Allenton Farm & the Villa at River Lea At Allentown Farm on the southern end of Grand Island, Lewis F. Allen introduced new crops, improved his beef cattle through careful breeding, conducted experiments to increase his dairy herd's milk production, and became nationally known for his work with shorthorn cattle. He also planted vineyards and apple, pear and cherry orchards. In 1866, he gave his son William Cleveland Allen two parcels of his farmland upon which the "Villa" at River Lea was later built. By 1879, as Grand Island was being transformed into a premier resort community, Lewis F. Allen shrewdly subdivided the rest of his farmland into smaller lots for sale. In 1887, the remaining farm property was sold to a private syndicate. River Lea remained a summer home. The design of the "Villa," or River Lea House was influenced by that of cottages and farmhouses that appear in a popular farm architecture book written by Lewis F. Allen in 1852. Although the house has been altered and added onto since it was first built around 1873 by Lewis Allen's son, William Cleveland Allen, evidence of its original appearance remains. From Lewis F. Allen's Rural Architecture: Being a Complete Description of Farm Houses, Cottages, and Outbuildings, 1852. Porches and verandas once encircled River Lea, providing pleasant
outdoor entertaining areas. Statesmen and politicians came to River Lea to enjoy the cool summer breezes, and to boat and fish offshore. Courtesy of the Grand Island Historical Society. This ca. 1920 photograph shows one of River Lea's subsequent owners enjoying a summer barbecue. Courtesy of the Grand Island Historical Society. By Maintaining the historic River Lea house, New York State and the Grand Island Historical Society preserve the great legacy of Lewis F. Allen, the Allen family, and their contributions to Grand Island and Western New York. River Lea was in private ownership when it was ravaged by a fire in 1934. When remodeled, its porches were removed, and the house was divided into a duplex apartment. Courtesy of the Grand Isalnd Historical Society. Creating Beaver Island State Park This 1887 map shows the "Villa at River Lea as well as Riverlawn, the Spaulding estate that was built on former Allen framland. The Jolly Reefer Sportsman's Club is the building identified on Beaver Island. The Oakfield Club was the island's largest private resort. Falconwood, a public club built by Lewis F. Allen, is on Grand Island's southwest shore. Original black and white image courtesy of the Grand Island Historical Society. From Mary Downs and Barry Burnett, River Lea and Allentown Farms, 1963. By the 1930s, New York State had begun
purchasing several properties in Grand Island to create a public park and clubhouse at the new Beaver Island State Park. In 1962, the state bought River Lea and the surrounding property to build an 18-hole golf course as part of the park's planned expansion. Although the project called for the demolition of William Cleveland Allen's "Villa," it was spared from the wrecking ball when members of the Grand Island Historical Society and Grand Island community joined together to save the historic property.