By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Today is March 17, 2014 — a day of celebration for our Irish population which basically includes everyone as everyone seems to be Irish on this day. Wearin’ of the green is commonplace and there is plenty of corned beef and cabbage to go around. Let’s not forget the city’s birthday which is also celebrated on this date. A lot of water has gone over Niagara Falls over the past 122 years when the City of Niagara Falls was incorporated on this date in 1892 from the villages of Manchester and Suspension Bridge, which were parts of the Town of Niagara. Wikipedia continues the history stating that “New York state Governor Roswell P. Flower signed a bill into law, forming the city. Thomas Vincent Welch who was a member of the charter committee and then a New York state assemblyman, but more important, a second-generation Irishman, was there when the bill was signed and was responsible for asking Governor Flower to sign the bill on St. Patrick’s Day. George W. Wright was elected the first mayor of Niagara Falls.”
Continuing with the First Baptist Church early days I learned there was a lapse of regular pastors during the years following the departure of the Rev. Charles Keyser in 1857. The Rev. E.T. Robinson who served only one year departing in 1860, followed by the Rev. Henry W. Barnes from 1866 to 1870 and the Rev. A. M. Tenant from 1872 to 1874. This did not seem to affect the usual routine of activity at the church, however actual records are sparse during a period of 12 years until 1885 when two evangelists, Brand and Caldwell breathed new life into the church and many of the members who had drifted into other congregations came back. Later the evangelists stepped aside when a new pastor, the Rev. G. H. Kemp came to the church.
This revival occurred during the time of the incorporation of the City of Niagara Falls (1892) while the church was led by Pastors, G. H. Kemp, G. T. Webb, L. A. Mitchell and James Rae until 1899 with services and church life in the old church home located on First Street near Main. During 1899, it was decided to seek a new location as the New York Central Railroad which passed directly behind the building became disturbing.
A Niagara Gazette article dated Dec. 29, 1942, reflected on some of the later uses of the original church. It was known as one of the show places in the former village. The original church was vacated in 1901 and the ownership was passed to C.N. Owen and it was later used as a storage building for a Buffalo brewing company. Later it became a warehouse until the Elderfield -Hartshorn Hardware Company used this location for its new building.
The cornerstone was laid on the new church home at 554 Main Street on June 16, 1900 with Rev. Abner F. Bowling as the pastor who served during the design and planning stages. During its first service on January 20, 1901, the Rev. Dr. A. S. McArthur, President of the World’s Baptist Alliance and a pastor in New York City for over forty years preached the dedication sermon with Rev. Adam Claghorn, the first pastor, present for the service. Rev. Bowling served the congregation for six years with a membership of three hundred persons and following his departure in July of 1905 there was a period without a regular pastor until the coming of Rev. John E. Vassar on April 1, 1907. He remained until June 1916.
Now a little about the architecture of the First Baptist Church which was designed by James Robert White, a local architect, born and educated in Canada, who moved to Niagara Falls in 1895. Between 1900 and 1912 he designed many of the well known homes in the city, such as 324 Buffalo Ave., 725 and 731 Fourth St., 683 and 702 Orchard Parkway and 531 and 720 Buffalo Ave. He designed the ecclesiastical space in the Victorian Gothic Revival style which was popular during these times.
The church website describes the “Victorian Gothic design of First Baptist Church is unique for the way the building develops from its irregular lot and defines an important intersection of Main and Fourth Streets and Walnut Ave. The church is part of the Park Place Historic District which includes 44 residential properties and one element, a section of stone wall from the Schoellkopf residence. The church property was purchased 1899 from the original owners, the Schoellkopf family. The church received its local historic designation in 2007 as part of the Park Place Historic District which is located between Main Street, Cedar Avenue, and Fourth Street.”
In 1925, an educational wing was added and designed by W H. Barnes who had his office on Whitney Avenue. The construction of both sections of the church are described as brick with Victorian Gothic details on the older section especially in the tower. The website proved to be very helpful with its description stating “The exterior brick of the church is in Roman style, which was popular with architects of the day, including Frank Lloyd Wright.” More next time.
Happy birthday Niagara Falls!
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.