Story by Kathleen Wilson
On October 18, 1867, the United States took possession of Alaska from Russia in a ceremony in the town of Sitka, AK. The purchase increased the size of the U.S. by almost 20 percent. While it remained unnoticed for almost three decades, a major gold deposit was discovered in the 1890s marking the beginning of the Gold Rush.
Besides gold, Alaska has provided the U.S. with major supplies of coal, natural gasses, zinc, oil, and has stopped Russia’s trade effort in the Pacific North West. It strengthened America’s position in the region while proving a strategic importance in World War II…. all for less than two cents an acre. Alaska’s forests, marine-rich waters, wildlife, and more than 30,000 bald eagles are all naturally found in the state.
America credits William Henry Seward, the Town of Warwick’s hometown man, who was born on Main St. in the Village of Florida, with the purchase of Alaska. Even though the purchase was laughed at and initially called ”Seward’s Folly” and his “Ice Box,” time has told us quite a different tale indeed!
Today, on the site of Seward’s birthplace is an old and deteriorating structure built by Mortimer Mapes and named the “Buttonwood” in 1887. Mapes was a carpenter and designed the home that stands on the site today, but he consciously and, perhaps economically, preserved the wood from Seward’s home and built a carriage house/barn in the back. The front of the barn almost mirrors the original Seward home in appearance.
Like Mapes, a group of local citizens recognized the significance of preserving Seward’s birthplace and formed the Seward/Mapes Homestead Restoration Committee. The Committee was formed in 2010 when the Town of Warwick entrusted the Village of Florida with the homestead. Many often visit famous sites throughout the country even if there is nothing left but the land where something important once took place. The Village of Florida and the Town of Warwick are fortunate to have a structure that was declared as a National Historic Site. The historic significance is worthy of restoration to commemorate a critically important event for the Nation; one credited to one of Warwick’s own.
Much has been accomplished by the Committee and volunteers and through donations from local businesses and citizens, together with a $400,000 grant from NY State. The site was severely overgrown with a deteriorating structure, a dilapidated front porch, collapsed roof, peeling paint, and at least 37 windows in disrepair. Now, the house boasts a new shingled roof, ironically from Alaskan Yellow Cedar trees which are strong and moisture resistant to last for decades. And passersby will notice the newly restored wood siding and the new porch construction underway.
The Master Plan for the homestead boasts a museum in the restored residence, a parking lot and a garden area with a gazebo which can accommodate numerous types of outdoor events. Once restored, the importance of the Seward/Mapes Homestead will become an attraction that locals and tourists alike can experience and learn about this important and historic event for generations to come.
American journalist, Charles Anderson Dana (1819-1897) once recalled that Seward had “a great, subtle, far-reaching intelligence. He was an optimist. He had imagination. He was reaching out always toward the future and dwelling upon it.”
“Much like Dana we, too, are looking to the future and the eventual completion of restoration,” noted Roger Dowd from the Seward/Mapes Restoration Committee.
The importance of 1867 is two-fold for the Town of Warwick. While walking by the shops on Warwick’s Main St., the banners hanging from lamp posts declare, “Warwick, The Queen Village, Incorporated in 1867,” marking an important year for both the Nation and the Town and its Villages.
For those who want to recognize the importance of 1867 and the importance of restoring and preserving this National Historic site, visit www.sewardhomestead.org and make a tax-deductible contribution of $18.67, or any amount, by clicking, “Lend Us a Helping Hand.”