An historic lumber mill is Buffalo’s newest member of the National Register of Historic Places. The E.M. Hager and Sons Co. building located at 141 Elm Street was added to the prestigious list on May 22. TM Montante Development purchased the vacant property last September
for $706,522 and is planning a mixed-use conversion project. Plans call for commercial space on the first floor and approximately 25 apartments on the upper floors. Work is expected to start shortly.
The E.M. Hager and Sons Co. building is located at 141 Elm Street. The neighborhood was historically an industrial area with mid-to-late nineteenth century pockets of residential blocks providing housing for workers at nearby manufacturing facilities.
Before 1940, William Street was a small thoroughfare called Vine Alley, and there were buildings associated with the Hager Company on the corner of Elm and Vine. Those buildings no longer remain and the street has been widened bringing William Street within 40 feet of the north wall of the Hager building. The Hager building is the sole remaining structure along Elm Street in this block, with the land to the west that once served as a lumber and mill yard currently used for parking. There are additional industrial structures unrelated to the Hager site, built at the turn of the century, on the block facing Clinton Street.
The oldest building in the complex is the three-story main block, constructed in 1878. The two-story wing to the north and the three-story section behind it were built a few years later (c. 1880) by a different wood working company. These buildings were eventually acquired by Hager and incorporated into the ever growing complex.
The final addition came circa 1920 with the construction of a three-story wing that includes a mezzanine level. Wooden storage shed structures in various configurations were at one time on Elm Street south of the current building. They were on the site until the last quarter of the twentieth century.
When the Hager Company occupied the building, the first floor housed the planing mill, lumber storage and sawdust vault. The primary entrance is located on the west façade, through a small wainscoted vestibule with leaded door, transom and sidelights, all of modern construction.
The second floor is accessible via the single stair at the rear of the building and is similar to the first floor in being primarily open space. This space was originally used for carving, gluing and painting the woodwork produced by the company. It has not been used in recent times and all of the former work areas contain remnants and artifacts including belt and pulley systems, heating units and wooden racks.
The structural system is wood post and beam and the wood remains in rough finish, although some of the columns are painted. Perimeter and interior walls are brick, most whitewashed or painted, and there are wood floors throughout. None of the original windows remain and many of the openings are boarded or bricked, including three large industrial type window openings on the south wall of the main building.
The third floor continues the wood post and beam structural system and like the lower floors was used as manufacturing space for the woodworking company, and like the second floor, it contains remnants of woodworking equipment and artifacts.
E.M. Hager & Sons Co. Planing Mill is locally significant under Criterion C in Architecture as an intact example of a mid-nineteenth Century manufacturing building that was once common in the City of Buffalo. Buffalo’s prominence as a commercial and industrial center in the mid-nineteenth to midtwentieth centuries saw the development of the factory building throughout that time period.
The Hager Planing Mill is typical of a mid-nineteenth century building that remained in use for over a century and was minimally adapted to accommodate changing manufacturing techniques. This is one of few planning mills left intact, particularly within the corridor framed by Oak Street, the Kensington Expressway and the Niagara Thruway. The building type was crucial to the development of industry in Buffalo, a major node in manufacturing networks during the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.
The E.M. Hager & Sons Co. Planing Mill is additionally significant under Criterion A for its association with the Hager Company that occupied the building for over a hundred years. Hager was involved in the construction of many of Buffalo’s premier buildings, beginning with its function in construction and later by providing beautifully detailed interior woodwork for commercial and residential projects.
Beginning as a construction company and then becoming a manufacturer and supplier of materials for building, the Hager company played an important part in the physical expansion of the city of Buffalo.
The period of significance related to these two criteria is 1878 – circa 1920. Edward M. Hager began his construction company on Mortimer Street in 1868. The factory at 141 Elm was built in 1878 and in 1883 Hager’s company first became associated with the building. Although their presence at the site continued through the 1980s, it was circa 1920 when the final configuration of the company and the site as producers of finely finished woodwork occurred.
Hager Company History
Edward M. Hager emigrated to the United States from Germany when he was thirteen years old with his younger brother Charles F. Hager and their parents. Upon their arrival in Buffalo, Edward and Charles were taken in by their brother August C. Hager who had been established in Buffalo for several years as a grocer. Edward worked in August’s grocery store for a brief period before he went to Newark, N.J. to learn the carpentry trade. He joined the 68th Regiment of New York City and fought during
the Civil War.
After the war, he returned to Buffalo and worked in the flour and feed business for a short period before turning his attention to carpentry work. He married Ottilia Dorscheid who gave birth to five children, August C. (1867), George J. (1868), Ottilia, Caroline (1873), Edward J. (1877).
Hager established the E. M. Hager and Sons Company in April 1868 on Mortimer Street. Hager’s company originally specialized in timber-framed construction and carpentry, the most common construction method at the time.
While many builders–including Richard and William Caudel, Eckel & Ackerman, and Cyrus K. Porter & Sons–serviced the demand in Buffalo, none of them had the longevity that E.M. Hager & Sons experienced. The E. M. Hager & Sons Company grew rapidly, mirroring the growth of Buffalo.
The construction company helped to construct many of Buffalo’s early factories, grain elevators, churches, schools and private residents. In 1873, Hager erected the scaffolding for Buffalo’s first public execution in Lafayette Square. As a result of his early success, Hager joined two other local woodworkers, John Feist and Ralph Clark, in 1883 to form the ‘Clark, Hager & Feist – Planing Mill’. Hager moved from his location on Mortimer Street to Feist’s mill at 141 Elm Street, the extant 3-story building that was constructed in 1878. Prior to his partnership with Feist and Clark, Hager had a partnership with Joseph Klaus for three years under the name Hager and Klaus.
Clark retired four years after the partnership formed, and Hager bought the company outright from Feist in 1894. At that time, his two sons, George J. and August C. joined the company to formally re-establish the E.M. Hager & Sons Company in 1902. Edward served as president while George and August were vice president and secretary, respectively. After Edward’s death in 1919, August C. served as president of the company until his passing a year later in 1920. George J. took over the company after August’s death and served as president until 1954 when he passed away.
The mill operated six, ten-hour days per week, using an estimated 100 rail car loads of lumber each year. In the late 1800s, most of the lumber arrived via Buffalo’s busy waterfront by canal boat and was delivered locally by horse drawn cart.
The E. M. Hager Company worked on countless prominent projects in Buffalo, including the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, for which it served as one of the prime construction contractors. All of the temporary structures at the Exposition were built entirely out of wood, and the E. M. Hager Company built the temporary wood edifices for several of the buildings including the Electric, Transportation, and Horticultural Society Buildings, among others. The construction effort was so large that Edward Hager established a satellite woodworking plant on-site to deal with the tremendous demand. Ironically, this display of monumental architecture was also the beginning of decline for wooden structural systems. The New York State Building, the only permanent building for the Exposition, was made with marble.
The Hager & Sons Company also built many of Buffalo’s most beautiful and elaborate mansions, churches, schools, clubhouses and offices. When Buffalo was building its new City Hall, the Hager Company produced the wall and door paneling in the mayor’s office, the only wood work in the entire building. Other notable buildings they outfitted include the 20th Century Club, the former University Medical School on High Street, the Statler Hilton, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Canisius College. The company also had large contracts outside the City of Buffalo as well like outfitting the Canadian National Railroad offices in Detroit, Chicago, and Boston.
The company’s continuing success drove it to grow, acquiring additional adjacent properties and expanding to about 75 percent of the city block presently bounded by Elm, Clinton, Michigan and William. Their success was so great that the company needed additional space offsite, which was located nearby at 185-187 Clinton Street.
Another major transition in the business structure occurred after the deaths of Edward Hager in 1919 and August Hager in 1920. George Hager became president of the company and was joined in 1922 by Walter L. Hoffmeyer, who served as vice-president. The deaths of Edward and August came at a time when the timber framing building method and the lumber building industry was slowly becoming more obsolete and was gradually replaced with the use of steel and concrete. Steel reinforced concrete construction was considered a better alternative to Hager’s traditional timber-framed method primarily because of the benefit of increased strength, durability, fireproofing and the ability for higher buildings.
Already an established business but faced with the prospect of obsolescence, Hager & Sons realigned its services from frame construction to interior furnishings. In 1926, the company began to produce “store fixtures, tavern bars, school and bank equipment.” As heavy construction work faded, the E. M. Hager Company focused solely on millwork, producing fine, wood-craved interiors of many of Buffalo’s stately mansions, including the Goodyear Residence and the Thomas McKinney House and office buildings constructed during this time. The company pursued this path of business for the rest of its existence.
A noted example of the Hager company’s residential work is the McKinney (now Arrison) House
at 35 Lincoln Parkway, designed by the firm of Esenwein and Johnson and built in 1927-1929.
Hager did extensive design and construction work on the interior woodwork for the house including an ornately carved grand staircase in black walnut and highly detailed library paneling and cabinetry. European craftsman from Germany, Switzerland and Italy were brought to the Hager plant to assist with the work.
The staircase is particularly notable with fully formed cherub figures and an impressive lion’s head at the newel post. The Hager company did an exhaustive search to find, in nearby Alden, New York, a live walnut tree to meet the specifications required for the woodwork. The lion’s head was carved from the thickest portion of the trunk and the wood was cured for two years before the actual carving took place. The house recently underwent an award winning restoration.
George Hager passed away in the summer of 1954, after serving as president of the E. M. Hager and Sons Company for 35 years. He had successfully managed the family business as it specialized in creating beautiful, wood-craved interiors from local businesses and residences rather then as a constructing contractor. Upon Hager’s death, Walter Hoffmeyer took over as president of the company.
Mr. Hoffmeyer would be “ably assisted by the young and energetic Constant Galus, the general manager and vice-president; Roy Graeber, office manager and treasurer; and Richard Campbell, purchasing-costaccountant and secretary.” Under Hoffmeyer’s leadership and by the time of the company’s centennial in 1968, E.M. Hag
er & Sons outfitted over 130 banks, including the First National Bank, the Liberty Bank and the Marine Midland Trust Company offices at Northtown Plaza and the Statler-Hilton Hotel. Temple Beth Zion on Buffalo’s Delaware Avenue, the modern concrete temple designed by Harrison and Abromovitz in 1966, has interior wood detailing done by the Hager Company. The company ceased operations in the early 1980s.
After the Hager Company shut down, the building was used as a restaurant and night club. Today, only the main planing building remains from the Hager & Sons complex. The E.M. Hager & Sons Co. Planing Mill is historically significant as a highly intact planing mill that represents the history of the industry in Buffalo. The second and third floors have been left almost untouched since the Hager Company vacated the building, and equipment remains in place on these floors. The first floor has been altered only by new surfaces, but the structure remains the same as it was when the Hager Company occupied the building.