Niagara Gazette

December 30, 2013

HIGGS: Methodist beginnings in Niagara

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Pete Ames came to the rescue again as well as former pastor Calvin Babcock. Pete loaned me his copy of the 25th anniversary booklet of the St. Paul’s Methodist Church - 1788-1948, and Cal dropped off “a short history of St. Paul’s.” This church was next on the list of established congregations at the time the various villages merged and became the city of Niagara Falls in 1892. From these documents we will get a look at early religious life in our city.

Back in 1788, Methodist missionaries held preaching services throughout the Niagara area. As many as 77 Methodist preachers traveled the local circuit. Some held meetings in private homes. Following the War of 1812, when things settled down in 1815 the first two Methodist Societies were started in Manchester (now Niagara Falls) in what is believed to be in the parlor of a private home and in Olcott.

The Holland Land Company holds the record of the first existence of this church organization by deeding to the Methodists 100 acres of land on what is now Lockport Street which was in the Town of Niagara at the time.

The first building was purchased in 1824 and was used as a preaching center. It was located where the former Gorge Terminal Building was built on Falls Street in later years. It was known as the Union Chapel and later as the Methodist Chapel. The society met there for 25 years and the first Sunday School was organized in 1839 with 78 pupils and 11 teachers. The Rev. John Cannon (1835) was the first regular pastor of he church. One of the preachers during 1839 in Union Chapel was the Rev. Ebenezer Cleveland Sanborn.

Rev. Sanborn was married to Almira Smith and they had six children. After Almira died he married Elizabeth “Betsy” Randall, one of 10 children of Methodist Minister, the Rev. Stephen Randall and Mary “Molly” Rice Randall. He and Molly had two children, Lee Randall Sanborn and Francis Emery Sanborn, and they settled in Lewiston. Lee Randall Sanborn was the postmaster of South Pekin which he succeeded in renaming to “Sanborn” in honor of his father.

The descendant that I know is John Sanborn who married Christine (Jarosz) Sanborn, a former resident of our east side and still active in our community and the Eastside Block Club and Niagara Street Business Association. The Rev. Ebenezer Sanborn was John’s great-great-great grandfather and his great-great grandfather was Israel Gilman Sanborn, the son of Rev. Sanborn and his first wife Almira. John traces his family back to the 1600s in England.

During March of 1849, the trustees purchased a small frame building from the Presbyterians with a belfry at its center on Falls and First streets from the Presbyterian Society for the sum of $2,000. In 1852, the church membership stood at 69 and the “preacher’s claim” was $400 raised by assessment and supplemented by the Home Mission Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1865, the membership changed its corporate name to “St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church of the Village of Niagara Falls.” Trustees now numbered seven and plans were set in motion to build a new church at the corner of First and Thomas streets in downtown Niagara Falls. The lot included a barn and cost $2,000. The church parsonage was built first at a cost of $1,550 which was a gift by A. M.Chesbrough to the Society. The next was a chapel, fronted on Thomas Street, designed by G. M. Allison for a fee of $250.

Members set a goal of $10,000 in pledges so they could start construction of the church itself. By April of 1867, William Morgan, a church architect, was engaged to draw detailed plans. Builders William and James Shepard were engaged to begin construction in October of 1868. Funds were lacking for completion despite the effort of the Rev. Zenas Hurd who worked very hard to raise the needed funds for the building project. What became known as “the old Saint Paul’s” was finally completed in 1872. The total cost was $22,500; Methodists, both local and non-residents, contributed $10,000; $5,000 was mortgaged and eleven pastors shared in paying off the mortgage in 1882.

From the time of the dedication, October 1868, to June of 1919, 22 ministers had served the congregation. The longest serving pastor was the Rev. O.C. Poland at seven years. Membership grew from 52 to 403 and a pipe organ was installed during this period. Many internal clubs and societies were formed. During this time, St. Paul’s was also active in the organization of a number of other churches in the Falls.

More on this next year, as this week marks the end of 2013 and celebrations are scheduled at various public eating and drinking establishments throughout the city. Wikipedia states “The Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the god of gates, doors and beginnings, for whom the first month of the year, January, is also named. “The month originally owes its name to the deity Janus who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward.” It’s good to look back now and then as we do in this column but it’s even better to keep moving the city forward while learning from its past. Happy New Year to all.

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.