Central Presbyterian Church - Table of Contents

History - Central Presbyterian Church / Mount St. Joseph Academy
2434 Main Street at Jewett Avenue, Buffalo, NY

By James Napora


14 November 1835




Williams Lansing & Max G. Beierl

The text below is reprinted with permission from
Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York, by James Napora. Master of Architecture Thesis. Found at Buffalo Central Library NA5235 B8 N37 1995

In the Fall of 1835, a schism arose amongst members of the First Presbyterian Church regarding the interpretation of the Bible. Some members felt that the church was too free in interpreting it.

On 14 November, twenty-nine members from First Presbyterian and six members from the First Free Congregational Church, present Lafayette Presbyterian Church, met to organize a church more closely aligned with traditional principles.

1835 The first building - Pearl Street Presbyterian Church

Organized as the Pearl Street Presbyterian Church, they quickly erected a log meeting house on the west side of Pearl Street just north of Genesee Street. Built at a cost of $300, the building contained over 500 seats for a congregation of only thirty-five. It becameknown as the "ecclesiastical blacksmith shop" as it resembled a large blacksmith shop.

The congregation grew rapidly and within two years, with almost 200 members, they built a new church. Modeled after the Parthenon, it had an oval interior lit by a stained glass skylight. This feature earned it the nickname of "goose egg church."

In 1849, the congregation was forced to demolish the building due to structural problems.

1849 The second building - Central Presbyterian

They moved across the street to the northeast corner of Pearl and Genesee, the site of the Hyatt Hotel. Now known as Central Presbyterian, they began to erect an imposing structure designed by Boston architect John Selkirk. Not able to afford to build the entire church at one time, they first completed the basement, covering it with a temporary roof.

Between 1849 and 1851, the congregation now numbering 475, worshipped in the basement church referred to as "Dr. Lord's icehouse." Dr. Lord, an ultra-conservative, was known throughout the nation for his pro-slavery stance. Within two years, theyraised the necessary funding to continue construction, completing the building in 1852. At the time of its completion, the $50.000, 1,600 seat, Anglo-Norman building was the largest church auditorium west of New York City.

As early as 1890, the congregation began to feel the financial effects as members began, o move from the downtown core. Under the direction of its fifth pastor, Rev. Henry Elliott Mott, the congregation rebounded to 600 members, the largest it had ever been. Having a strong commitment to downtown, the church became a civic and social center. Known as a mover in the community, Rev. Mott began a campaign to have taverns closed on Sundays. After being defeated in this attempt, he became highly critical of then Mayor Jewett's stand on the issue.

Rev. Mott's departure in 1900 left the congregation without a leader for two years, resulting in the loss of over 175 members during that period. In February, 1907 a fire cause by an overheated furnace extensively damaged the building. With sufficient insurance to cover the damage, the 300 remainingmembers decided to restore the building. During the interim, the congregation returned to its original basement location in the building.

At this time, seeking to maintain a Presbyterian Church presence in downtown, they attempted to raise an endowment fund. In 1909, citing the failure of this attempt, they elected to sell the church and property to the Shea Amusement Company.

1911 The third building - Main Street at Jewett

The congregation would then merge with the Park Presbyterian Church on Elam Place, who had outgrown their current building, and erect a new house of worship in the rapidly developing Parkside area.

The congregation purchased the site on Main Street at Jewett, originally part of the Jewett Estate, and immediately began planning for the new house of worship. They conducted their final service downtown on 14 May, 1911 and moved to theirpartially completed building the following Sunday. On 28 June, they finalized the merger with Park Presbyterian and formed a combined congregation of 438 people. With the new sanctuary completed, they conducted the first service on 17 December.

The MacAlpine Presbyterian Church

In November, 1913, the Rev. Robert MacAlpine accepted a position as pastor of the congregation. Under his leadership, they experienced a level of growth not seen within the city. By the end of 1915, membership had grown to over 1,000 people. Under his direction, in 1918 they established a mission in the Bailey/Kensington area. In 1930 it became known as the MacAlpine Presbyterian Church.

Enlarging the building

Click on photos for larger size.
1921 photos of church enlargement. Original photos displayed in office basement.

Within ten years, the congregation had outgrown the Main Street building. In 1921, in an effort to accommodate more worshippers, they enlarged the building by moving the Main Street facade forty feet out towards Main Street. With the addition of a balcony, the seating capacity was increased to 1,200.

With the sudden death of Rev. MacAlpine in September, 1926, the congregation began an uncertain future. Through a series of leaders they were able to rebound from the ravages of the StockMarket Crash and the ensuing depression. By 1942, membership was at an all time high of almost 3.000 making it the largest Presbyterian congregation east of the Mississippi.

In the succeeding years, many changes took place, changes that would effect both Central Presbyterian and the nature of religion in the city. A large number of members began to move to the suburbs and join congregations there. With the overall population of the city in decline, the number of new members nowhere equaled the number of losses. The church changed its focus and began to reach out into the surrounding community, offering a number of programs specifically aimed at the now diverse area, assuring a continued presence here.

Special thanks to Rev. Stephen Phelps and Jack Anthony for their assistance..

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