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Westfield’s Peacock homes, Part III: The Thomas Peacock House

December 24, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

Surprises are always a delight for your Westfield Historian; especially when they answer some questions and give rise to yet another "history mystery." Discovering the Thomas Peacock House has been all of the above and more. For many several years, Peacock Grove, and the Peacock name in Barcelona has been infiltrating Westfield historical research, with the nagging questions in the back of the mind as to who was that Barcelona Peacock family, and just where was their home, and were they related to the famous Judge Peacock of Mayville.

The first Peacock mystery appeared as picture postcard attached to a 3-20-2008 email from "ScottFalzguy" with the subject line, "Peacock Falls, Westfield?" "Never heard of it!" was my first reply; "But I'll try to find it!" And so began some fascinating trips to the shores of Lake Erie, near Barcelona, along the many little creeks and canyons that ripple lazily, or tumble off joyously off the cliffs into the lake. This led to the rediscovery of Peacock Grove, a historic 1890 photo of which adjoined the BeeLines article, "Peacock Family Homes Part I," and a possible "Peacock Falls" waterfall located on one of the streams running through Forest Park.

Also described in Part I was finding a third Peacock home (other than the previously known Margaret Peacock home on West Main Road and the Charles E Peacock home on East Main Street), that of Thomas Peacock at 31 Jefferson Street, currently the home of Julia Militello, where she still sells wonderful antiques. Ms Militello shared as much as she could recall about the stories and history of her home, which had been in the Militello family since about 1914, and had been previously owned by Thomas A Peacock.

As is often the case, historic research turns up conflicting information about people and places and events, and such has been true for separating fact and rumor in the case of this house and its provenance. The first source of information came from the Architecture in Westfield booklet published by the Westfield Republican in 1975, describing the house as "Second Empire" because of its unique high mansard roof, a feature found in very few homes in Westfield. This article states that "The house is said to have been built by Thomas Peacock" as noted in the 1891 "Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Chautauqua County, New York." Also mentioned are the 1854 Chautauqua County map showing a house but no name on the property, the 1867 Atlas map that shows the property owner as C. Woodward, and the 1881 Atlas listing it as owned by O.H. Gibbs. The article reasons that the position of the structure on the 1881 Atlas appears to be different from its current location, and surmises that "a smaller dwelling might have been demolished to make way for a new one in the intervening years."

The next source of information was found in the files from the 1980s when many historic structures and areas of Westfield were surveyed to apply for the national and state historic registers. These materials stated that the original house was built in the mid 1800s and had been added onto over the years, citing various reasons for these assumptions. So the 1891 Cyclopedia was consulted, which had a biographical article about Thomas A. Peacock. The biography agreed closely with genealogical and census records researched independently. Westfield Republican newspaper notices from 1887, 1888, and 1891, describe the work Thomas Peacock was doing on his residence at 31 Jefferson. This included building a windmill, enlarging the residence, adding verandas, and putting in stone sidewalks. Although Andrew Young's history book from the 1870s was listed as a resource for the historic preservation files, no information was located on the page noted. So whether Thomas Peacock actually tore down an earlier structure and built the brick home at 31 Jefferson, or just enlarged and added to it is still in question.

Meanwhile, during the interview with Julia Militello, she told a story about when her parents and grandparents purchased the Peacock estate home in the early 1900s, and Antony Militello discovered Mastodon bones while draining a pond on the property. According to Julia, the property was purchased about 1914, and the pond drained soon afterward. Her story reminded me of a photo my mother, Frances (Dibble, Blackburn) Anderson, had shown me several years ago, of a couple of Mastodon bones including a tusk, in front of some sort of excavation equipment, which had been discovered in Westfield. Thanks to the diligent research of a BeeLines/Westfield Historian Facebook reader, three articles were located in the June and July issues of the 1902 Westfield Republican newspaper, telling of the discovery of the bones by workmen excavating in the swamp on Mrs. Peacock's property on Jefferson Street. Since the Militello family did not own the property until 1914, here is another "discrepancy" that may be attributed to several possibilities. Perhaps Mr. Militello discovered more bones, as he is said to have given away bones to people around Westfield according to at least two different sources.

Another surprise occurred when a request was posted on Facebook requesting any photos or information about the discovery of these ancient bones - that a couple of these bones are currently on display at the Grape Discovery Center, being on loan from the McClurg Museum. Since the McClurg Museum was not started until the late 1940s by the Chautauqua County Historical Society, a question may be asked, "When and from whom did CCHS receive these historic relics?"

Genealogical research for Thomas Peacock discovered the following interesting relationships: Thomas Alvin Peacock was born in 1840 in Westfield, son of Thomas Peacock (1817-1851), who was the son of John (1873-1839) Peacock, who was a brother of Judge William Peacock and Absalom Peacock, all three of whose parents were Thomas (1730-1878) and Margaret Anderson. The Thomas Peacock born in 1817 married his cousin Alice E. Peacock (1820-1874) in 1832; Alice was a sister of Margaret Peacock, and daughter of Absalom Peacock. Thomas Alvin Peacock also married an Alice (Stanfield) and some of these Peacocks (John, Thomas Alvin, and Alice E in particular) are found on the census records in Barcelona in 1850, 1855, 1860, & 1870.

As the reader might suspect, having so many Thomas Peacocks and two of them having wives named Alice was a very confusing situation to untangle! Please "stay tuned" for more BeeLines stories about at least two more Peacock homes and the families that lived in them.



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