Breckenridge Street Church - Table of Contents

Breckenridge Street Church
44 Breckenridge Street, Buffalo, New York

Original name:

The Union Meeting House

Original location name:

Village of Black Rock

Address:

44 Breckenridge Street at Mason Alley, between Niagara St. and the Erie Canal (now Interstate 190). The lot overlooked the Erie Canal and Niagara River on Breckenridge Street (the maiden name of Mrs. Porter) at the corner of Mason Street.  In 2017, the former Sterling

Erected:

1827

Architectural style

Federal

Status:

Contributing member in the Upper Black Rock Local Historic District


History Beneath Illustrations




The church is located on the northern side (right on map) of Breckenridge St.   ...   #22 on the map:  Gen. Porter's house before and during the War of 1912, until Buffalo was burned



Peter Porter's house
Source: The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, Frank H. Severance, ed. Pub. by the Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912    ...  
The street that separated the Union Meeting House and Porter’s home received its name in honor of the maiden name of Porter’s wife, “Breckenridge.”





  Source: The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, Frank H. Severance, ed. Pub. by the Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912




2017 Photo


Looking down Breckenridge Street from Niagara Street  ...   Church is the second building at the right of photo




Except where noted, 2001 color photos



View from Breckenridge, looking down Mason Street towards Auburn Ave.   ...   Left: 44 Breckenridge, originally the Sterling Engine Co.   ...  Right: Breckenridge Street Church




SE Mason and Breckenridge Streets   ...   Five church details below:




#1



#2   ...   Dentil molding   ...   Lower left:  voussoirs




#3   ...   Paneled doors detailed below:


#4



#5




T
he 1827 Breckenridge Church at 44 Breckenridge Street is an outstanding example of the Federal style, rare in Buffalo, and the only Federal church surviving in the city today. The building predates the era of architects and exemplifies the earlier builder's tradition where designs were passed from builder to builder via publications such as those of Asher Benjamin.

Peter Porter on Breckenridge

Major General Peter Porter was a veteran and hero of the Niagara Campaign of the War of 1812, this area's first congressman, afterwards Secretary of War in John Quincy Adam's cabinet, and the single most important civic leader in Black Rock.

Porter donated the land for the church and built his own stone Federal-style mansion across the street. The Porter Mansion (1816, demolished in 1911) was an early stone Federal house. It was at this home that General Lafayette, John Quincy Adams, and DeWitt Clinton were entertained when they came to Buffalo.

Lewis Allen, uncle of Grover Cleveland and the owner of the farm which gave Allentown and Allen Street their names, bought the home in 1836 and lived in it until his death in about 1890. Allen was a member of the church and Grover Cleveland attended Breckenridge Street Church when he visited Buffalo.

The church stood on an embankment overlooking an imposing orchard-filled slope which extended all the way down to the Niagara River. It overlooked the Erie Canal, now Interstate 190.


The church and the Porter home helped to make this vicinity overlooking the Erie Canal and the Niagara River the social and business center of the Black Rock community.

The church

In the beginning operated by the Episcopalian; Presbyterians, and Methodists, the Union Meeting House was transferred in 1831 to the Presbyterians, who formed the First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock, This therefore became the second Presbyterian church to be established within the limits of the present city of Buffalo.

About 1871 the name was changed to Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, though for elusive reasons, it was for a time listed in the city directory (185-1865) as Church of the Puritans.

In 1888 the congregation built a new small but impressive Richardson Romanesque-Style church at the corner of West Ferry Street and West Avenue. The congregation took the name of West Avenue Presbyterian Church, but it is still the second oldest Presbyterian congregation in the city .At this time they sold the Breckenridge building for $3,000.

In the course of time the old church became the home of the following organizations: Grace Episcopal Church, the Odd Fellows. a detention center for Chinese aliens attempting to cross the border from Canada (hence the iron bars on the second-story windows), and a detention home for wayward children. Finally, the building became a plumbing supply warehouse for Stritt and Priebe which has since moved elsewhere for more space. At the present writing is is owned by Rich Products, and its future is uncertain.

The architecture

The Union Meeting House was designed from a pattern book of early nineteenth century styles, probably one of those by the well-known Asher Benjamin. The basket-handle brick arch over the doorway is typical of the style.

The church is a two-story brick Federal style gable roof rectangular building on a high stone basement. The rectangular structure is four bays deep and three bays wide.

Front facade: The main feature of the three-bay front facade is the two-story central pavilion with intact triangular pediment above the main cornice of the building. While the tympanum is now covered with asphalt roofing material, the molding of the cornice and raking cornices with original Federal style elliptical profiles remain intact.

The pavilion entrance is set within a large brick basket-handle arch with rare display of florid ornament - honeysuckle blossom with reedings, heralding the work of the English designers, the Adam brothers.

The entrance itself consists of two separate doorways framed by Federal style
pilasters below a molded lintel. Two matched multi-panel doors in this paired doorway appear to be original doors, altered to receive later glass panes. A small glazed transom area remains over each door. The double. entry doors indicate the early practice of separate entrances for men and women.

Bell tower: An old sketch of the church published in 1912 shows the configuration of the bell tower before its removal (see above).

Second story window group: This 1912 sketch also indicates that the second story window group above the entranceway was originally a three-part Federal style window arrangement with a large center multi-pane window flanked by narrow sidelight multi-pane windows. This now seems to have been replaced by a four-unit window group but, in fact, the original window casings remain intact. The large central window area has merely been divided in two by the insertion of a plain center post. This center post has no molding treatment while all the other casing members retain their Federal moldings and the pilaster treatment similar to that of the entranceway. All of the original multi-pane windows have been replaced by later single-pane sash. The proportioning of the original design of this central window unit is extremely important to the overall design of the building. This same proportioning is repeated in the facade taken as a whole with the broad central brick pavilion flanked by narrower side bays of the facade, just as the sidelights flanked the center window.

West side/Mason Alley; The exposed west side elevation along Mason Alley contains four window bays on two stories for a total of eight regularly spaced similarly dimensioned windows all with brick flat arches and stone lintels. All the brickwork is of the early small-dimensioned brick used in the earliest brick structures in this area. All the window openings retain their original dimensions although each unit has been vertically divided in two, to create pairs of single-pane sash windows. Again, the insertion of a single simple center post within the original casing is evident from a close observation of the beaded trim on the original casings. This same alteration has been made to the windows in the side bays of the facade, although the opening on the second story east has been reduced and converted to a doorway.



Sources of text:
  • Nomination for City of Buffalo landmark, edited by Alison Fleishmann
  • "Church Tales of the Niagara Frontier : Legends, History & Architecture," by Austin M. Fox, et. al. Pub. by Western New York Wares, 1994

The Union Meeting Hall – First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock. 44 Breckenridge Street at Mason; 1827

The Union Meeting House was constructed in 1827 on land donated by Major General Peter Porter, who was the first US Congressman from Buffalo.

The street that separated the Union Meeting House and Porter’s home [See illustration below:] received its name in honor of the maiden name of Porter’s wife, “Breckenridge.” The street retains its historic cobblestones.

When constructed the area was rural and the church looked out toward the Niagara River and the Erie Canal. As documented on the 1889 Sanborn Map, the surrounding neighborhood consisted of scattered frame residences.

The Federal Style meeting house served an Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist congregation before being transferred in 1831 to the Presbyterians who founded the First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock. In 1871 when the property of the church was transferred to the congregation.

The congregation sponsored $2,000 in repairs (approx. $38,000 in 2014), and renamed the church Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo (Church of the Puritans). In August 1883, the church had 172 communicants and 275 students in Sunday school. In the 20th century, the status of the church steadily declined as ownership was passed on to the government.

The Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo later became the Grace Episcopal Church, then a home for the Odd Fellows, then a detention center for Chinese aliens, a detention home and children’s court for juvenile delinquents, and eventually a warehouse for the plumbing supply company, Stritt & Priebe. The building is currently vacant.

The two story brick Federal-style building is raised on a stone basement. The main elevation facing Breckenridge Street, which retains its historic cobblestones, is three bays wide. The pedimented center bay projects slightly beyond the wall plain. The tympanum is covered with asphalt roofing material. Elliptical profiles at the cornice and raking cornice remain extant. The bell tower, documented on a 1912 historic image is no longer extant. The main entrance, with paired doors, is set back within a large brick baskethandle arch. Above the main entrance is a large central window opening, flanked by narrow sash windows.

The bay to the west features paired windows, with flat brick arch and stone lintels on the first and second floors, while on the bay to the east the second floor window opening has been infilled to accommodate a door. The elevation facing Mason Avenue is four bays wide with paired windows, similar to those on the Breckenridge Street elevation, on the first and second floor of each bay.

The Union Meeting Hall – First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock has been previously inventoried and determined to be National Register Eligible. The building is a local landmark (added 9/29/92).
- Upper Black Rock Historic Preservation District, p. 4




Except where date noted, color photos and their arrangement 2001 Chuck LaChiusa
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