By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — It may be 2014 and a new year, but we are learning about Methodism on the Niagara Frontier, with excerpts from its historical documents.
During the period 1872 to 1919, St. Paul’s Church formed many internal clubs and societies such as the Ladies’ Aid and Home and Foreign Missionary Societies, a Men’s Club, another women’s group, The Pierson Class organized in 1892 as a teaching aid which continued after the teacher, Mr. A. W. Pierson passed away in 1910 as the Cui Bono Class as a women’s class. It later became a mixed class and excelled in assisting the church with its financial needs. The class also provided entertainment of an outstanding character, enjoyed by the entire church.
In 1916, the Rev. George Hares encouraged the church to begin the “new St. Paul’s” on Seventh Street. Many of the church elders were ready to begin construction and Bishop William Burt felt that Niagara Falls warranted a great convention church with modern equipment for community service and it should serve as a model to others. He assured the board he would try to secure the funding for doing a first-class structure from the Board of Missions and Church Extension. Architects were selected, plans were submitted and approval was obtained for $60,000. The Board of Missions urged the members to raise the $100,000 remaining and not to build an inadequate structure for less.
It was a struggle as some of the promised funds did not materialize and finally St. Paul’s held two local financial campaigns in April 1920 and 1922 and secured $96,232 in cash and pledges to cover a period of seven years. Other problems were overcome and the building was completed by Wright and Kremers after a construction time of two and a half years. The Community House or Education Wing was completed first and chairs were set up in the second floor gymnasium in order to conduct worship. Pews, stained glass and the pulpit from the “old Saint Paul’s’ were used in the new construction. The new St. Paul’s was dedicated in August of 1923. The entire cost, including the parsonage at Seventh Street and Augustus Place was $276,746 and encumbered a debt of $170,000. The trustees were obligated personally under the terms of the mortgage for responsibility of the entire debt over the 25 years; they were hailed as “good and faithful servants.”
During this time, the YWCA was formed and the chapel on Thomas Street was rented to them for gymnasium purposes until their building at Fourth and Main was completed. In return the church received full use of the YWCA when St. Paul’s was without a building during the construction period of 1919 to 1922. On June 15, 1919, when the Rev. John E. Manning was pastor, the church property at First and Thomas streets was sold for $35,000 which did not include the furnishings and the pipe organ. The last service was on June 8, 1919, and then they continued in the YWCA until March of 1922.
The Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey states that “Architecturally, the finest church of the period in the city is St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and Parish House at 723 Seventh St. Designed in 1921 by Philadelphia architect Charles W. Bolton, it reflects the influence of the so-called “Boston Gothic” churches of Ralph Adams Cram. Like Cram, Bolton, who had a national reputation as a church architect, based his design on fifteenth-century English parish churches in the Perpendicular style”.
During the early formative years in the new church, additional help was given to the first pastor (1923-1926) the Rev. Spencer Bacon Owens in the way of an office secretary, Mrs. Myrtle Beeman who also worked with the youth of the congregation. As the years passed, an athletic program, chiefly basketball was introduced briefly but lack of adequate supervision ended it abruptly. During 1925, the Italian residents were transferred from St. James to St. Paul’s until 1948.
During 1930, Dr. Sylvanius S. Davies was pastor and remained as such until 1942, becoming one of the longest and most fruitful times in St. Paul’s history. During this period (1939) three separate branches of Methodism united and became “The Methodist Church.” That year also marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of its Sunday school. A school of Religious Education was formed and held after regular school hours. A new parsonage at 748 Fourth St. was purchased in 1944.
Growth continued and steps were taken to reduce the debt. Following considerable effort “the mortgage was burned in a ceremony on Nov. 7, 1948, during the ministry of the Rev. John Abbott (1942-1953). William R. Jack of Whittermore Associates Boston designed the replacement of 24 “temporary” windows in the sanctuary. The same year, the Oxford Class for young adults was started. E. Eugene Maupin replaced the part-time director of Music Mrs. Ethel Cumming (1912-1952) and dramas and music productions were staged and were well-received. Conference were held, athletic programming included basketball and bowling leagues and the church hired it’s first assistant pastor, the Rev. Harold Babb in 1956.
“The course of St. Paul’s was strongly linked with the fortunes of Niagara Falls, already in decline in the ‘60s. More on that next week, when we meet a friend and co-volunteer of mine, former Rev. Calvin Babcock and hear about his services to the “new” St. Paul’s.
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.