Sitting on the south side of the Ridge Road about one-third mile east of Warren’s Corners stood a square white house, much like many others in 1836. However, this particular house has a tale of considerable interest centered around it. There is no doubt about when the house was built, or by whom, because the southeast corner of the foundation wall contains a smooth rectangular stone on the surface of which was carved, “G. W. Howell, May 7 A.D. 1836.” The house was very unusual on its own, with one story and a roof that rose into a rather high glass cupola in the center. The basement was roomy with two fireplaces.
According to former Niagara County Historian, Clarence O. Lewis, the house was designed for a unique purpose and became known in Cambria as Howell’s Cottage. Mr. Howell and two other men took up their abode in the house. The men frequently mingled with the villagers at the “Corners,” but never invited anyone into their house. A little while after this, an abnormal number of counterfeit bills were found in circulation in Western New York and government agents were dispatched to investigate. Just what led them to Warren’s Corners is not known, but armed with a warrant, the police arrived on the scene hoping to catch the men “red (or green) handed.” The house was surrounded by a rather dense growth of trees so the agents thought they would have no difficulty approaching without being seen. They entered the front and back doors simultaneously and proceeded to the cupola where they found, as expected, the printing press, and all the accessories for making counterfeit bills, several bundles of which were in plain sight. To their chagrin, however the counterfeiters had disappeared, which was for a short time a mystery. Finally they discovered a wooden panel at the base of the cupola which slid back and revealed a secret passage-way to the basement. From there, a tunnel ran a short distance back from the house with a bush-concealed opening. The counterfeiters had escaped just as Howell had planned they would, if necessary. An attempt was made by the agents to follow the criminals but they lost the trail and the men were never caught.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094