Niagara Gazette

April 7, 2014

HIGGS: St. Peter's Episcopal Church and early life

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Last time we learned how the Porter family assisted the parish of a small chapel known as Christ Church in downtown Niagara Falls in 1846 by donating two parcels of land, one for a site on which to build a church and one for a parsonage house. The History of St. Peter’s Church found in a Program of Services Held in Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Laying of the Corner Stone referred to “General Peter Buel Porter, whose estate donated the lots referred to, as a well-known pioneer and distinguished citizen of the Niagara frontier.” He was elected to Congress in 1808 but resigned and recruited a group of volunteers during the War of 1812 against Great Britain. He later served as Secretary of War in President John Quincy Adams’ cabinet and died at his home in Niagara Falls on March 20, 1844. His son, Colonel Peter Augustus Porter and his sister Elizabeth donated the two parcels of land which were part of his father’s estate left to them. Colonel Porter was killed June 3, 1863, during the Civil War in the bloody battle of Cold Harbor.

On Easter Monday in 1847, the members of the reorganized parish met and elected as Wardens, Samuel DeVeaux and George W. Holley along with eight vestrymen: Christopher H. Smith, Richard H. Woodruff, Dexter R. Jerauld, Hollis White, Cyrus F. Smith, Michael Walsh, Abel M. Swallow and John Telyea. Some of these men were well known to the congregation at the 50th anniversary celebration in 1923 or at least their names fondly remembered. We already were introduced to Judge Samuel DeVeaux in a previous article and Mr. Holley who lived in the stone house on the river at the beginning of the “Loop drive” which was surrounded by several acres of only partially cultivated fields — all fronting on Buffalo Avenue extending to the bank of the Upper Niagara River. This was, of course, prior to the state of New York’s purchase of Reservation Drive. Michael Walsh was the father of Mrs. Hamlin who lived in the large brick house with extensive grounds on Third Street, near Ferry Avenue with her daughters. The rector at the time, Amos Treadway was also a relative of the Walsh and Hamlin families. Dexter Jerauld lived in the old stone house on Buffalo Avenue, which later became the Niagara Club.

Plans were drawn up by George Holley, construction began in 1847 and the first service was held in the uncompleted chapel in 1848. After its completion in 1849, the Rev. Sylvanus Reed officiated at the first service held on the Second Sunday in Lent (March 4th) and remained with the parish for only six months. He was followed by the Rev. Edmund Roberts (1850-1852) and the Rev. Joseph M. Clarke (1852-1858). During 1852 the founder and leading benefactor, Judge Samuel DeVeaux passed away but the parish continued to move forward and the chapel was officially consecrated in 1853 by Bishop DeLancey. He was assisted by Doctor Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, who preached the consecration sermon.

During 1861, the Civil War broke out. It was called the “War of the Rebellion” in one of my references. This brought a wave of depression to Niagara Falls and the parish. The record stated: “In consequence of the war, the business of the place was much depressed and a number of families of the congregation had removed. The parish felt straightened in its finances, and the rector, influenced by that fact and his own imperfect health, determined to resign.” The Rev. W. O. Jarvis of New York had accepted the call of the vestry and became rector on March 20, 1859, and left on Feb. 22, 1863. He was replaced by the Rev. O.F.Starkey who remained until Dec. 1, 1869.

During the late 1860s the church was more stabilized and expanded to include Sunday school and a private girls’ seminary.

A brick dwelling on a lot on First Street near the church on the south side was purchased for $5,000 with funds from both parish members and churchmen from outside, chiefly from New York. The purpose was for a school for girls to be under the auspices of the church of this parish. A separate corporation was formed named the Jerauld Institute in honor of Dexter R. Jerauld who zealously supported the school. It only operated for a few years as the endowment and supports were inadequate to meet the necessary expenses. The parish was also involved with the DeVeaux School.

The village of Niagara Falls grew in population and industry after the Civil War and the parish began again to think about a new church. A committee was formed in 1871 with Daniel J. Townsend as the chairman and Dexter Jerauld and Solon Myron Napoleon Whitney (Commonly known as “The Major”) as committeemen along with Rector Rev. Myron A. Johnson who was considered a “man of action and accomplishment.” The following year they presented plans which included moving the church to a new property and offered a design plan by Henry Dudley of New York City. Dudley was born in England, came to America following his education and designed 162 churches during the 1800s, alone and with various business associates. The 50th anniversary program document states “The building speaks clearly of his skill and of his artistic taste which follows closely that of the first great master of church architecture in America, Richard Upjohn.” To be continued.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.