo’s Millionaires’ Row are the focus of an Explore Buffalo tour led by Jessica Seabury, senior assistant director of the Honors College.

“I really love seeing people experience these mansions,” Seabury says. “They’ve probably driven past a bunch of times, but didn’t really know the stories of the people who lived in them.”

Using a laminated book of color-coded notes, Seabury has perfected her presentation of the Delaware Avenue Mansions Walking Tour. She started as a volunteer docent in 2017. The 18 homes included on the tour were mostly built in the decades around 1900 and reflect Buffalo’s past as the home of more than 60 millionaires whose wealth largely came from the tanning, lumber, grain and banking industries.

Detail of Seabury's bag, notes and microphone.
Seabury uses a microphone.
Seaburyy speacks to the tour groups she's leading.

Seabury wears a microphone to be heard over the street noise and passes arounds photos of the mansions that have been torn down. She says each docent is encouraged to make the tour their own, and while some may focus on the architecture, for her the residents’ stories and the “gossip” are forefront.

“I like to talk about some of the really strong women who lived on this street,” Seabury says. “Kate Butler, who was the president and publisher of The Buffalo News, for example. A lot of the women outlive their husbands and were very accomplished in their own right.”

Seabury gestures as she speaks to her tour group.
Two members of Seabury's tour examine a photograph.
A tour member takes a photo of a mansion on the tour.
The Butler Mansion.

One of the first mansions featured is the Butler Mansion, home to UB’s Jacobs Executive Development Center. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Herding people together for the stroll between buildings on a recent tour, Seabury makes sure to follow traffic rules while answering questions. The tour generally has about a dozen participants. Some take a moment to leave reviews of the tour on Explore Buffalo’s “TripAdvisor” page.

“The Delaware Mansions tour was terrific! Our guide, Jessica, was informative and funny! It was great to learn the history of Buffalo’s millionaires and to see the mansions up close. Highly recommend. Thank you, Jessica, for a fun night out on Delaware!” wrote user “pittmom2017” about a tour with Seabury last month.

Seabury's tour group stand in front of one of the mansions on the tour.
Seabury's notes for her tour.
Seabury and her tour group stands in front of an elegant mansion.

Seabury leads two tours a month between May and October. She says there’s something special about Buffalo summers and she enjoys the extra time outside.

“I started doing it just because I love Buffalo history and I love people and teaching, so it’s something fun to do, to be able to meet people,” Seabury says. “[To] really share my love of Buffalo.”

Jessica Seabury is a UB alumnus who has worked in the Honors College for 25 years. Explore Buffalo is a non-profit organization that runs 220 tours in the summer months focused on Buffalo’s architecture, history and neighborhoods.