Niagara Gazette

Columns

May 5, 2014

HIGGS: More on a historic church on Main Street

Niagara Gazette — Last week we began to look at First Unitarian Church which was according to Wikipedia: “built of steel and concrete and faced with rough, uncut limestone from the bedrock excavated for the building’s foundation.”

The church website lists the interior as “more of a theater,” a stage of goodly size and furnished with a grand piano, formal chairs, and a ... reading stand in lieu of a pulpit.” A Gazette article stated the stage was used for plays, entertainment and motion pictures. The basement known, as Unity Hall, was finally finished during 1925-26 and a group of members contributed to the cost of the Bennett organ in 1928.

The sanctuary is simple and unadorned with large clear glass windows on either side. Chairs, rather than pews have been used since 1922 and the current ones in use are theater style individual chairs in sets of two. Some of them have been memorialized. Noted preservationist Tom Yots once compared the sanctuary to a “New England meeting house.” Not surprising as I found on many websites the early beginning of the faith in America in Boston, Philadelphia and other locations of our earliest settlers.

Along each side wall banners are displayed depicting all the world’s religions. Member Marge Gillies told me that her longtime friend, Christine Jacoby, now deceased; hand crafted each of them in a precise manner. She also placed them in a manner where the religions balance each other. This project took many hours of hand stitching and was truly “a labor of love”.

The website quotes the first minister the Rev. Dr. Swift stating: “The church founders were hedging their bets with such an “unchurchly” building. They wanted the option of selling it should the movement fail or if they could get a generous appreciated selling price and build ‘a churchly structure elsewhere.” Work continued with the use of the “Expansion Fund” used to remodel the auditorium in 1955. At that time the stage was closed off, six classrooms were added for a popular and well attended church school and old debts were paid off to the AUA. The Bruce Swift pulpit, the Founders Room and the Education rooms were rededicated on October 17, 1955. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

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