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The Button House, part 3: Editha, Last of the Line

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Button House 3

Editha’s ashes were interred at Mount Hope Cemetery next to her husband’s. On their grave marker, her name appears as Editha Lois Button. Even in death, she asserts that she never took her husband’s name. Photo: Jim DeVinney

Editha Lois Button was the only child born to Nelson Lord Button Jr. and Alice Maude Goodger. She once described her father as “a playboy, a very precious boy, a handsome father, brought up to be a gentleman. Grandpa [Nelson Sr.] would never let him soil his hands….” Editha was similarly pampered.

For many years, the family had a housekeeper Resina Hollister who was so much a part of the family that, following her death in 1901, she was interred in the Button family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery. Because of Resina and perhaps other servants as well, Editha never had to do chores. “I’m not at all domestic. My mother used to see that I was always taken care of.”

She and her mother were close, often going on “motoring” trips as reported by the occasional line or two in the Personal columns of the Democrat and Chronicle. Both women were longtime members of the Nichols Travel Club, sometimes presenting papers about their adventures at monthly meetings held in the Bevier Building at the corner of Spring and South Washington Streets.

In addition to the twelve-room house at 97 Tremont Street, the family owned a sixteen-room summerhouse on a 70-acre farm on East River Road. The farm included horses, pigs, cats and dogs. As a child, Editha developed such affection for these animals that she became a vegetarian: “I could never eat my playmates.” She and her mother became fervent anti-vivisectionists and started an organization called the Humanitarian League Society to promote that cause. It was incorporated at the Tremont Street address where meetings took place for more than forty years.

When Editha was sixteen, she eloped with twenty-one year old Ferdinand Joseph Reynolds. I have not been able to find a record of this marriage in New York State Vital Records. Perhaps they went to another state. According to Helen Newburg, when the Button family learned of it, they had the marriage annulled. Despite that, the relationship continued. Newburg says Editha convinced her family to allow Reynolds a bedroom in the family home. City Directories often show Reynolds living at other locations but when he had to register with the draft board on April 27, 1942, he listed 97 Tremont as his address.

On October 17, 1951, the couple married again—I found this record so I know it’s true. Editha claimed she never took her husband’s name but a number of newspaper accounts contradict that assertion. Among them, her mother’s 1962 obituary lists “a daughter, Mrs. F. J. Reynolds,” among the survivors.
On December 13, 1964, Ferdinand died in St. Mary’s Hospital from a cerebral hemorrhage.

A century after her grandparents first moved into the Tremont Street house, Editha Button, last of the line, was alone in the big home with three toy poodles for company. Racial tensions had disrupted the Third Ward five months earlier and a helicopter had crashed into a home at the end of the street. The neighborhood was in decline and urban removal was soon tearing down many of its iconic homes. She refused to move out, however, insisting that there was a “feeling you get from living in the Third Ward.”

By 1970, things were improving. “I stuck it out in the neighborhood when everybody left and now all these young people are moving back in and making it fashionable to live [here again].”

On March 30, 1973, Editha Lois Button died of chronic lung disease. Her death occurred in the same bedroom where she had been born more than 78 years earlier.
In her final years, she could not conceive that anyone could possibly appreciate the house as much as the Buttons. In her will she declared that the house was to be demolished after her death. Obviously it wasn’t. Even as a nephew began getting quotes from contractors to tear down the house, the Landmark Society of Western New York stepped in with an application to declare the house a landmark and that stopped any attempt at demolition. A few days later, a fire mysteriously broke out in the bedroom where Editha had died. Helen Newburgh, who lived in the Button house in the early 1980s, said the floor was charred around the spot where the bed once stood. I have not been able to confirm if such marks are, in fact, there.

The Button House, part 1: Origins
The Button House, part 2: Witchcraft and Fire
The Button House, part 3: Editha, Last of the Line