Sometimes a building seems to take on a life of its own. The Goodyear Mansion at 888 Delaware Ave is one of those buildings. Its history includes one of Buffalo’s wealthiest families. It also includes Presidents, First Ladies, royalty, a health insurance company, and two schools. Its future is set to include both corporate and market-rate apartments.
Now, focusing on one home is usually not my style, although I did it with the Humphrey House, but I had a handful of people ask me to write this one. Each person had a different reason for asking me to do it. And I have my own reasons for agreeing.
You see, my mother is a graduate of Bishop McMahon high school, class of 1957. Back in December, our family moved her into a memory care unit. When I visited her (pre-COVID) Mom would always ask me to read my latest posts to her. Just before the nursing homes closed down, she asked if I would ever write about “someone’s high school”. I said, “Oh, sure. why not?” And the conversation moved off in a different direction. Communication is often difficult for dementia patients. Actually, it’s always difficult.
Several weeks later, I received an email from a woman asking me to write about her old high school, Bishop McMahon. It was then that I realized my mother was talking about her own high school that day. Mom remembered that I knew a lot about it already and that I would enjoy learning more. She was right.
Since then, I’ve had three more requests to write about this mansion.
So here I am, all my reading is done and I’m ready to tell you about my Mother’s high school building. The Goodyear Mansion.
Charles Waterhouse & Ella Portia Goodyear
Charles Goodyear was born in Cortland, NY in 1846 and came to Buffalo to study law in 1868. He practiced at a few different firms, one or two of them he himself started. He had a good reputation and served as Assistant District Attorney, and later as District Attorney. Things were going well for Charles.
In 1876 he met and married Ella Portia Conger. Ella attended Nardin Academy (Miss Nardin’s at the time) and the Female Academy (now Buffalo Seminary). Her father, Anson Griffith Conger, a banker, purchased the couple a home at 723 Delaware Avenue (lost). It was here that they raised their four children, Anson, Ester, Charles, and Bradley.
When Grover Cleveland became governor of NYS, Charles Goodyear joined the firm Cleveland founded, Cleveland, Bissel & Sicard. The firm then became Bissel, Sicard & Goodyear. He practiced law with that firm for four years.
Charles and Ella were very good friends of Grover & Frances Cleveland and were in fact, the first guests the Clevelands entertained at the White House after their wedding. Cool!
In 1887, Goodyear retired from the law for good when he went into the lumber business with his brother Frank. The brothers eventually owned extensive timberland in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. They started a railroad company, The Buffalo and Susquehanna Iron Company. They pioneered the use of railroads to move lumber.
These two businesses earned the Goodyears immense wealth.
It was during this time of great prosperity that the Goodyears decided to build a home suitable for a family of such affluence. And build it they did.
The home was completed in 1903 and is an exquisite example of the French Renaissance Style. We would expect nothing less from Green & Wicks (E.B. Green was the principal) who were the architects. Just look at that mansard roof, the dormers with semi-circular pediments and keystones above the windows. And above those are porthole dormers! Love these! Tuscan columns surround the brick enclosed portico which was originally wide open. See above.
So much to look at on one house!
Inside there were 11 bedrooms, each with a marble fireplace, and adjoining bathrooms. On the first floor was the main hall, a dining room, a breakfast room, a library, and a loggia which opened up to the terrace and garden out back.
The Goodyears enjoyed this home together from it’s completion until 1911 when Charles passed away.
During World War I, King Albert of Belgium, Queen Elisabeth of Bavaria, and their son, Prince Leopold visited the United States, including Buffalo. This was back when Buffalo was a mover and a shaker on the national scene. While here, they were guests of Ella’s and were entertained in this home. Amazing! Royalty! In Buffalo, and in this home!
Ella lived in the home until her death in September of 1940. I love this photo below of Ella on her patio in her beautiful garden.
Blue Cross Corp moves into 888 Delaware
Shortly after Ella’s death, the Hospital Service Corporation and Western New York Medical Plan, better known as the Blue Cross Corporation, purchased the home. They made small changes to the kitchens and pantries and partitioned off one or two of the bedrooms, but largely left the mansion intact. It remained this way for the next 10 years.
Bishop McMahon High School
In 1950, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo purchased the building to be used as the all-girl Bishop McMahon High School. This is where my mother spent her high school years. The school itself had a business focus. Mind you, not what we think of today as the study of business. Back then, the girls were taught typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping. They learned the fundamentals of business and business law. They were also taught high school Social Studies and English.
Most of the first floor rooms were converted into classrooms, and later all of the bedrooms on the second and third floors were converted into classrooms as well.
My mother loved it. She graduated in 1957 and growing up, I only heard good things from her about the school, the building, and grounds. She made lifelong friends here, Beth and Judy, and remembers fondly the garden parties in the yard of the school.
The girls (in the 1950s anyway) were taught the history and architecture of the building and I know that my mother appreciated being able to attend such a school, in a former home such as this. She told me once that she and her friends thought the Goodyears lived ‘fairytale’ lives in the house. And that she enjoyed ‘living’ there for four years herself.
The skills that my mother learned while attending Bishop McMahon, (including typing 90 words a minute on a manual typewriter!) served her well throughout her career. She worked for Monroe Abstract & Title Company and Dupont, before spending 28 years as a school secretary. She loved her work at the school.
McMahon added the gymnasium at the back of the property, and years later the classrooms in between, finally removing Ella’s gardens completely. Wish there was some way to bring them back.
888 Delaware Is Sold Again, and Again
In 1988, the building was purchased by Women and Children’s Hospital (then) and was run as the Robert B. Adam Educational Center. It housed several children’s programs including an early childhood center.
In 2005 the school was sold and again used as a school. This time, it became Oracle Charter School. Oracle did extensive renovations creating new classrooms and offices.
But I heard whisperings as early as 2017 about whether the school wanted to continue in the historic building. The way it was put to me was that the school was in the process of discerning whether they wanted to be in the historic building business or the education business.
You see, housing your business (or school) in a historic building like the Goodyear Mansion is not easy, nor is it cheap. There are rules which must be adhered to when making any changes to the home, and it can cost quite a bit of money for regular upkeep alone.
The Future of 888
With that in mind, I wasn’t surprised to hear that 888 Delaware LLC (Priam Enterprises) acquired the property in October of 2019. The original plan for the property was the development of a boutique hotel in the old mansion and to create market-rate apartments in the rest of the property, including the classrooms and the old carriage house.
Then Covid-19 happened.
And as is the case with every other facet of our lives, this project had to be adapted to our ‘new norm’. The hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit. Priam, recognizing these conditions, has adapted their plan and will continue with the market-rate apartments, but has put aside the boutique hotel, for now. In the mansion itself, they plan to create furnished corporate apartments. Fifty-one apartments in all. It’s a good idea. I like it.
Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, tells me their team is working to restore original woodwork, most of which is still there, and will keep as much of the interior intact as possible. They will remove walls and partitions that have been added over the years, returning at least some of the rooms to their former glory. And I’m happy to say that the plan includes the re-opening of that front portico. That alone will go a long way to make this building look like a home again. Love it.
Here are a few photos of some of the original charm that Priam has uncovered from behind sheetrock and drop ceilings thus far.
Photos of a Bygone Era
The photos below are all from the Goodyear era, and are courtesy of Priam Development, who obtained them from the Diocese of Buffalo when they purchased the property. I like knowing that Priam cares about what used to be here, and are taking pains to restore as well as renovate. They plan to have the apartments ready by the first quarter of 2022.
Here’s a look at what some of the interior looks like now. First up, is some of the stained glass. Note the block just outside the one window. That happened when the loading dock was added to the south side of the building. I’m told while it will not be able to be removed, the loading dock will be renovated into an attractive patio.
This is the woodwork in the Hall. The frieze above the mantle was sold at one point during a sale of Goodyear pieces, but the sale was cancelled when experts found that the foundation for it extended to the basement, and that it would be impossible to remove it from the house without knocking down the house itself! The frieze is called “Life” and it is by Karl Bitter.
The library and dining room need work but are largely intact. Note the modern lights visible in the mirror in the dining room. Also note the mirror and the door in the dining room have the same framing. Sweet.
And one of my personal favorites…This is the window in the billiard room. See what they did there? In the interior, the billiard room was broken up for smaller rooms, but Priam will be restoring it. Love it.
Tucked away is the safe room. I’ve never seen one of these before. There’s a rumor that the upper safe was for furs?!
And two guest bedrooms on the third floor. Pretty nice. That mantle with the ship painting! And the other mantle for that matter. Wow!
My Impressions of 888 Delaware
I’m not gonna lie, this was a tough one for me to write. Well, it was bittersweet. You all know how much I love history. But you may not know about my close and loving relationship with my Mother. So writing about 888 Delaware Ave has brought to mind many past conversations with her. Conversations we can no longer have.
But I am grateful we had them. As a matter of fact, I learned my attitude of gratitude from my Mother. She spoke about her high school days as if she were the luckiest girl on the face of the earth to be able to go to a school that taught what she wanted to learn, in a beautiful ex-mansion.
It’s with this in mind that I look forward to seeing the completed restoration and renovations that will take place at 888 Delaware Ave over the next year and a half or so. And I am grateful that there are people in Buffalo willing to invest in our future through investing in our past. The bones are there, and I have every reason to believe that this property will be beautiful again.
The Goodyear Mansion, not for the first time, is one to watch.
*A huge thank you to Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, and Mark Tufillaro, President and COO for Priam Development, for the use of the black and whites, the tour, and just all around being fantastic to me. Thank you!
**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase.
***All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
I’ve been wanting to write about Symphony Circle ever since I wrote about the Birge Mansion back in February. History swirls around this circle like a lake effect snowstorm. And you all know how I feel about history! (pssst…I love it!)
Symphony Circle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted when he designed our Parks and Park System in the 1860s and 70s. Back then, it was simply called The Circle. The name was changed after Kleinhans Music Hall was built. But, we’ll get into that later. When it was completed in the early 1870s it was small, simple, and had a gorgeous light standard in the center. Take a look at the postcard photo below. Looks like something right out of The Music Man in River City, Iowa, say about 1912! This was Buffalo!
I’ve read that Buffalonians used Richmond Avenue to race their thoroughbred horses. In the winter, they raced their cutters (sleighs). The Circle served as the finish line in these races. Can you imagine doing that today?!
The Circle has changed over the years, and at one point it was removed altogether because it was thought to impede automobile traffic. I have to laugh at that because today circles are being put in all over the Western New York area with the hopes of moving traffic along more safely and smoothly. Anyway, it wasn’t returned to what we see today until 2002! That’s a long time! I am grateful that they did replace it though. Symphony Circle is such an iconic part of our city at this point.
And it’s busy too! On this walk on a random Tuesday morning, I had to wait several times to take photos. Nobody likes photos of Symphony Circle with cars driving through!
There are wide expanses of grass and trees between the buildings and the circle, with park benches to sit and relax. And indeed, it is park-like. While I was there that Tuesday the benches were getting used on all four grassy areas. There was a group of teenagers passing through and they stopped for a few minutes on one bench. On another, two men sat talking. On the third several friends met up on a walk and decided to sit and visit before going their separate ways. And just as I was leaving, two women sat down on the bench in front of the Birge Mansion after what appeared to be a power walk. To me, this means the neighbors are comfortable here. I like that.
Named First Presbyterian because it is Buffalo’s first religious congregation of any denomination (1812!). The congregation was originally downtown where the Main Place Mall now stands at the corner of Main and Church Streets.
When the downtown area became crowded with business and industry, many of the congregants moved north of the city core. Delia Austin Avery donated the land the church now stands on. The Austin family owned a good portion of the land surrounding The Circle. We’ll talk more about the Avery family later.
First Pres was designed by none other than E.B. Green. It’s Richardsonian Romanesque in style and was completed in 1897. He created this design to complement the state hospital (now the Richardson Olmsted Complex) at the other end of Richmond Avenue. There’s a reason everyone wanted Green to design their buildings. The man was a genius.
First Presbyterian is very active in both religious and social causes in the city. It’s a true beacon in the neighborhood, both architecturally and socially. It’s an amazing addition to Symphony Circle.
Let’s Cross the Street
As I cross over Wadsworth I’m struck by how much I don’t dislike this building. I mean, it was originally a nursing home (Grace Manor) built in the early 1950s. Ellicott Development bought the facility in 2013. Gateway-Longview anchors the building utilizing the first two floors. The third and fourth floors are studio, one and two bedroom apartments.
It could use just a little sprucing up, but I like it. And the grounds are amazing!
Show Me a Good Old Fashioned Mansion
As I cross North Street, the Birge Mansion slowly comes into view through the trees. What a great time I had touring this home (now offices) back in February. Built in 1897, it was modeled after a Georgian Revival style villa the Birges had seen in the Riviera. And is it ever gorgeous! My favorite part is the loggia and the terrace. Not sure what a loggia is? I wasn’t either. Head over to the post here to learn more about this amazing Buffalo treasure.
Thanks again for the tour Lori!
As I cross over Richmond, I immediately notice the porch on this house. How inviting.
This home is just lovely! Actually, I should say these two homes are lovely. Let me explain.
Brothers, Captain Thomas and Edward Maytham built these adjoining homes (one on Richmond Ave and one on Symphony Circle, in 1894. The homes were separated by double walls for privacy. The two owned a tug line and interestingly enough, the three river ferry steamers that ran between Unity Island and Fort Erie. Cool!
The homes are beautiful. I especially like the dormers, the ocular windows, and the tower with its unusual bell-shaped roof. In fact, the whole house is unusual. But there’s something about it that draws you in. You can’t help but like it.
Then there’s this. I absolutely love this one. It was designed by Franklin Caulkins, who also designed two more in this stretch. It’s an eclectic mix of styles, but it works! Check out that fence! Not sure it’s original, but wow!
This next one is perfect in every way. Colors. Details. Landscaping. All perfect. This Queen Anne was designed by Franklin Caulkins, designed for a Mrs. Frances Bennett in 1883. Look at all the details. The porches! This home is superb!
I could be very happy here. What do you think? Could you be comfortable in this home? I would love to see the inside of this house. It must be fantastic!
Actually, it is fantastic. Check out some interior photos at this link. Sometimes I love the internet.
And the Last of the Homes
And last but not least is this home. I’ve said it before about this type of home, it’s perfect for a big family. I hope there are at least four kids living here. It looks like a storybook house, one that I would have seen in my dreams as a child. It appears there’s some work being done on the porch. Even that goes along with my vision for this house. Big, old family homes are always in need of some repair or other.
Maybe not as grand as the one next door, but it’s got a certain charm that you can’t ignore.
As I wait for traffic to clear so I can cross Porter Ave, I look towards the circle and see this. Nice!
The Pièce de RésistanceOn Symphony Circle
And finally, we come to Kleinhans Music Hall, home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
As I mentioned earlier, Delia Austin Avery donated the land used for the First Presbyterian Church. Her parents, Stephen and Lavinia Austin, heavily invested in real estate here in Buffalo. Her mother is credited with the purchase and renovation of the Universalist Church at 110 Franklin Street, converting it into a stylish office building. Coincidentally, both of the architectural firms of E.B. Green and Franklin Caulkins had their offices there.
Delia inherited the Symphony Circle land. She and her husband, Trueman Avery, built a mansion on Symphony Circle where Kleinhans stands today. It’s pictured below.
After Trueman and Delia both passed away, their daughter, named for her maternal grandmother, Lavinia, no longer needed or wanted the mansion on The Circle. When she heard the city was looking for a place to build a music hall, she sold the home to them for half of what it was worth.
And we thank her for it!
Kleinhans Music Hall
Edward Kleinhans was one of the founders of the Kleinhans men’s clothing store located in the Brisbane Building. He met and married Mary Seaton, an accomplished pianist and singer. They moved to Buffalo in 1901. Having no children, when they passed away three months apart in 1934, they left their entire estate to the city to be used to erect a proper music hall, dedicated to the memory of Mary Seaton Kleinhans, and Edward’s mother, Mary Livington Kleinhans.
Kleinhans Music Hall was built between 1938 and 1940. Designed by the father and son architectural team Eliel and Eero Saarinen, in the International style. I’m sure it was considered very modern for its day. The unique design, which loosely resembles a stringed instrument, is lauded all over the world for its acoustic perfection. If you’ve ever been there, you know why. The sound in this building is perfection. In 1989, Kleinhans Music Hall was named a National Historic Landmark.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
From its opening, Kleinhans has been home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The BPO was founded in 1935 and has been entertaining Buffalonians ever since. The Kleinhans stage has hosted such greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aaron Copeland, and Yo-Yo Ma. The grammy-winning BPO has toured abroad on more than one occasion and has released more than 50 recordings.
If you haven’t gone to see the BPO perform, try to make it a priority. They do everything from Classical, Pops and Rock, to Kids and Youth concerts. They truly have something for everyone! JoAnn Faletta is the Music Director, and in a normal year would preside over 120 shows. During the shutdown, the BPO has been broadcasting archived concerts on WNED-FM, on Tuesday nights, as well as keeping the music going through their daily Facebook posts. As of this writing, the BPO is planning its re-opening for September 26. Like all of us, they will be back.
Of course, it’s because of Kleinhans Music Hall and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra that The Circle was renamed in 1958 to Symphony Circle.
To me, Symphony Circle is one of those places that is steeped in history. When I’m there I try to imagine the horse races and cutter races. Must have been a sight to see. And I will admit to you that I was unaware that the circle was removed for as long a period as it was. But still called Symphony Circle? I somehow always knew it had been removed, but didn’t realize it wasn’t returned until 2002!
While there, I had a feeling of community. I chatted with several people on that particular day. Two lived there, two did not. But all four use the circle daily. And all four were friendly and willing to chat. I love that about a neighborhood.
Every time I walk around Symphony Circle, I feel lucky to live in a city where history and architecture are treasured and preserved. And where people truly appreciate the past, and are willing to work together to build Buffalo’s future.
Look around. Take a walk. I think you’ll find Buffalo is a beautiful city, with beautiful people. What are you waiting for?
* All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
Blessed Trinity Church has been on my list of things to write about for quite some time. And recently, I’ve received several emails asking me to write about it. Because I love this church so much and because it’s one of Buffalo’s greatest treasures, how could I refuse?
It was my husband’s Grandmother’s church when they lived around the block on Kensington Avenue. I knew Grammy Z, as we called her, for many years before she passed away. She wasn’t an easy person to get to know, didn’t open up very often. But she did talk to me about her years at Blessed Trinity. She didn’t give me very many details, (it simply wasn’t her way) but I got the idea she was comfortable there. So that made me want to see it.
When my husband and I decided to visit a different church every Sunday during lent, based on the tradition to visit seven churches on Holy Thursday, Blessed Trinity went on the list.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Early History of Blessed Trinity
In June of 1906, Bishop Charles Colton established Blessed Trinity Parish in the mostly German and Irish neighborhood on the East Side. The first pastor was Father John Pfluger. The first mass was held on the third floor of a building at 175 Dewey, at the corner of Sanford. The building also housed a grocery store and apartments on the first two floors.
A very humble beginning when you think of the magnificent church that was to come.
The church was legally incorporated by the end of 1907 and had acquired land on Leroy Avenue. A combination of church, school, and social hall was erected. The basement walls were built from the stone that had to be excavated in order to build. Also, the architects didn’t wire the building because it was thought that power would never be brought this far out of the city.
It was very common back in the day to have this combination type of building as a ‘starter’ church while a congregation grew. That way, if the congregation didn’t grow, not too much money was lost on an elaborate church building.
Well, Blessed Trinity grew. There were 60 people in attendance at that first mass. By sometime in 1908, the Sisters of St. Joseph began teaching in the school on the second floor. By 1911, there were 400 families. Two years after that, a rectory was built. The growth continued.
Fr. Albert Fritton
In 1914, Father Albert Fritton came to Blessed Trinity as the new pastor. He concentrated his efforts on growing the school. By 1919 there were over 300 students in attendance. Pretty crowded for a second-floor school in a combination building! The need for a new church became apparent and Fr. Fritton began to make plans.
He knew what he wanted, and told the congregation it “will be one of the finest in Buffalo. We shall be proud of it, the city will be proud of it, and God will be proud of it.”
By 1923, the architectural firm of Oakley and Schallmo had completed the plans and building commenced. It took five long years to build, and more than double the budget to complete. In the end, the final cost was $513,000, or just about $7.5 million today. The parish would not pay off the debt until 1953!
Let’s Take a Minute Here
I just want to take a minute to discuss the cost involved in building a church of this kind. I try to imagine how the congregation of my current church would react to the pastor asking for even half of $7.5 million.
In 1925 the average weekly income in the U.S. was $36.37. Remember that most households at the time had just that one income. For the people of Blessed Trinity’s parish to raise enough money to pay off a $513,000 debt was astronomical.
It happened all over the city though. At all the churches. Of all denominations. Maybe not to this extent, but these people made sacrifices to finance the great churches we admire today. Do you think these early Buffalonians understood what they were doing for us when they committed their hard-earned dollars to finance Buffalo’s churches?
More than likely, some did and some didn’t. Some gave freely, some reluctantly. Some gave for the glory of God, some for the glory of the architecture. Still, others gave to make themselves feel good, some did it to impress others.
For whatever reason, I am certainly glad they did! We have been blessed through their efforts.
Getting Back to Blessed Trinity
Let’s get into discussing the church itself. The design is Lombard-Romanesque, rarely seen outside of Italy. Buffalo’s own Jozef Mazur painted the murals in the dome, transept and choir loft. And they are fantastic! Many, many other artists and craftsmen contributed as well. The entire inside of the church is adorned with paintings, mosaics, sculptures, statues, reliefs, wood carvings, stained glass and tile work. It’s impossible to describe with words.
The outside of the building is unique as well. The structure is made of Harvard brick, which is a medieval brick-making process that does not use molds to form the bricks themselves. The bricks here were made in New Hampshire by French immigrants who used antiquated tools and methods to create each brick by hand. The result is the appearance of a much older, rudimentary design. The process was used in more “modern” design as a handmade, artisan brick. They’re stronger than our more modern bricks, and the mortar adheres to them better.
It completely fascinated me when I saw it for the first time. It still does. I kept trying to figure out the pattern. I didn’t realize at the time, there was no pattern, and that’s the genius of it. That someone could use these bricks and create a level, precise, true building. And yet, this building is as straight and true and they come.
The Terra Cotta!
I’ve read that the terra cotta on this church contains the most colorful use of terra cotta in the country. I should also mention that it holds over 2,000 symbols of Christianity. Two thousand. There are the Ten Commandments, the Blessed Trinity, the Our Father, the Apostles Creed, and many more. The symbolism was designed by Father Thomas Plassman, who was the President of St. Bonaventure University and also happened to be a good friend of Fr. Fritton. The two were seminarians together in Austria and traveled to northern Italy where they learned about Lombard Romanesque design.
What a stroke of luck for us that these two priests ended up here in the Buffalo area.
Blessed Trinity Through the Years
Blessed Trinity thrived as a parish through the 1950s, but went the way of most of Buffalo’s churches in the 60s and 70s. Attendance fell off, pews were empty and the school suffered. The Sisters of St. Joseph announced in June of 1975 that they could no longer staff the school. It closed in 1976.
Fr. Walter Kern, who had become the pastor in 1974, researched and wrote an illustrated handbook about the church which attracted the attention of the Buffalo Preservation Board. The board recognized the building as a City Landmark. Two years later the church was accepted onto the National Record of Historic Places. It’s only right. This place is exceptional in every way.
The church is open now with Covid-19 limitations, like all churches in NY State. They continue as a close-knit community, small in numbers, but large in enthusiasm and faith.
One Last Thing
Current event at the church. From Blessed Trinity’s Facebook page:
“On Tuesday night, July 28, the recently rebuilt plaza in front of Blessed Trinity Church sustained substantial damage when a driver heading west on Leroy lost control of his vehicle and crashed through the retaining wall on the east (ramp) side of the church. The car became airborne, landing on its roof in the center of the plaza near the street-level stairs. By the grace of God, the driver and passenger were able to walk away and the church itself does not appear to have been damaged. The accident has been reported to the driver’s insurance carrier, and [the] masons who performed earlier work will be returning to estimate the time and cost involved in restoring the area once again.”
Blessed Trinity Church is such an impressive building. I cannot stress this enough. You could literally (or I could anyway) spend hours just looking at all the details that are everywhere inside and outside this place.
But on that day when I first experienced it, at a Lenten mass all those years ago, what impressed me the most was the friendliness of the congregation. We were obviously not parishioners. There were only about 30 other people in attendance, besides our little group. At both the sign of peace, and after the mass itself, people approached us and welcomed us with open arms. They asked about our home parish, talked openly about the neighborhood, and the church itself. One woman even took me into the sanctuary to show me a particularly beautiful icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I can tell you this. I don’t think Grammy Z felt the grandeur of Blessed Trinity was necessary. When we spoke of the church, she only talked about a couple of priests she particularly liked, and one or two friends she made there. Never mentioned the architecture. That’s why I was so blown away when I went there for the first time. This incredible masterpiece and she never mentioned it. Only a few people who made a difference to her. Keeps it all in perspective, doesn’t it?
Go see this church. If you don’t go to any other, go see this one. You will be as amazed as I was. Blessed Trinity offers tours by volunteer docents. Just call the rectory, or contact them through their website. You’ll love it!
I’ve been wanting to write this post about the Delaware Midway Rowhouses for some time now, and since I was literally around the block last week learning more about Franklin Street, I decided this was a good time.
Over the past several years, I’ve learned quite a bit about these rowhouses, been in a few of them, and have read quite a bit about them. I’m not even sure why they fascinate me so much. I don’t think I’d like to live in one. I like my patio and my yard too much for that. But I get it that a lot of people don’t want a yard. Let me explain.
You see, in the 1890s, the city of Buffalo was getting crowded with both industry and residences. The wealthiest among us were moving north of the city to escape the soot of industry and overcrowding. They were beginning to build grand estates along Delaware Avenue. You’ve seen them. All those big beautiful homes along Millionaires Row. We’ve lost some of them, but quite a few are still there today.
What you may not know is that most of them had extensive real estate attached as ‘green space’, or yards. For example, the mansions along the west side of Delaware had yards that extended all the way to where Richmond Avenue is today. This was, of course, before Elmwood Avenue existed.
Time for a Quick Daydream
I’ve wished, more than once, that I could have seen the Rumsey Estate on Delaware Ave between Tracy and West Tupper back in the day. Take a look at the photo below. This is Bronson Rumsey Sr.’s backyard on Delaware Avenue. And this isn’t even one-tenth of the property. It must have been an amazing sight to see!
But think of this. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into caring for all that property and everything that went along with it. I mean, we’re talking extensive patios, gardens (both flower and vegetable), orchards, woods, creeks, ponds, and more. And sure, the wealthy employed small armies of people to manage and maintain the properties, but the buck stops with the owner in the end. And there had to be constant issues relating to all that responsibility.
That brings me back to reality. End daydream.
Enter the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Ave.
The building of these remarkably upscale rowhouses was an incredible idea. These homes allowed wealthy socialites to enjoy life in a mansion, but without all the property to maintain. I always thought that back in the day, one of these homes would be perfect for a single man, or a single woman, or maybe the widow of a wealthy businessman. It would allow them easy access to their socialite friends, genteel living, and also that coveted Delaware Avenue address.
If that’s what matters to you of course. And back when these houses were built, those things mattered to almost all the movers and shakers in Buffalo. These rowhouses gave that to them, without all the hassle of the upkeep.
And, these homes were designed by some of the best architects our city had to offer. Green & Wicks, Marling & Johnson, George Cary to name a few. They were all built in the 1890s. The architects showed amazing talent by working within the constricts of the other designs to create a cohesive, beautiful row of some of Buffalo’s best homes.
Let’s get into talking about some of these homes.
The One We Lost
On the south end of the block, there was originally a home where there is now a parking lot. It was at number 469. It was torn down in the late 1980s after the building suffered a small fire. Such was the way back then. Got a problem with a building? Just tear it down. This one was a real loss in my book. In my humble opinion, it anchored the entire row. What a shame to make it a parking lot.
Thankfully though, this kind of thing is not really happening in Buffalo anymore. We’ve come to appreciate the architectural treasures that grace our streets, and steps are taken to preserve them. For this, I am grateful.
471 Delaware Ave. – Dr. Ernest Wende House
This house was built for Dr. Ernest Wende and his wife Frances Cutler. They lived in the home with their children, Margaret, Hamilton and Flavilla until 1910, when Dr. Wende’s brother, Grover (Dr.), his wife Elizabeth and son David moved in. They stayed in the house through the 1920s.
Scott Croce purchased this building in 2016 and his plans were to renovate the first three floors as office space, with residential space on the top floor. Oh, and a possible rooftop patio. That would be sweet!
Looks like Croce has moved forward, on the outside as least. I don’t know about you, but I love the new paint job. Remember the mustard-y yellow some of the trim was before? The white really allows the details to pop!
475 Delaware – One of My Favorites
So this amazing example of a Renaissance Revival home was built for John Strootman. It is now owned by Scott Croce as well. He bought it in 2018, and plans were to build two large residential units on the upper floors, with office space below. With just over 9000 square feet to work with, there’s certainly room for it.
Love the lions!
This one is, by the way, available for lease at the writing of this post.
Next Up – the Birge-Horton / DAR House
This home was built in 1896 (the last rowhouse to be completed) for Henry Birge, one of Martin Birge’s sons who came into the wallpaper business with him. Although there is evidence that the actual purchaser was Henry’s wife, Fanny. The Birge Wallpaper Company was a hugely successful Buffalo business, so it is fitting that one of the Birge family members built one of the Midway Rowhouses. For some reason, this house gets called the George K. Birge House quite often. Not sure why. George was Henry’s older brother and built a mansion for himself on Symphony Circle.
Anyway, this house was designed by none other than Green & Wicks. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know they were perhaps the busiest and most popular architects in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th Century.
The Birges did not live in the house long. Henry’s health was failing and had to leave his position with the wallpaper firm in 1900. Henry and Fanny moved out of town, and shortly after, divorced. Henry passed away in 1904, leaving most of his estate to Fanny.
The home was rented to prominent Buffalonians for several years, including Peter Porter, Mrs. Frances Wolcott and her son Lyman Bass (a well-known attorney). In 1906, Katharine Pratt Horton moved in. She rented for 16 years before finally purchasing the home from Fanny. She stayed for the rest of her life. When she passed away, she left the home to the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, this home has only had three owners. City records still show Katharine and DAR as the current owners.
Interesting history on this one.
479 Delaware Ave – Harlow C. Curtiss House
This beauty right next door to the DAR home was built for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney and real estate developer. The couple only lived in the home for two years! They went on to live in a much larger mansion further north on Delaware Avenue and later on Lincoln Parkway. These two were certainly movers and shakers!
This Colonial Revival was built for Dr. Bernard Bartow, who was one of the founders of our Children’s Hospital.
Which is cool, but the real story here is that amazing window! It was added in the 1930s and was designed by interior designer Frederick Pike. It was probably added because the building was going to be used for some type of commercial use. The two cast-iron figures are a craftsman and an artist. The whole window just works. It was done very well, and to my untrained eye, looks fabulous!
This home is one of four rowhouses purchased by the owners of the Rowhouse Bakery and Restaurant (closed). The group spent several years joining three of the four homes and renovating the interior. It was a beautiful space for a very upscale bakery and restaurant.
I relished my time there, sipping tea and eating scones in the most beautiful bakery in Buffalo. I must admit though, every time I was there, I wondered if they hadn’t spent too much time and money on the interior. Wish they could have made a go of it.
It was lovely while it lasted.
The fourth home is apartments and an antique shop. The antique shop is run by the owners of the bakery, and it’s unclear whether it will survive. I tried to reach the owners for comment, but their phone numbers are no longer in use. These four homes are ones to watch.
491 Delaware Ave – Charles Miller Morse House
As far as I can tell, this is a single-family home that had deteriorated pretty badly before being purchased by two businessmen, Walter McFarlane and Lenny Alba in 2013 for just over $302,000. It was originally built for Charles Miller Morse. McFarlane and Alba worked to restore the structure to its former glory even adding a custom stained glass window above the circular staircase with the Morse family crest in the center. Nice touch.
They then sold the home for $787,000 in 2015. I believe the new owner, the Newberry Construction Company, added the orange trim to the front facade and that it’s still a single-family home. Whether or not it’s being used as such, is unclear.
I must say, I like what they’ve done with the place. Can you picture yourself sitting out on that terrace in the morning with a cup of tea, or in the evening watching the sun go down behind the Cornell Mansion? I can. But then, you know my propensity for daydreams.
Take a look at photos of the interior before the home was sold in 2015 here.
493 Delaware – Herman Hayd House
This home was built for Herman Hayd but is now owned by Paul Jacobs Jr. It appears the building has two commercial tenants. It’s actually better looking in person, the photos I took don’t do it justice.
497 Delaware Ave – Stella Lowry House
This home was built for Mrs. William H. (Stella) Lowry, who moved in with her two daughters Stella and Lily. The three moved in and out of the home several times, moving to The Lenox Hotel, The Trubee (now The Mansion on Delaware), and the ‘Niagara’. All the while maintaining a heavy social schedule and leasing the property to various wealthy Buffalonians along the way.
Mrs. Stella Lowry passed away in 1914. Daughter Stella ended up back at 497 and lived out her days here, passing away in 1942. She is thought to be the last original occupant of the Midway to live there.
Now, the current owner. This is where it gets interesting. His name is Michael Meade, and he’s a Buffalo native. Last September he was named CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company USA. The brewery is a Kilkenny, Ireland based brewery that is expanding into the US, beginning with Buffalo!
What’s the Big Deal You Ask?
It may not be a big deal to everyone. But to me, it is. Bear with me, please.
The reason I’m so happy about this is because my husband and I visited Kilkenny, Ireland a couple of years ago. It’s a small, but historic town. We took a bike tour and got talking with our guide, Ronan. He was a retired Smithwick’s brewer. Ronan told us about how the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny was closed by Guinness in 2013 (Guinness bought Smithwick’s back in 1965) and how many people lost their jobs and were still struggling in the small town. Long story short, we met up with Ronan at a pub later in the day and got to know him a bit. We kept in touch for a while.
I’m hoping some of the displaced workers from the wide layoffs in 2013 have been put back to work by Sullivan’s Brewing.
And, Michael Meade, the new CEO here in the US, launched the brewery’s USA debut from the Stella Lowry House! Meade intends to make it his permanent home.
And Buffalo has been chosen to debut all the brewery’s beer that they choose to export to the USA. It’s available now at several bars in town. Cool.
Sullivan’s and Smithwick’s breweries both started out as family-owned businesses, and Sullivan’s is family-owned again. By members of both families. The history of these two breweries are intertwined, as are their future. It’s just a great story. I guess that’s why I’m so happy their US CEO bought this house. Read details about the breweries here, and here.
Plus, this kind of thing fits in so well with Buffalo’s extensive brewing history, and the thriving craft beer industry in Buffalo today.
499 Delaware Ave – Bryant B. Glenny House
Back to the houses. This one was built for Bryant Glenny, son of William H. Glenny, the namesake for the Glenny Building on Main Street near Swan. Not too shabby for the son of an Irish immigrant, to live at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city back in the day. And in one of the most unique architectural treasures in the city.
The home is now 5+ apartments. It’s still a great northern anchor to the row.
My Impressions of the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware
Writing this post has given me a chance to take a fresh look at the Midway Rowhouses. I guess I got so used to riding past on my bike or driving by in my car, that I’d forgotten to notice the wonder of them. Another architectural masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It’s amazing how each home is completely different from the one next to it, and yet it works. It just does.
Now, is every one of them in perfect shape? No. But none of them are falling down either. I like that some are a mix of offices and apartments, but I also like that a couple are still single-family homes. I’d like to see rooftop terraces on one or two of them too. You never know, it could happen.
And, as a city, we’re getting better at saving our great homes and buildings. Like I said earlier in the post, for this I am grateful.
Next time you’re out and about, plan a walk past the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Avenue. See it from both sides of the street. Look at the homes with fresh eyes and enjoy the brilliance of the architecture. Really see your city. It’s beautiful. And you never know what you might learn!
I intended for this week’s post to be about the Hamlin House. But they’re doing work inside, and I haven’t been able to get in to get the photos I want, so I decided to take a walk on Franklin Street anyway. My husband Tim and I walked along Franklin Street, between Edward and Allen. It’s such an interesting street historically speaking. Let me give you a little background on the street itself.
The land that Franklin Street is on was once owned by Ebenezer Walden, an attorney (Buffalo’s first), who came to Buffalo in 1799. So he was here from the very beginning. Walden went on to become Erie County’s first judge. He was also part of the committee that drafted the charter incorporating Buffalo as a city. In 1838 the Common Council chose Walden as mayor of Buffalo. Back in the day, Buffalo residents didn’t vote for mayor, the common council chose one!
In the early years, Walden lived at the corner of Main and Eagle. Later he and his family moved to a home at the corner of Edward and Main. This was considered the “suburbs” at the time. Where people could enjoy estate like living, while being close enough to the ever growing business district downtown.
Throughout his career, Walden invested heavily in real estate, and Franklin Street was part of his estate. Incidentally, so was a good portion of Allentown. Louis Allen purchased his original five acres from Ebenezer Walden. Eventually, Franklin Street was parceled out as well.
So that’s the background info. Let’s talk about what Franklin Street is like today. There’s a lot going on here. From historic homes to restaurants, to storefronts and more.
Let me show you what I mean.
Buffalo’s Oldest Tree
As Tim & I round the corner coming off of Edward heading north on Franklin, the first thing we see is what is generally accepted as Buffalo’s oldest tree. It’s a Sycamore, and it is huge. It’s believed to date back to 1710! That’s well before any Europeans settled in the Buffalo area!
Thinking about it now, it’s amazing that the tree survived, considering that the city grew up around it!
Now, the reason I said this tree is ‘generally accepted as the oldest tree in the city’ is that there is another contender for this title. It’s in Delaware Park, inside Ring Road on the golf course. It’s easily visible from the section of the road nearest the 198. (Pictured below.)
Dan Cadzow has a master’s degree in archaeology, is a full time stay at homeschooling father of four. He’s got over ten years of experience in all facets of archaeology. He believes there is a tree just as old as the Sycamore on Franklin. Dan makes his case for the White Oak in Delaware Park here.
Care is being taken to preserve both trees. I like that we do that as a city. And I’m okay with having two “oldest” trees.
Back to Franklin Street
Right across the street from that Sycamore are these two homes. They were both built in 1880 and both are in very nice shape. Note the Medina Sandstone sidewalk in front of the one.
And here’s one from 1890 (below). The blackening of the bricks is not uncommon, but to me, it’s an issue. And wouldn’t it be great if the roof on the entryway were copper? With that copper roof and the brick cleaned, this home would be stunning. I love the way it sits on slightly higher ground. It’s lovely.
Franklin W. Caulkins Home
Next, we come upon this magnificent stick home. It dates to 1882 and was built by and for, Franklin Caulkins. He was an architect and the detail he put into this home is astounding. Even better though, is how well it’s been maintained through the years. Just look at it!
More of the Homes…
This home is beautiful. I’ve spoken to the homeowner and he tells me he is working hard to improve the home and property. I would love to see the inside. This is one to watch!
This home was built in 1877 for Frank Hamlin, the son of Cicero Hamlin. We’ll talk about Cicero in a minute. The home was designed by the architectural firm of Richard Waite who incidentally, hired the first woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! The home is beautifully maintained by the law firm that now owns it.
And this home! Beautifully restored in the past several years, it’s just gorgeous. The house, the gardens. It’s all so well done! Even the curb strip is fantastic, with a delightful mix of pavers, stone, and flowers. I especially love to see this place looking so great because it’s a Green & Wicks, one of the most prolific architectural firms in Buffalo.
Cicero J. Hamlin Home
This home (pictured below) was built in 1865-66 for Cicero J. Hamlin. He was to become the wealthiest man in New York State, outside of New York City. And by then he and his wife had moved to a Delaware Avenue Mansion. So, I suppose you could consider this their starter home.
Hamlin was a glucose sugar manufacturer. Now there’s a business you don’t hear about when you talk about the big businesses that were in Buffalo back in the city’s heyday. Usually, you hear about shipping, grain, railroads, automobiles, aeronautics, and steel. But here was Cicero Hamlin, the wealthiest man in Buffalo, the largest employer in the city at one point, and he was in glucose. Who would have thought?
It’s a beautiful home. It serves a dual purpose, it is home to the American Legion Troop I, Post 665. The American Legion owns it, and leases it to the people who run the restaurant and banquet hall, called of course, The Hamlin House. The inside is much the same as it was when the Hamlins lived here.
Here’s an interesting side note. Cicero was into thoroughbred horses and owned a farm in East Aurora. He donated the land that is now Hamlin Park in that town. He also owned and operated a horse racetrack, the Buffalo Driving Park in the city. The land that racetrack was on was sold by Hamlin’s descendants in 1905 to a developer. The Hamlin Park neighborhood was established there, which is now a historic district on Buffalo’s East Side.
Moving Right Along…
Here are some of the homes we came to next. Businesses in the grouping include Lace & Day; The Franklin Salon + Esthetics; and Fat Bob’s Smokehouse (red painted brick building).
This home (below) was purchased in 2003 by Don Gilbert and was in need of total rehab. The property was painstakingly transformed from the 32 room boardinghouse into 7 historic apartments and just look at it! It is absolutely stunning. The Allentown Association gave this home a beautification award when it was completed in 2008, and an award from Preservation Buffalo Niagara for Rehabilitation/Adaptive Reuse. Excellent!
This one below looks like a beautiful home but is in fact offices now. Love that they kept the charm of the house intact. Buffalo architect, George Cary lived in this home, although he didn’t design it. He made changes to the home though, including the addition of the front patio and the second-story porch. If you’ve been to the Buffalo History Museum, you’ve seen George Cary’s work.
I’d love to see the second story shutters put back where they belong on this house. Perhaps they are simply being repaired? Let’s hope.
Sisti Art Gallery
While photographing the home below, the owner came out to talk to us. We got into a conversation of course, about his home. He told us it was the former home of Tony Sisti and the Sisti Art Gallery. Tony Sisti was a well-known artist who was also, believe it or not, a boxer. As a matter of fact, he often boxed to finance his exhibits. It seems that art was his true calling, but sometimes, boxing paid the bills. Sisti was one of the founders of the Allentown Art Festival. Tony Sisti Park, at the southeast corner of Franklin and North, is named for him. Learn more about Toni Sisti here.
The owner took us along the side of the house to the private entrance to the apartment that he rents as an Airbnb and let us go in. I was so taken with the Sisti painting on the wall, it’s the only photo I took inside!
The room itself was very quaint. Photos of the Airbnb listing are here.
After seeing the 1974 photo above, I can’t help but wonder what the place looked like when Sisti lived here. When, oh when is time travel going to be a thing?
Take a look at the walkway and yard. I love the bones of it! The art pieces, of course, are gone. But all the wrought iron is still there. It wouldn’t take too much to get the yard in shape for get-togethers. All it would need is some elbow grease, some candles and twinkle lights, and re-arrange the furniture that’s already there. Gather up some good friends and family for some summer fun. I can see it now.
My Impressions of Franklin Street
Wow! I’ve been down this street so many times before. But I’ve never really looked at it with a critical eye. There is so much going on here. It’s amazing what you see when out on an urban hike. Or bike riding. You never see this stuff when you’re driving!
I’m even kind of glad I wasn’t able to get into the Hamlin House. I wouldn’t have experienced all the other homes on the street up close and personal!
Would you believe that I’ve never noticed the Franklin Caulkins home before?! That’s the incredible stick style home in the lead image. I can’t believe I’ve missed it all these years.
Not to mention the Sisti Art Gallery home. I mean, I’ve seen those enormous pillars out front, but never really looked at the home itself. I’ve never wondered what it used to be, or why those crazy pillars are there. I for one would like to see this house fixed up. But alas, I don’t own it, soooo. I’ll have to be content with my daydreams about parties in the yard under a summer sky, surrounded by twinkle lights and good friends.
When you can, walk or bike instead of driving. You’ll see new, interesting things. You’ll meet new, interesting people. And walking and biking are great for your health. Enjoy your city! There is good everywhere. Go find it!
*There are a few houses that I couldn’t get good photos of on the day we were there, because there were trucks parked in front of them. So if you’re looking for something in particular and it’s not here, that’s probably why.
**Here are two more photos from the Sisti Gallery Home
This week, I’ve decided to write about St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful churches in Buffalo. It’s been here a long, long time, since 1851, and it is a true Buffalo treasure.
The congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal incorporated as a church in 1817 and it’s the second oldest religious congregation in the city. First Presbyterian was the first (1812) and interestingly enough, St. Paul’s founders were First Pres congregants. It’s not that they were unhappy where they were, but there was nowhere else for these early Episcopalians to worship but with the Presbyterian church.
After incorporating, the first couple of years were lean. Lacking funds, St. Paul’s congregation worshiped in various spaces in the city, including taverns. They eventually appealed to the Holland Land Company, who donated the land the church still sits on today. It just so happened that the plot of land was right across the street from First Pres. The first structure built was a wooden church, completed in 1819. As the congregation grew, they added on to that original church twice.
Reverend William Shelton
The Reverend William Shelton came to St. Paul’s in 1829, and he would stay until 1881. Impressive, especially since he almost didn’t stay in Buffalo at all. You see, Shelton passed through Buffalo in 1827 on his way to Canada. The congregation asked him to stay on at St. Paul’s. Shelton refused and went on his way. Two years later, they extended the invitation again. This time, Shelton agreed and he came to Buffalo to stay.
Rev. William Shelton was an interesting person. He gave the sermon at President Millard Fillmore’s funeral service. You heard that right. President Millard Fillmore was a member of St. Paul’s and was laid in state in the church before being buried out of it, in Forest Lawn.
Shelton was an imposing figure in early Buffalo. He took great interest in all that went on here. He kept St. Paul’s focused on its mission of helping the poor among us. He was also very popular. So popular in fact, that people referred to the area around the church as Shelton Square. In true Buffalo form, the name stuck and lasted until the 1970s.
Shelton also presided over the building of the permanent church we know today. Let’s get into that now.
St. Paul’s & Buffalo
The history of St. Paul’s parallels the history of Buffalo somewhat. You could say they grew up together.
The building of the Erie Canal began in 1817, the same year St. Paul’s congregation was started. In 1819, the first wooden structure of St. Paul’s was built. It was consecrated in 1821. The Erie Canal opened in 1825, with its terminus here in Buffalo. After that, Buffalo grew by leaps and bounds. So did St. Paul’s.
By 1849, the waterfront was booming, burgeoning with commerce. And St. Paul’s was burgeoning with congregants. They needed a new, larger church to accommodate their growing numbers.
A New Church
Well known architect Richard Upjohn was engaged to design St. Paul’s. Upjohn was perhaps the greatest Gothic church designer in America at the time. He’s best remembered for designing Trinity Church in New York City. But I’ve read that he considered St. Paul’s Episcopal his best work. Of course, here in Buffalo, we agree with that notion.
Built on a triangular piece of property, no matter what side of the building you look at, it looks as though you’re seeing the front of the building, or the main entrance if you will. The style is English Gothic, evidenced by its pointed arches, lancet windows (tall, narrow, pointed at the top), and asymmetrical design. The spires show English influence as well. If you compare St. Joseph’s Cathedral (which is just around the block) you can see the clear difference between its French Gothic design and the English Gothic style of St. Paul’s.
Here’s an interesting little tidbit. St. Paul’s holds the only flying buttress in the city of Buffalo. It’s above the main entrance on Pearl Street.
St. Paul’s is built of Red Medina sandstone, from a quarry purchased by the congregation for a mere $272. The quarry was some 40 miles northeast of the city, in a small town called Medina. The stone was cut and sent to the site via the Erie Canal, making it a very economical option. Construction began in 1849; the church was consecrated in 1851. But the spires weren’t completed until 1870.
Fire at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral!
As we’ve talked about in many other blog posts, Buffalo has experienced the tragedy of fire on many, many occasions. Unfortunately, St. Paul’s was not able to escape that fate.
In 1888 a gas explosion in the basement of the church took place. The roof and the entire inside of the building were destroyed by the ensuing fire. But the red Medina sandstone walls stood strong. The congregation decided that very day to rebuild.
Richard Upjohn, having passed in 1878, was not an option for the re-design. The church engaged Robert Gibson, who was also known for his English Gothic church designs. He, for the most part, worked off of Upjohn’s design but did change a few things.
The roof was changed to include the hammer-beam ceiling, and the clerestory windows (which are beautiful!). Gibson also added transept like extensions on the sides. Transepts are the extensions on either side of altars that give some churches their cross-shaped floor plan. In this case, the extensions are not quite full, meaning they don’t project out enough to give the full cruciform shape. The whole effect of the changes gives the appearance of a tall, wide-open space. It’s gorgeous.
St. Paul’s Interior, Now…
Off to the left as you face the altar, is a Tiffany stained glass window depicting ‘Christ on His Way to Emmaus’. It’s absolutely stunning.
To the right of the altar there is a painting by Jan Pollack, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, that dates to the 15th century. Spectacular. It’s been said that this is one of the most valuable works of art in the city. And here it is out on display for all to see in a public building. Love it.
In Cathedral Park, just outside the church, is a sculpture entitled ‘Homeless Jesus’. It was placed in 2015, and to me, it embodies exactly what St. Paul’s congregation stands for, and indeed Buffalo as a whole as well. The sculpture was offered to many cities around the world (I believe there were 12 available altogether) and was turned down by a lot of them because it is (still) considered controversial. Some people view it as blasphemy to depict Jesus as a homeless man. Others believe that all people, even the homeless and downtrodden, when encountered, should be greeted as if you were greeting Jesus Christ himself.
Suffice it to say that St. Paul’s accepted, no, they embraced the sculpture. Taking care of the homeless and people in need has been part of their mission all along.
Well, in true Buffalo form, people started leaving articles of clothing on the statue for their needy neighbors. Instead of being annoyed, St. Paul’s gathered the items up each day and donated them to people in need. At one point, they also added a sign to the sculpture stating, “Take what you need.” And people do. I’ve also noticed that people don’t take more than what they need. That’s Buffalo.
They say a church is really the people, not the building. I’m not a member of St. Paul’s church, but I worked in close proximity for many years. I’ve admired it from the outside as well as the inside. I’ve spent time in Cathedral Park, eating lunch with friends, or just reading a book alone. It’s where I’ve witnessed people not taking more than they need from the Homeless Jesus sculpture. It’s a very peaceful spot.
So too is the inside of the church. On occasion, I’ve gone in to just sit and take in the peace. I guess I’ve always found churches to be peaceful, quiet places to think, or just be. And being so close to St. Paul’s for so many years made it a perfect place to just go in and get away from the stresses of the day for a few minutes.
Whenever I’ve encountered a parishioner, which has been quite a few times, I’ve always experienced kindness and friendliness. I’ll share just one of those encounters.
Once I was inside with some friends from out of town. We were admiring the “Adoration of the Magi” painting. A woman approached and simply said, “Hello.” We said hello back, and she smiled and invited us to stay for their service which, she said, was due to start in 5 minutes’ time. We politely declined, but understood it was her kind way of telling us there was a service beginning and that if we didn’t want to stay for it, we’d better hit the road! Haha. She was so sweet about it!
The Bicentennial of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
In 2017, the congregation of St. Paul’s celebrated its bicentennial year as an incorporated church. I love that they celebrated it with a street party that was free for all to attend, closing off Pearl Street between Swan and Church Streets. They gave tours of the historic church. They held a chicken bbq, the proceeds of which went to fund Hurricanes Harvey & Irma relief. I love it. They could have easily turned their bicentennial into a giant fundraiser for themselves, but instead chose to include everyone, and charge a nominal fee ($10) for a great meal, and donated the proceeds to charity.
That, to me, is what a church should be.
Next time you’re in the area, take a second look at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. If you can, go inside and feel the peace.