Blessed Trinity RC Church - Table of Contents
History and Architecture
Blessed Trinity RC Church
|317 Leroy Avenue, Buffalo, NY
Chester Oakley and Albert Schallmo of Buffalo.
Medieval iconography designer
|The Reverend Thomas Plassman,
President of St. Bonaventure,
There are over two thousand symbols and pictures which portray a "summa" of Christianity in terra-cotta tiles, paintings and sculpture. Plassman and the pastor, Albert Fritton (Lockport native), trained for the priesthood in Austria and together toured Romanesque churches in northern Italy.
|When the church was completed in 1928, the total expenditures amounted to $513,000. In 1976, the replacement cost of the building was set at four and a quarter million dollars, although it would be impossible to reproduce it as it now stands because similar craftsmen are no longer available.|
|Reverend Albert Fritton, second pastor of Blessed Trinity wanted to build a new church for the parish, like those found in northern Italy. As a theological student at Innsbruck, Austria, he traveled across the nearby Brenner Pass to visit Northern Italy, especially the plains of Lombardy|
History: Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church Complex is located in the northeast quadrant of the city of Buffalo and is a few miles from the downtown area (map). Long ago referred to as the Valley of Tears or the Valley of Woe, the Jammer-thal district remains a testament to the strong will and desires of a hardened group of German and Irish immigrants.
The original settlers to the area arrived to farm the earth but their attempts met with only marginal results. As the area is covered by only a thin layer of soil, the early farmers often found bed rock (Onondaga limestone) laying one foot below the surface. These conditions proved extremely detrimental to farming.
The bed rock later turned out to be a blessing in disguise when young entrepreneurs began to quarry the stone. One such quarry supplied the stone used for the construction of the outer harbor breakwall. Attracted there by the availability of work in the stone quarries, people desired to settle here and the failed farmlands were soon replaced by residential development.
Role of real estate developers: Like all new neighborhoods in the city, numerous factors contributed to the development of the area. Primary to these is the resourcefulness of a real estate developer who could predict the needs of a group of people. Key to these needs was that of a church structure. Just as the construction of places of worship resulted in the development of other sections of the city, this area was no exception to that rule.
Recognizing the potential for accelerated growth, the Leroy Land company was the first to donate land to a congregation. In 1888 they provided the land on which the Kensington Methodist Church originally stood. The establishment of a house of worship, coupled with the 1895 extension of the Kensington Street car line to the area resulted in an influx of residents to the area. Quickly, developers such as the Fillmore Land company, the Kinsey Real Estate Company, and the East Delavan and Belt Line Land Company began to take notice of the area.
Role of railroads: During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the railroads became the most important means of transportation in New York and Buffalo became a major railroad center. The New York Central, Erie, Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, and Pennsylvania Railroads, are only a few of the ten railroads which went in and out of Buffalo. The railroads were the major factor in the continued growth and manufacturing development of the city.
A large population of workers, including entire communities of Polish, Italian, German and other immigrant groups, were attracted to this region. Many of the people worked in manufacturing facilities as well as in the heavy industrial areas around Buffalo. The Kensington area was largely made up of working-class families, with a small percentage of professional, management, and business families. The national origin in this area was largely German-American, but there was also a sizable group of Irish families.
Blessed Trinity: As many Irish and German Catholic families began to reside in the neighborhood, on 6 June, 1906 Bishop Charles Colton appointed Rev. John F. Pfluger to establish a Catholic presence in the section defined by Main/Bailey and Delavan/Amherst. At that time, approximately sixty Catholic families resided in the area.
Rev. Pfluger arranged for the use of a hall above the Kleinderhaus Grocery Store at 175 Dewey and Sandford Street. Recognizing the importance of such an endeavor, Mr. Kleinderhaus provided the hall rent free. On 8 July, the congregation celebrated their first mass at what they referred to as the "Upper Room Church", due to its location on the third floor of the building.
Realizing the possibilities for growth, they immediately began to raise funds for the construction of their own place of worship.
John Gesl, one of the earliest settlers in the area, had arrived in Buffalo in 1840 at the age of twenty-five. He quickly acquired a large tract of land along what is today Leroy Avenue. As noted, attempts to farm the land resulted in marginal success. Consequently, he saved his income and soon bought a share in a local stone quarry. Upon his death in 1900, his son developed the remainder of the farm.
In February, 1907 the Blessed Trinity congregation purchased land and a home on the south side of Leroy, formerly part of the Gesl family farm.
They contracted with the firm of Schmill & Gould for the design of a combination church/school building, and in March, 1907 broke ground for it. As they excavated the basement of the building, they used the stone to construct the foundation. They placed the cornerstone on 5 June and dedicated the building on 17 November. At the time of its completion, the $25,000 building and the area were not serviced by electricity.
With the arrival of more residents to the neighborhood, Pastor Rev. Albert Fulton realized that the building would soon prove to be inadequate for both spiritual and educational purposes. In 1912, he acquired additional land adjacent to the original parcel from the Kinsey Real Estate Company with visions of one day constructing a great house of worship there.
The idea lay fallow for the following ten years until 1922. With designs prepared by local architects Oakley and Schallmo, the church members broke ground on 2 January, 1923. The church was dedicated in June, 1928.
Lombard-Romanesque style: Romanesque architecture developed in northern Italy from the 9th to the 12th centuries. The Lombard-Romanesque style employed in this ecclesiastical structure has several characteristics:
- Exterior: a single gable spanning the entire front (a descendent of the classical Greek and Roman temple pediment)
- Exterior: projecting porch;
- Interior: ribbed vaulting used throughout the interior, with coffered barrel vaulting employed especially in the transepts and choir (sanctuary)
- Interior: clustered piers supporting the vaulting;
- Interior: octagonal-shaped dome
- Semicircular apse;
- Interior: roundheaded, paired windows;
- Simplified buttresses; and
- Rich ornamentation in the Byzantine tradition.
In the main sanctuary area, a new altar facing the nave was fashioned out of the columns and table supports from the side altar. This alteration was completed in 1968.
- Exterior: The structure is constructed of medieval, handmade, Harvard (unmolded) brick set in herringbone patterns, which is not found in other churches in Buffalo.
- Exterior: The church and cloister rest on a limestone foundation.
- Exterior: It is covered with a handmade terra-cotta tile roof.
- Interior: The common building material used on the windows, doorways, floors, columns and arches of the interior is terra cotta, which is employed for decorative as well as structural purposes.
Harvard bricks: During the medieval times, most bricks were made without molds. The clay was mixed with water in a shallow pit called a pug, until it reached the right consistency. Then it was cut into shape for bricks. The mixing was done with the feet. In later times, a horse was often hitched to a pole and walked in circles as another pole in the pug mixed the clay.
After the bricks were shaped and sun-dried, they were stacked for firing. Wood was piled neatly all around the bricks and a fire was kept burning until the bricks were thoroughly baked. The outer bricks were often coal black and inner ones rich reds and oranges.
This method was employed by descendants of the French brickmakers at Exeter, N. H., where the bricks for Blessed Trinity were made. (They even used antique-type tools for the process.) These "Harvard" bricks are very hard and impervious. They were laid in a thick, soft mortar bed as in the medieval fashion. This produced a solid bond between brick and mortar and explains why there are so few hairline cracks -- so frequent in modern brickwork.
Because of the method of making bricks without molds in medieval times, the shape of the bricks was varied: some regular and some irregular. This was further complicated by the possibility of bricks shifting during the firing process. (This accounted for misshapen bricks.) To use all the bricks made, medieval bricklayers had quite a challenge on their hands. As far back as Roman times, bricklayers introduced patterns into the floors and later into the walls. (It was called "opus spicatum.") While examples of it can be found in Rome, Ravenna and Pavia, it was well-accepted in northern Italy from the 8th to the 15th century. The origin of this method appears to be a simple solution for using odd-shaped bricks, as well as large pebbles, stones, and chippings of all kinds in the same construction. In time, some guilds used designs as trademarks, and individual bricklayers worked their own patterns here and there into the construction.
The walls of Blessed Trinity are two feet thick. To produce solid, well-bonded walls, the bricks are often crossed and laid lengthwise into the wall, with the ends or "headers" exposed. Because of the many odd shapes and variation in colors, the modern bricklayers were unfamiliar with a method for laying these bricks, Chester Oakley, the architect, personally laid the first few courses of brick with the bricklayers. After they learned the technique, they were allowed to work in their own designs. The herring- bone design on the exterior of the apse and the small designs within the exterior arches of the facade and nave are based on definite historical precedents.
The various shapes and colors and patterns are especially interesting when the snow filters in between them or when the bright sun creates contrasts.
Many of the Senior residents of the area proudly point out these bricks, because some of them bought bricks as children at five cents apiece. As one of them said: "There are few memorials as enduring as a church building."
Terra Cotta: The windows, door frames, columns, arches, etc., are all made of terra cotta. There is so much of it used that this may well be the largest use of it in an ecclesiastical structure in the country. While this material was often used elsewhere for decorative purposes, here we find it employed even for structural purposes.
The very fine clays of Lombardy, which inspired widespread use of bricks, also led to the use of terra cotta in ornamentation. Because of the widespread historic use of ceramic at Pavia, it was selected as a material for Blessed Trinity Church. It is relatively inexpensive; it is very plastic for modeling and offers great freedom to an artist; and, it is very durable.
The ceramics at Blessed Trinity were made in Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania -- just a few miles from Chester. Mr. Oakley records that he went by train every ten days to personally supervise the work. All pieces were handmade, carefully fitted together, fired for two weeks, individually marked, and finally shipped to Buffalo. It took two men about two years to set all the ornamental pieces
The main portico is not red stone with ceramic ornaments, but entirely of terra cotta.
- "Guidebook to Blessed Trinity R.C. Church," by Rev. Walter Kern, 1976
- "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
- 1977 National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination
- Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record
- "Buffalo Architecture: A Guide," by Francis R. Kowsky, et. al. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981
- "Church Tales of the Niagara Frontier : Legends, History & Architecture," by Austin M. Fox, et. al. Pub. by Western New York Wares, 1994
- Classic Buffalo: A Heritage of Distinguished Architecture, by Richard O. Reisem and Andy Olenick