SAVING AND MOVING THE LITTLE HOUSE
Compiled by Karen Hultz August 2022
The Little House, headquarters to Historic Pittsford, was originally located on the south side of Monroe Ave., across the street from its current location. It took a monumental effort from many people to save the house from the wrecking ball and move it across the street.
Below is a look at what was involved in the decades long effort to save the Little House. Correspondence from original documents and letters has been shortened, abbreviated and paraphrased.
LH= “Little White House”
PHS = Pittsford Historical Society
Cast of characters:
Senator Kenneth Keating
Howard Bacon, President of the Pittsford Historical Society
Paul Spiegel, President of the Pittsford Historical Society
Mr. Jack Wegman and his company, Waltjack Corp.
Mr. James W. Burdett, grocer
June 16, 1940
Blueprints show U.S. government’s plans to put a post office in the Village of Pittsford where the LH stood on the south side of Monroe Ave.
November 22, 1949
Letter from Senator Keating to Mrs. Barnard enclosing a copy of a letter from Keating to Commissioner of Public Buildings which gave the impression that the house was to be moved.
January 20, 1950
Letter from H.G. Hunter, Acting Director of Public Buildings Service to Waltjack Corporation, John F. Wegman President: Referencing letter dated Dec. 13, 1949 addressed to Honorable Kenneth Keating, indicating willingness to convey to the United States a strip of land having a frontage of 30.21 ft. on Monroe Ave. extending southwardly for the full depth of the Post Office site at Pittsford, along the westerly side thereof as an addition thereto in consideration of the conveyance by the United States to you or your nominee of a portion of the Post Office site having a frontage of 30.21 feet on Monroe Ave. and extending southwardly for the full depth of the Post Office site along the easterly side thereof.
The proposed exchange would permit the preservation of the “Little White House” on the easterly side of the present Post Office site as a building of historical importance.
March 19, 1951
Letter from Senator Kenneth Keating to Mrs. Barnard: on Dec. 29, 1950, the General Services Administration requested that Waltjack Corp. make a vendor’s survey which is necessary before they can further instruct the Dept. of Justice. The Survey has not yet been received.
December 13, 1951
Letter from Senator Keating to Howard Bacon: Mrs. Barnard has been ill. Vendor survey had still not been done by Waltjack Corp. This matter is now between PHS and Waltjack
January 2, 1952
Waltjack corporation was dissolved and deed given to the estate which was the owner of the stock of the corporation. The estate sold everything to James W. Burdett. While consummating the transaction, the lawyer found nothing except oral discussion as to relationship of Mr. Wegman to the PHS. The lawyer had purchaser sign a memorandum authorizing PHS to remove the “Little White House”.
January 2, 1952
Letter from lawyer, Harry Harris to Howard Bacon: In consummating transaction, could find nothing except some oral discussion as to relationship of Mr. Wegman to PHS. Lawyer had the purchaser sign a memorandum authorizing the PHS to remove so- called “Little White House”.
January 22, 1952
Letter from Howard Bacon, President of PHS to Senator Keating: PHS is in the dark about what property the society was to get (land or an area larger than the building) or what the agreement was between Jack Wegman and the U.S. government. Mrs. Barnard was not forthcoming to PHS about the agreement. Jack Wegman interests in Pittsford were sold to James W. Burdett. Burdett told members of PHS if they wanted the LH they could move it at any time.
January 28, 1952
Letter from Senator Keating to Howard Bacon: the “Little White House” project is in a state of confusion. Mrs. Barnard refused to give up her correspondence on the matter. The hitch is now with the private owner of the property. The federal government is ready to move as soon as they receive the survey. Urges PHS to urge the owner to comply with government’s requirements.
February 11, 1952
Letter from lawyer, Harold Hutchens to Howard Bacon: In reading the memorandum signed by James Burdett, it seems the parties had an entirely different understanding in regard to the LH. It assumed it was not a case of taking over the property by the PHS, but rather a case of the removal of the building. How did this situation come about?
February 14, 1952
Letter from PHS to Senator Keating: More trouble. PHS contacted lawyer as to agreement with Burdett on sale of Carpenter property. Appears to indicate that PHS remove the LH. All along we assumed it was to remain at present location. WE have a real important decision to make if we have to remove the building. NO place seems to be available, nor money to pay for moving it, if it had a place to go.
May 7, 1952
Certificate of Resolution moved by Estella Hawley and seconded by Henry Sayward:
-prior and subsequent to Dec.9, 1949, “Little White House” together with property lying adjacent and westerly was proposed by Waltjack Corp., would exchange 30.21 feet on the west for 30.21 feet containing the LH and convey this property to PHS.
-this proposal of Waltjack was accepted by PHS and the U.S. government agreed to make exchange conditional on surveys being made
-properties owned by Waltjack including said property is now owned by James Burdett, who said the LH may be removed by PHS
-PHS feels Burdett’s assumption is contrary to understanding previously reached between U.S. Government, PHS, and Waltjack Corp. PHS has no interest in accepting the LH without also having land upon which it sits
-PHS rejects any changes in original understanding and which is contrary to PHS acquiring the fee in the property known as the “Little White House” as its own property.
January 19, 1953
Letter from Paul Spiegel to Senator Keating: Requesting Keating’s assistance in getting information of use to PHS from General Services Administration. In 1949, Jack Wegman approached PHS with the suggestion he transfer a plot of 30ft. owned by him lying west of the government’s land for some 30ft. of ground on the east end of the government’s plot. This would be done to get control of the land and building known as “Little White House”. Mr. Wegman’s original proposal intended to give the building and land upon which it stands to PHS to share in preserving village’s historic remnants as gesture of good will to village.
Both the words of the early discussion and in feasibility of moving an antique building of brick construction led members of PHS to believe it was Jack Wegman’s intention to deliver both building and land to us. Unfortunately, none of the correspondence now remaining, spells out the intended grant of land.
Mr. Wegman’s proposal was nearly complete except for his firm to submit a vendor’s survey, when Mr. Wegman died. Trustees of his estate have sold the property to James Burdett, a Pittsford grocer with the condition that Burdett “take the conveyance subject to the agreement that the Little White House” may be removed by PHS” It appears Mr. Burdett had plans at the time of purchase to go ahead with transfer of property as originally proposed by Mr. Wegman, but not with the intention of giving the land also.
PHS feels the above interpretation of Mr. Wegman’s original proposal is a misconstruction. Transferring the property under this interpretation would in all likelihood, result in the destruction of one of Pittsford, oldest landmarks. PHS would like to solicit your aid in obtaining correspondence between John Wegman, the Waltjack Corp. and the General Services Administration.
February 25, 1953
Letter to Senator Keating from Commissioner of Public Buildings: In reference to PHS’s resolution indicating they are still interested in acquiring portion of land acquired by U.S. Government for a post office along with a building referred to as a “Little White House”. U.S. Government entered into contract with Waltjack Corp. for exchange of properties which would enable Waltjack to convey LH and the site it sits on to PHS. Acquisition of property was not consummated because Waltjack failed to furnish a vendor’s survey required for exchange. Administration is still awaiting submission of the survey or exchange of deeds cannot be made.
March 10, 1953
Selling offer. PHS offers to sell whatever title or interest it may have in property located on the south side of Monroe Ave., known as the LH and consisting of 30ft. frontage for $1,000. On condition the property will revert back to PHS if buyer or buyer’s heirs permit the outside of LH to be changed structurally or the building moved or demolished without written consent. Signed by Paul Spiegel. Offer accepted by John Connor.
June 15, 1963
Letter from David Shepherd, Little House Citizen’s Committee:
Efforts to preserve Pittsford’s historic little house have been complicated by:
-difficulty in finding a new site for the building
-working out a means by which the village could help with financing of the project
We have now reached a point where we can carry out the project successfully if an incorporated body such as PHS can accept certain responsibilities.
-Need to raise $3,500 to $4,000 to move the house
-Location: Mr. Fletcher Steele offered a piece of land on his property on Monroe Ave. for a rent of $1.00 a year for 10 years
-village is ready to enter into a lease for the property paying for all heat, water and light for the structure for 10 years
-it is necessary to find an incorporated body to assume ownership of the building and act as agent in carrying out the removal.
-suggest that PHS assume this role, accept custodianship of present funds and execute lease of building with the village.
July 20, 1963
Letter sent out from LH Preservation Committee asking people for a donation. The committee is seeking to raise $6,500 to save Pittsford’s beloved “little House” from wreckers.
August 6, 1963
Legal notice: a public hearing will be held by Village of Pittsford Zoning Board of Appeals. Pittsford Historical Society application for the purpose of considering the necessary set back variance and usage variance involved in the relocation of the historic building known as the “Little House” on the Fletcher Steele property located on 20 Monroe Ave.
The Little House was finally moved from the south side of Monroe Ave. to the north side.
September 8, 1964
Minutes of Pittsford Historical Society:
PHS has the title to the building (LH) and to a foot and a half of ground surrounding it. 10yr. lease for the land, $1 per year, permits the LH to stand on the Steele property.
Discussed uses for the LH: too small for society meetings. One suggestion was to make the LH a museum to simulate a lawyer’s office of the 1820’s. Encourage school groups to visit.
Nov. 6, 1964
Letter from Andrew Wolfe to Genesee Valley Newspapers
PHS raises funds to move the LH. Society was concerned only with moving the structure. Did not have jurisdiction over plans for remodeling or future use of building.
Suggested at time of moving, a small, non-profit organization be formed to own and operate the building. PHS has reservations about operation of the building.
Dec. 1, 1967
Letter from Mary Menzie, President of Pittsford Historical Society:
“Mr. Fletcher Steele, being satisfied with the work done to date on the “Little House”, now is willing to consent to the transfer of the lease from Pittsford Historical Society to Historic Pittsford.