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

St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Table of Contents

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church - 1849-1851
Church at Pearl Streets (SE)
Architect: Richard Upjohn
Rebuilt 1888 Robert W. Gibson with Cyrus K. Porter
Founded 10 February, 1817

Prior to establishing St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1817, missionaries had conducted work amongst residents of Buffalo and the indigenous population of the area. The earliest Episcopal preacher to arrive in the area, Rev. Davenport Phelps, held the first Episcopal service in Buffalo on Sunday 3 July, 1802. As he solely intended to serve as a missionary in the area, he departed the following day to continue his work amongst the Indians on the adjoining reservations. He returned here on 8 January, 1803 but soon departed to work in the more populous counties to the east. With his departure, the area did not see another Episcopal minister until 1816.

In 1816, immediately after his ordination as an Episcopal priest, Rev. Samuel Johnston began ministering to the people of Batavia, the center of operations for the Holland Land Company. During the winter, he journeyed to Buffalo and conducted a series of meetings amongst a group of interested people. On 10 February, 1817 at a meeting held in Elias Ransom's tavern on northwest corner of Main and Huron, he organized St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The majority of the twenty families who made up the congregation were currently worshipping as members of First Presbyterian Church.

Immediately the thoughts of the congregation turned to constructing a suitable house of worship. They made an initial appeal for funds but came up empty handed. Without a building ,and lacking the funding with which to erect one, they continued meeting at Ransom's Tavern. They later met at the Eagle Tavern on west side of Main south of Court Street, the courthouse on Batavia Road at Washington Street and finally in the schoolhouse on Niagara Street. Undaunted by the initial failure, they requested of Joseph Ellicott a suitable piece of land to build their church upon. He responded with the gift of the present site on Church and Pearl Streets. Bolstered by this gift, in the Fall of 1818 they began a second fund drive and raised $1,785 towards the construction of a building. They broke ground the following Spring and placed the cornerstone on 24 June, 1819. On 25 February, 1820, Bishop John Henry Hobart of New York solemnly consecrated the first permanent house of worship in Buffalo.

Completed at a cost of $5,000 the new building placed quite a burden upon the congregation. The financial problems were further exasperated with the 7 April, 1820 resignation of the pastor, Rev. William A. Clark, as the congregation could not afford his salary. The members appointed a committee to fill the vacancy and after filling it sought solutions to the overall financial problems of the parish. At a meeting on 20 November,1820 they decided to forego the traditional practice of charging rent and instead sell pews at an auction. The sale netted almost $3,000, enough revenue to retire the building debt. Still the following years proved to be arduous at the least.

Building expansion

The opening of the Erie Canal in October, 1825 proved to be theturning point the congregation had yearned for. With the prosperity and influx of residents it brought to the city, their future stability was insured. By 1828 they had outgrown their building and proceeded to enlarge it. At the same time they raised the height of the tower and painted the exterior of thebuilding not the traditional white, but blue. Three years later,they once again increased the seating capacity with the additionof side galleries.

The arrival of Rev. William Shelton in September, 1829 enrichedthe church with a leader capable of guiding it through this great period of growth. It was after him that Shelton Square, the former public gathering space immediately adjacent to the church, was named. It was also under his guidance that the magnificent building now gracing the site was constructed.

By 1835, the congregation had once again outgrown the church.They established a committee to investigate securing funding for the construction of a new building. Apparently, this movement lost momentum. The following year, they established a new committee to investigate selling the original property and relocating. Once again, nothing resulted from this. The vestry ultimately resolved the crowded conditions in the church byorganizing a new independent congregation from that of St. Paul's. A meeting was held of all members interested in forming a new congregation and on 12 October, 1836 the congregation of Trinity Episcopal Church, now on Delaware Avenue, was formed.

By the mid 1840s, the parish had reached and maintained a level of experience in attending to their affairs. In 1845, much to the chagrin of the members of St. Paul's the congregation of St. John's Episcopal Church, now on Bidwell and Lafayette, began constructing a substantial stone church nearby on Washington Street. Feeling their supremacy in the downtown area somewhat threatened, on 13 January, 1848, the vestry of St. Paul's askedf or the complete support of its members in constructing a new house of worship. The following month, they established a building committee who would work with the architect, Richard Upjohn, on the design of the new building.

Familiar with Upjohn's work through his recently completed Trinity Church in New York City, the vestry desired no other architect for the job. Adamant about their desires for a building in the Gothic Style, they felt assured that Upjohn, an English trained master in the style, could provide them with a satisfactory edifice.

As Upjohn began drawing plans for the new church, Rev. Shelton initiated the fund drive. He desired to raise the majority of the estimated $50,000 cost of the building through pew sales. He also realized that for the church to be successful, a certain number of pews must remain free to any user.

In March, 1849, Upjohn submitted the plans to the building committee, plans which presented a building perfectly suited for the irregularly shaped site. All involved agreed that these plans provided for an appropriate building. Still there ensued a dispute regarding the embellishments of the architect's art and the limits of the congregation's budget. The congregation had planned on spending $50,000 but Upjohn's building was to costsignificantly more. In the end, both sides reached compromise by planning to phase the construction over a period of time, delaying the completion of many of the notable features such as the exterior pinnacles and towering west spire.

Moving the frame church

The congregation broke ground for their building on 3 September, 1849 and had completed the majority of work on the foundation by 1 December. They continued using their frame church, still located on the site, until 17 March, 1850. At that time, the congregation of St. Peter's German Evangelical Church on Genesee and Hickory Streets purchased it for $800 and moved it to their site. They used the building until demolishing it in May 1877 in preparation for the construction of their current building.

With the new building under construction, the congregation met in Clinton's Hall on the southeast corner of Washington and Clinton Streets. On 12 June, 1850 Bishop DeLancy placed the cornerstone and over one year later on 22 October, he dedicated the building. During the course of construction, the congregation granted Rev. Shelton a paid leave of absence. Without a pastor, they canceled the lease on Clinton's Hall and met with either the congregations of Trinity Episcopal Church or St. John's.


Throughout the ensuing years, work to complete the house of worship continued. Between 1854 and 1856 work progressed on the porches, steps and the main tower up to and including the belfry in which were placed nine bells. On 6 August, 1870, with the 258 foot, west spire complete, they placed a gilded cross on top of it. On 2 October, 1871 the bell from the original church was placed in the smaller tower fronting Church Street. Finally, in May, 1873, after almost twenty-five years of construction, thestone crosses and finials of the gables and buttresses were finished. At this time, at a cost of $160,000, the building stood complete as Upjohn intended it to be.


Fifteen years later, on 10 May, 1888, a fire caused by a natural gas explosion destroyed the building. Immediately, flames

1995 James Napora
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