Niagara Gazette

Columns

April 28, 2014

HIGGS: First Unitarian Church began in 1913

Niagara Gazette — During the history of Niagara Falls in the early 1900s many new religious denominations were formed and many statement churches were built in various architectural styles. The Gothic style dominated as we have learned from previous columns. This week we visit something different but no less of a city landmark.

Back in 1913 several city residents felt the need of a church of a more liberal nature. Working from a Niagara Gazette feature by Dick Klug dated Sept. 23, 1961, and the church website I found that J. Allen Johnson was the leader in the drive to set up a new church in 1913. He and a fellow engineer, John W. Beckman accompanied the Rev. Richard W. Boynton of the First Unitarian Church of Buffalo to the Niagara Falls Odd Fellows Hall on Jan. 4, 1914. He had compiled a list of those interested in a “liberal religion” and meetings were held over the next few years at various locations with a small group and this led to the establishment of the First Unitarian Church of Niagara Falls.

During 1918, the Meadville, Pennsylvania District Unitarian Conference passed a resolution recognizing the need for the establishment of a Unitarian Church in the growing City of Niagara Falls. Their resolution urged the “American Unitarian Association to cooperate strongly with the people there (Niagara Falls) toward

the end of establishing a permanent church in that permanent and growing city.”

The local Niagara Falls church was organized on Oct. 17, 1920, with 34 charter members. It was named the First Unitarian Church and the minister was the Rev. Dr. Orville Bruce Swift. He came from Middletown where he had been a Congregational minister.

In the early days, the church held services at the Gray & Trigg Building. The American Unitarian Association assisted with the purchase of a lot at 639 Main St. on Feb. 25, 1921. The church was incorporated in April and the AUA contributed $10,000 toward the construction costs of a building and held the deed to the land. The congregation voted to join the merged Unitarian Universalist structure in 1960 and became known as the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Niagara.

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