Niagara Gazette

March 31, 2014

HIGGS: Moving on to St. Peter's Episcopal Church - just a dream in 1823

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Back in 1823, Rev. Hopkins, an Episcopalian clergyman from New Jersey arrived in the Village of Niagara Falls and began holding the first Episcopalian services in a little schoolhouse in downtown Niagara Falls and Lewiston. Some records state Rev. Hopkins left later that same year but according to the Program of Services Held in Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Laying of the Cornerstone on May 20, 1923, he ministered until 1828.

During that year, three area denominations Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians, came together to build one place of worship they would share in proportion to their respective contributions. General Parkhurst Whitney donated the land on what is now First Street for a chapel in 1828. During this time, Judge Samuel DeVeaux became involved with the organization of the church and was elected to head the building drive. According to Wikipedia, Judge DeVeaux was a heavy contributor to the Lockport and Niagara railroads, also known as the Strap Railroad and the construction of the Whirlpool Suspension Bridge. He died suddenly in 1852 and he left a portion of his estate for the benefit of Niagara Falls and the Episcopal Diocese to establish The DeVeaux College for Orphans and Destitute Children which was operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York. The college was located in the northern limits of the city and opposite the Whirlpool on land owned by Judge DeVeaux and the entire region still bears his name today.

As the chapel was being constructed back in January of 1829, the parish was incorporated as the “Christ Church” and Samuel DeVeaux and Samuel Hooker were elected Wardens. The first official service in the chapel was held in the summer of 1829 and was conducted by Bishop John Henry Hobart of New York. The anniversary program stated “We should bear in mind that the facilities for a trip from his See city, New York, were hardly as convenient or the trip as quickly made as now.” Remember this program booklet was used in 1923.

Bishop Hobart died the following September and was succeeded as Bishop by Rev. Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk who also made the long trip to visit the parish and administer confirmation to William G. Tuttle, Mary A. Tuttle, Abel M. Swallow, Christiana Hooker, Christiana Hooker, 2nd, Rachel Hooker and Mary Merry. Samuel DeVeaux and his wife Sarah had previously made the long trip and were confirmed by Bishop Hobart in Trinity Church, New York City.

During the late 1830’s the parish began to diminish as many families moved from the village and perhaps some loss of interest led to the fact that by 1839, the family of Samuel DeVeaux was the only family tied to regular services, read occasionally by the clergyman at Lewiston. By the 1840s, population began to grow in Niagara Falls and there was increased demand for regular church services. As the parish grew, DeVeaux began to gather support for a new Episcopal Church, as over the course of the lean years the little chapel had come to be known as “the Methodist Church.” It stood near the foot of Falls Street on part of the site of the International Theater.

In 1846, momentum for a new church and rectory increased thanks to Mr. George W. Holley who was executor of the Estate of General Peter B. Porter. The heirs consented to the donation of two village lots on the east side of First Street in the middle of the block between Falls and Niagara. The more southerly lot, nearly opposite the beginning of Thomas Street, was to be the site of the new church building with rectory to be one lot or 60 feet further toward Niagara Street.

Also accomplished at this time was the proclamation of Bishop DeLancey which rendered a formal opinion that Christ Church Corporation was null and void. On Aug. 22, 1846, he certified in writing his canonical consent to “the organization and incorporation of a Protestant Episcopal Church at Niagara falls, Niagara County.” A certificate of incorporation was filed in the Niagara County Clerk’s office on December 31, 1846 stating in part” … it is proposed that the title of the church shall be that of the first Apostle of Our Lord, St. Peter.” The certificate also stated “… but we also desire to bestow a deserved compliment upon Peter A. Porter and Elizabeth L. Porter, his sister, who have out of the estate of the late General Peter B. Porter, their father, bestowed two lots of land in this village, one for a site on which to build a church, and one for a parsonage house, and who are in other respects liberally and actively promoting the interests of the Church.” Stay tuned.

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