Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara

Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York
By James Napora
Table of Contents

First Unitarian Church -1833
110 Franklin St. at West Eagle
Benjamin Rathbun
Founded 2 December, 1831
Unitarian Universalist Church - Table of Contents

The oldest religious building remaining in the downtown core, the First Unitarian Church is the second oldest house of worship existing within the city [oldest is the Breckenridge Street Church]

History: In November, 1831 Noah Sprague invited a Rev. Sullivan of Keene, New Hampshire to the city to preach to the men and women of the city native to New England. After the last of three services conducted during that month, Sprague held a meeting to determine if interest existed amongst the attendees regarding establishing a Unitarian church in the city. Due to inclement weather, only three people attended the initial meeting. He held a second meeting on 2 December and at that time the six attendees agreed to establish a Unitarian Society in the city.

The idea of the Unitarian Society lay fallow for the following eight months. In the Fall of 1832, the group secured the services of Rev. William Steill Brown and began holding regular meetings in a number of downtown locations including the courthouse on Lafayette Square, a schoolhouse on Pearl Street (later the home of Temple Beth El), and the attic of T. Stephenson's jewelry store on Main Street.

110 Franklin St.: The following year they purchased the lot on the corner of Franklin and Eagle for $2.000 and contracted the prolific local builder Benjamin Rathbun to construct their $6.000 house of worship. With twelve members at the time, it was a brave undertaking. Within three years, through wise investing primarily in real estate, they were able to retire the debt on the building.

Immediately the congregation wished to make an impact upon the city through its benevolence. In 1836, under the direction of the pastor, Rev. George Washington Hosmer, they raised a fund to establish a school in the basement of the church. Known as a free school and open to all children of the poor of the city, it became the first such institution in the city.

During his tenure, Rev. Hosmer twice enlarged the building between 1833 and 1859. The congregation remained active in the building through 1880 except for a short period in 1859 when fire damaged it. While repairs were being made, they met in the Niagara Street Methodist Church (destroyed) across the street from their building.

Throughout the early years of the church, many notable politicians worshipped there, primarily as guests of Millard Fillmore. They included President John Quincy Adams in 1843 and president Abraham Lincoln in February, 1861.

First Unitarian Church moves to Delaware Avenue: As the area surrounding the church became increasingly commercial, the members decided to relocate to a more suitable location. In 1879 they broke ground for their second house of worship on Delaware between Mohawk and Huron (destroyed). Upon moving there in 1880 they became known as the Church of Our Father.

110 Franklin St. sold and enlarged: With their departure from 110 Franklin, the Unitarians sold the building to Stephen G. Austin in 1880. He employed F. W. Caulkins to convert the building to offices by adding a third floor and lengthening the Eagle Street facade of the building.

The congregation remained at the Delaware Avenue location until initiating plans for their building on West Ferry and Elmwood in 1904.

[The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy was located in this building from 1881 to 1886.

For a number of years, Green and Wicks, Buffalo's most prolific architectural firm, had its office here.]

© 1995 James Napora
Page by Chuck LaChiusa with the assistance of David Torke
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