St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral - Table of Contents

- St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral
139 Pearl Street, Buffalo, NY

From the Archives #17
September, 2012

National Historic Landmark - Nomination

Visitor Information: (716) 855-0900
St. Paul's Official Home Pag

Where auto, trolley, truck and wagon meet,
Amidst the rush and grind of trampling feet,
Alert and bright, you glean your living there,
Oh, fearless, lovely doves of Shelton square.
c. 1917

Before they were declared a public nuisance in the mid-twentieth century, the pigeons of Shelton Square were praised in poetry, pampered and protected. Pigeons, however, were not the only residents of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In 1865, after his second visit to England, the Rev. William Shelton, had English sparrows shipped to Buffalo, where they made their nests in the nooks and crannies in the walls of the church.   The Rev. Shelton loved these noisy little birds and was often seen walking around the church feeding them out of his hand: behavior one would not expect in a man from whom children usually ran and in whose presence adults felt uneasy.

He also brought back sprigs of ivy from Westminster Abbey which he had planted around the stone foundations of the church. The ivy thrived and within just a few years the walls of St. Paul’s were covered in lush green foliage which made a perfect habitat for the growing sparrow population. Unfortunately, the great fire of 1888 ended the symbiotic relationship between ivy and sparrows. The conflagration destroyed the ivy and the sparrows fled.
The pigeons we see today in American cities are not native to North America.   Immigrants from Northern Europe brought their domestic pigeons to Nova Scotia in the early 1600’s, from whence many of them returned to the wild, and have since spread throughout the United States and Canada.

Pigeons literally flock to cities for three reasons: a continuous food supply, the lack of urban predators, such as the Peregrine Falcon, and tall buildings which are excellent substitutes for sea cliffs and rocky crags.
Richard Upjohn’s new Gothic church suited the large colony of down-town pigeons, who were undoubtedly already in the great tower when the building was consecrated on October 22, 1851. To insure their continual residency, wooden nest boxes were constructed in the area of the tower housing the bells.  
No longer in use, the empty boxes, whitewashed with a century of droppings, are still in place. 
In the early years of the twentieth century, no visit to Buffalo was complete without at least one trip down to Shelton Square to feed the pigeons. Tourists loved having their pictures taken surrounded by dozens of nervy, begging pigeons.
Possessing extremely keen eyesight and above average avian intelligence, individual pigeons were able to spot their favorite secretaries or businessmen from afar, and would fly only to them, or to the sills of their office windows, to receive their daily rations. With the arrival of winter, the S.P.C.A. took over the feeding of the city’s pigeons.  In the 1930’s, a half a bushel of grain was delivered everyday about noon to the three favorite pigeon hangouts: Shelton Square, Lafayette Square and the city jail. At the first glimpse of S.P.C.A. Special Officer Rudolph Karnath’s old Ford (and the birds never mistook another for his) the pigeons left their
in a frenzied descent en masse to the sidewalk below, engulfing unsuspecting pedestrians in a cloud of flapping wings.
By far the most generous gift given to the pigeons of Shelton Square was a marble and bronze bird fountain donated by Dr. and Mrs. Conrad Wettlaufer in 1920 in memory of their daughter, Esther. It stood five feet high and supported a water bowl four feet in diameter. It was located directly behind the great east window of the chancel. In 1938, the fountain was the scene of a kidnapping, of sorts. According to the newspaper account, three youths were seen taking eight pigeons out of the Wettlaufer fountain and running off with them. The same boys returned the next day to repeat their crime; only this time, two police officers were waiting for them. The police gave chase, after the boys snatched six more birds and took off. With the law hot on their heels, the three thieves had to release the captive birds to make good their escape. 
The Wettlaufer memorial fountain was relocated to Delaware Park sometime in the 1960’s.                                                                                                                        

Special thanks to Wayne Mori for making this archive avilable for reprinting.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2014
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