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.

Present owner

Rich Products

Erected

1827

Architectural style

Federal

Status

City of Buffalo landmark as of 9/29/92

The 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.

TEXT CONTINUES BELOW PHOTOS


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Gen. Peter Porter
who donated the land for the church

Porter's house was located directly across the street from the church. Demolished. Presently Rich Products land

Engraving of Gen. Porter's house

Breckenridge St. Presbyterian Church. Built 1827, oldest church building in the city. Note the bell tower which was removed.

Color photos taken Jan. 2001

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.

Center entrance

Center entrance: The pavilion entrance is set within a large brick basket-handle arch with rare display of florid ornament - honeysuckle blossom with reedings

Center doors
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.

Front facade, right-hand side, second story

West side (Mason St.) basement window (Note high stone basement)


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:


Color photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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