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.
There is a rock solid connection between Buckingham Palace, the Brooklyn Bridge, the NYS Capitol Building’s grand (and I do mean grand!) staircase, and Buffalo’s Richardson Olmsted Complex.
All of these were built with, or partially with, Medina sandstone.
So what exactly is Medina sandstone?
Medina is a village roughly 40 miles northeast of Buffalo. Sandstone is sedimentary rock made up of sand, usually quartz, cemented together by various substances, such as silica. The color can range from light grey or white to a dark reddish brown.
The sandstone was discovered in Medina when the Erie Canal was being dug in 1824. A man by the name of John Ryan opened the first quarry in 1837. And the rest so to speak, is history.
You see, for the next hundred years or so, sandstone became the ‘go to’ building material, being utilized in everything from parts of Buckingham Palace to curbs. That’s right, I said curbs. Take a look at the curbs in some of the older, or more historic communities here in Buffalo. They are a lovely shade of pinkish red. Medina. Sandstone.
Many, many churches in Buffalo were built with red Medina sandstone, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Sandstone also feels somewhat gritty to the touch, and never really wears smooth, making it perfect for cobblestone streets (horses hooves wouldn’t slip back in the day) and sidewalks. It is also much easier to work with than limestone, although sandstone is a much harder, more durable material. Add that the sandstone was relatively inexpensive to move along the Erie Canal into Buffalo, which was building like mad through most of the 19th and well into the 20th centuries, and you have a perfect storm.
Sandstone is strong, fireproof, and durable making it perfect for building everything from homes to bridges to, well, palaces. In Buffalo it was used to build the now infamous Richardson Olmsted Complex, many churches, multiple buildings, and private homes, including that of William Wicks (partial), of Green & Wicks, one of Buffalo’s most prolific architectural firms.
The Richardson Olmsted Complex on Forest Avenue was built with red Medina sandstone as well.
Sandstone also built a huge economy in Orleans County, where Medina is located. At one point the Orleans County quarries employed upwards of 2,000 workers.
By 1920, however, cement became a more popular, more economical substitute for sandstone and the quarries began to shut down. Today, there is still plenty of sandstone out there, but only one quarry remains in Orleans County. It’s just become too expensive when compared with the alternatives.
So, you could say that Medina Sandstone has played a significant role in Buffalo architecture. And the next time you’re out and about in Buffalo, look around. You’ll be noticing it everywhere now. You’re welcome. 🙂
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I have a confession to make. I don’t get downtown very often anymore. Working from home is great, but I admit I miss the action. I only get downtown a handful of times each month. Everytime I do, I get that old familiar feeling. That “I love this town” feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Downtown Buffalo is just a part of me.
And I think I may be rubbing off on my granddaughter Aoife (pronounced ‘eefa’). To be fair, my son, Aoife’s father, works downtown in the Brisbane Building so that may have had an influence too, but either way Aoife loves downtown.
So, a couple of months ago I had one of my favorite photos of city hall (below) put on canvas. When it arrived, I showed it to Aoife and asked her if she knew what it was. With a big confident smile, she said, “Yes. It’s a castle!” She’s three. So I said, “You’re right, it’s a Buffalo Castle.”
Since then, Aoife loves to ‘go walking’ downtown to see all the Buffalo Castles. I was downtown this morning walking along Main Street, and thought of how Aoife looks with awe at our Buffalo castles. I was inspired to share them with you.
Let’s Get Startedwith City Hall
Buffalo City Hall. It’s one of the largest municipal buildings in the U.S, at 32 floors and over 560,000 square feet. That aside, it’s an exquisite example of Art Deco design. The architects are Deitel & Wade, and it was completed in 1932. I love this building.
When she’s a little older, I’ll teach Aoife about all the little details that are everywhere on this building. The frieze above the front entryway depicting the history of our city up to the year it was built. The details on the windows. The Native American designs at the top of the building. And the statues on either side of two of Buffalo’s presidents – Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Those two may or may not be there when she’s old enough to learn about them. But for now, to Aoife, city hall is the original castle. We both love it.
I especially love the way the building presides majestically over Niagara Square and the McKinley Monument. And speaking of that…
The McKinley Monument
This monument is of course here in honor of President William McKinley who was fatally shot at the Temple of Music, an attraction at the Pan American Exposition in September, 1901. The architects were Carrere and Hastings, and the animals were sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor.
From all accounts, Buffalo deeply mourned the death of McKinley and great thought was given to the design of the monument. It has been said that the sleeping lions were included as a sign of strength, a nod to McKinley’s presidency and the turtles (yes, you have to look for them, but they’re there) were included as a symbol of eternal life, which is what the city at the time hoped for President McKinley.
The monument was dedicated in 1907, six years after McKinley’s untimely death. It underwent its first restoration in 2017. The square itself has changed around it many times, but the monument is here to stay. Not necessarily a castle, but Aoife loves the animals and the fountain, so it’s going on the list!
The Statler Building
In the shadow of the McKinley Monument, it’s easy to see the Statler Hotel, one of my other grandchildrens’ favorites. Apparently Miles learned about it in first grade in a social studies class and was awed that one man owned a building so giant (his words). I talked about Ellsworth Statler in another post, including what’s going on in that building now. He had great influence on downtown life in Buffalo back in the day. I guess you could say that he helped to create the downtown vibe that I love so much.
The hotel itself is definitely one of our castles.
Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse
Just west of the Statler building, is the U.S. Courthouse. Not all of our ‘castles’ are old. This one was built in 2011. At that time, I worked in the Seneca One tower on the 30th floor, and my office overlooked Main Street. So I watched the courthouse being built. Robert H. Jackson is a Western New Yorker who served as a Supreme Court Justice, so it is fitting that the building is named for him.
Not normally a fan of very many modern buildings, I didn’t expect to like this one. But I do. There’s something very pleasing about the design. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates out of New York City. The lower glass wall visible in the photo has the entire U.S. Constitution etched into it. Pretty cool. Castle worthy.
Old County Hall
And then there’s this. This building speaks to me, like some do. It gives me a real feeling of history in Buffalo. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest of the downtown ‘castles’. The center clock and bell tower is 270 feet tall – must have been an amazing sight to see in 1876! Especially since the clocks were back lit by gas lamps at night.
Picture this. It’s 1876. When it gets dark at night, it gets really dark. Not like today with street lights ablaze and illuminated buildings everywhere. It got really dark back then. The nightly lighting of the clock tower became an evening destination for the citizens of Buffalo. Rich and poor alike would take their evening walks or carriage rides to the Old County Hall to behold this clock tower. It still impresses today.
I devoted an entire blog post to this building because it’s one of those that makes me wish time travel could be a thing so that I could shoot back to 1880 or so to see the clock tower lit up without the distraction of all the other lights in the area.
While walking near this building Aoife asked me who the ‘people’ were on top of the tower. Good question. They respresent Justice, Agriculture, Mechanical Arts, and Commerce. That explanation, of course, meant nothing to her, but it meant a great deal to the people of Buffalo in 1876. Enough that they would put them high above us on pedestals to guard over the city. This, is a Buffalo castle.
The Guaranty Building
As we walked away from the Old County Hall, Aoife looked up and said, “Oh Nana, I like those circle windows.” She was, of course, looking at the Guaranty Building. Good eye, kid.
As we approached the Guaranty Building on the opposite side of the road, on Church Street, I started to tell Aoife the story of this building. How it was built in 1895-96, how it was the tallest building in Buffalo at the time, and how it was designed by a very famous architect named Louis Sullivan. Aoife couldn’t have cared less about that. Did I mention that she’s three?
In the meantime, we had crossed Church Street and stood at the base of the corner of the building looking up at the tree of life carving which drew our eyes up to the cornice. That she was interested in. Along with the other Art Nouveau details in the terra cotta exterior, and she was also impressed with the gargoyles. We went into the lobby, where we gawked at the Tiffany-like ceilings, the mosaic walls, and the bronze elevator cages. All are simply gorgeous.
As we walked away from this Buffalo treasure, Aoife said, “That was definitely a castle.” I agree.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Right across the street from the Guaranty Building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. If all those spires don’t make you think of a castle, I don’t know what would!
This church was built in 1851 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, who was well known for his English Gothic church designs. Beautiful inside and out, it is definitely one to go take a look at. I am always struck by how, no matter where on the street you are looking at this building, it appears that you are looking at the main entrance (which is actually on Pearl Street).
The Ellicott Square Building
Now, I don’t really think the Ellicott Square Building resembles a castle, but Aoife sure does enjoy all the faces on the facade. I’ll admit that after I pointed out the Medusa heads lining the cornice of the building, they scared her a little bit. So I told her they were little girls welcoming her into their building. She accepted it.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The architect was Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham and Company, one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the U.S. What a fantastic example of Italian Renaissance design this building is!
But to me, it’s the interior of the building that puts it on Aoife’s list of Buffalo castles. Whenever I walk into the atrium, I can’t help but look up and around the room. The staircases, the Italian marble mosaic floors, the elevators! It’s still stunning after all these years. 124 to be exact, having been completed in 1896. At that time it was the largest office building in the world. In the world!
It’s definitely castle worthy.
The Old Post Office / ECC City Campus
Back out on the street, I take Aoife through an alley over to the Old Post Office. She takes one look and states, “I think this one is a castle, Nana.” I agree. What do you think?
It was completed in 1901, and had three government architects, Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It’s a mix of styles between Victorian Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque.
And to a kid this one is perhaps the most castle-like of all. It’s a real stunner! And like city hall, there are a lot of details to look at here. Gargoyles, eagles, lynx and bison. And, like the Ellicott Square Building, the inside is amazing! In Aoife’s words, “Woah…”
One M&T Plaza
As Aoife and I head back to Main Street, we see One M&T Plaza. She tells me she doesn’t think this one is a castle. But the closer we get, I can see the wheels turning. And I think she’s changing her mind.
Then we see it. The fountain. That puts her over the edge. It goes on the list. It’s a castle to Aoife because of the fountain. Ah! To be three and have your only responsibility be the discovery of everything around you. That fountain made her so happy.
I’m beginning to think Aoife does have a great eye, because this fountain was designed by Harry Bertoia, and I’ve heard his larger sculptures now sell for upwards of a million dollars! It is a beautiful fountain, and its curves are a nice contrast to the modern, straight lines of the building.
So One M&T Plaza was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and was completed in 1966. He was finishing up this building while starting his next job, the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in New York City. I don’t have to tell you what happened to that building. Let’s suffice it to say that I am grateful that we still have this building to show off to our grandchildren.
One M&T Plaza is the Buffalo Headquarters of M&T Bank here in Buffalo. And I gotta tell you, they have been Buffalo boosters since their inception in 1856. They’ve stayed true to Buffalo all this time. And they continue to do so. No, I do not work for M&T. I just happen to think that they’ve been good to Buffalo.
The Hotel Lafayette
As we head into Lafayette Square, Aoife points out the Hotel Lafayette and says, “I pick that castle, Nana.” I was wondering what she meant, when she went on to say, “It’s a good one! Just look!”
She’s right. Just look at it.
Completed in 1904 (with two additions to follow), it’s an awesome building. And it was designed by the first working woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! And apparently she was quite a woman. She reportedly would be shouted at in the streets for riding her bicycle, something that was considered unseemly for a woman in the 1880s and 90s. Can you imagine? No, I can’t either. I would have been in trouble all the time back then!
Read my post here for more about Louise. She was really an interesting woman.
The Hotel Lafayette is now a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, banquet halls, a coffee shop, full service restaurant, and a working brewery. That’s a mouth full. The Lafayette is excellent, inside and out. Castle worthy.
The Rand Building
The Rand Building is, to me, a beautiful building that I don’t think gets enough respect. In fact, I wrote a post about it, where I give my humble opinion about why it doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. Because I think this building is cool. Strong, solid, and true.
It was built for the Marine Bank and named for George F. Rand Sr., who was at one time the President of Marine Bank here in Buffalo. It was completed in 1929 and was the last commercial building to be built in Buffalo before the stock market crash and the depression began. True to its time period, it’s a decent example of Art Deco design. But you’ve got to really look at it to notice all the subtleties of the design.
I love it, and so does Aoife. Come to think of it, so does Aoife’s father, my son. All fans of the Rand. It’s a castle.
Buffalo Savings Bank / Goldome Bank / M&T Bank
This is probably Aoife’s least favorite Buffalo Castle. I don’t have a clue why. What child wouldn’t be impressed with that shiny gold dome atop this incredible neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style building?
Well, Aoife apparently. She told me that she likes it, but she doesn’t love it. To be fair, we didn’t go inside. That would have elevated its status, I’m sure. The inside is nothing short of magnificent. I love it.
It’s a Green & Wicks design and was completed in 1901 as the Buffalo Savings Bank. It was billed as the working man’s bank. You see, up until this point, banking was reserved for the rich. It gave regular people incentive to save their money for whatever it is they desired. Cool.
Interesting side note: the dome was not originally gold. 24-carat gold leaf was added when Goldome Bank took over the building. The cost to cover the dome with 140,000 sheets of gold leaf was $500,000. More than it cost to build the original building!
It’s a Buffalo castle! I don’t care what Aoife says!
My Impressions of Buffalo Castles
Well, I’m exhausted! Aoife wore me out ‘going walking’ looking at all the Buffalo castles. You know, there’s a reason why people have babies when they’re young! I’m just kidding. Aoife was exhausted too! But not too tired to pose with Daddy at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square.
Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to look at something through someone else’s eyes. And sometimes it’s great to see things through the eyes of a child. We walk, ride and drive around the streets of downtown Buffalo and totally miss the amazing architecture all around us.
These buildings that Aoife and I have deemed ‘castles’ are not by any means a complete list. These are just some of our favorites.
Take an urban hike. Look around. Really see our city. Choose your own castles. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, take them with you and look at the city through their eyes. It’ll be like seeing it for the first time. And they may surprise you with their insight and their opinions. Even Aoife, at three, offers these. The way she fell in love with the fountain, or the Hotel Lafayette. It was pretty cool to see.
Get out and enjoy your city Buffalo!
*Get the book! They make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family. Click here or on the photo below. They make great gifts!
*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.