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In the early 1900s, the Automobile Club of Buffalo decided to build a country clubhouse for its members, choosing a spot within a day’s drive of the city.

In those days, Buffalo was at the hub of the fledgling auto industry and owning a car was rather novel.

The club settled on a location 17 miles from downtown for its clubhouse, creating an elegant, exclusive getaway.

Times have changed – a trip from downtown to the clubhouse now takes roughly a half hour, and there are plenty of other cars traveling the roads of the heavily developed route in between. But the special place created for the club members in Clarence has endured, and now has earned national recognition.

The building, known today as the Town Park Clubhouse, was added to the National Register of Historic Places last June. That is the official list of the nation’s places deemed worthy of preservation.

The Arts and Crafts-style building was designed by the noted Buffalo architectural firm Esenwein & Johnson, and opened in 1911. Over the decades, the clubhouse became a financial burden to the club, and auto ownership became more commonplace. The Town of Clarence acquired the clubhouse and grounds in 1957, ushering in the property’s present-day use as a popular meeting spot for a variety of organizations.

The clubhouse is famous locally – the town gave it historic landmark status, and the property’s centennial was celebrated two years ago.

Mark Woodward, the town historian, says the clubhouse is “a national treasure” that calls to mind Clarence’s history as the oldest existing town in Erie County. “Clarence has taken pride in its history, and the Town Park Clubhouse is a very important part of this pride,” he said.

Linda Mosher, chairwoman of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission, said many residents associate the building with events like dances or special occasions, but may not have realized what a gem the place is, or its association with the rise of travel by automobile.

When the late Kathleen Hallock was town supervisor, she led a push to restore the clubhouse, and a number of groups that use the building became involved. “Everybody kind of chipped in to bring it back,” Mosher said.

Funds from state and federal grants mean that town taxpayers will not have to shoulder the full cost of future renovations of the property, said Town Supervisor David C. Hartzell Jr. He noted that while many residents have been in the clubhouse for one event or another, “a simple one-hour tour is a real eye-opener.”

The town’s Historic Preservation Commission will host a reception open to the public celebrating the national recognition from 6 to 8 p.m. today at 10405 Main St. Tours will be offered starting at 6 p.m., and a brief ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wally Smith of the AAA of Western and Central New York is scheduled to speak.

More than 80,000 properties are on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1982, the town has had one other property on the register: the Eshelman Building at the Four Corners, also known as the Square Deal store, at 6000 Goodrich Road, at Clarence Center Road, in Clarence Center.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com