By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Before we get involved in the new church building, we need to know what happened to the former structure on First Street which was utilized for St. Peter’s Church services for 30 years until 1880 when the present stone church was ready for use. The church was a frame structure and “if ever it had any style of architecture or any lines of beauty, additions and changes of later years certainly have effaced them.” That description was included in the Fiftieth Anniversary Program Book (1923) where most of my factual information was gathered. It eventually went through a series of commercial uses and at the time of the anniversary celebration (1923) it was used as a public livery. The rectory was built of stone in a fine old English style and was sold and occupied as a residence.
Last week we briefly met Henry Dudley who was commissioned as the architect for the new St. Peter’s Church. He was also one of the founding members of the American Institute of Architects. He followed the wishes of the reform movement in church design which called for the return to the forms of the medieval church; perhaps with the thought this would help to revitalize spiritual interest. Wikipedia says: “Gothic architecture is a style of architecture born in the 10th Century in the beautiful churches, abbeys and cathedrals of northern France and later throughout Europe. ... This style flourished during the late medieval period and evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. Its features include the pointed arch; the ribbed vault and the flying buttress”. (Think Notre Dame in Paris).
The cornerstone was laid on May 5, 1873, with many members of the church hierarchy present including former rector, the Rev. O. F. Starkey, Mr. A. Augustus Porter, Mr. Stoughten Pettebone and Mr. Dexter R. Jerauld. Construction began in the summer of 1873 with the excavation for the basement. During this period, the parish fell into financial hardship due to the costs of the construction and the poor local economy. However, it was completed in November of 1880, only a few months after the expected completion date. The total cost was approximately $47,000 which included $7,000 land cost. David Phillips and William Shepard built the church and it was their 130th church building. P. C. Flynn was the interior decorator and when completed the parish had only a small debt of $300 and a mortgage. The first service was held on Nov. 4, 1880, the same day it was consecrated by the rector, the Rev. Mr. Wolseley. The church itself is located on the corner of Rainbow Boulevard and 2nd Street. The address is 228 2nd St. but the historic address of 140 Rainbow Blvd. is still used by the church. During the late 1880s the parish decided to build a guild house under the Rev. Phillip Wheeler Mosher of Michigan. This was completed in 1901 and was shared under an agreement with the Jerauld Institute and the parish and is used as office and community activities.
As I mentioned previously, much of the research I use for these columns was gathered by local historian and genealogist, Pete Ames, who has been kind enough to let me sort through it and attempt to put it together into one document. One of the pieces on this location was a short story written by Miss Louise B. Mosher daughter of the Rev. Phillip Wheeler Mosher, D.D., and Rector of St. Peter’s Church from 1887 through 1932. It is titled “Life with Father – 228 Second Street.” Miss Mosher lived with her parents in the Rectory which she described as “a very comfortable, gracious home, with an open fireplace in every room. The house was lighted by gas. There was no telephone, no automobile, no secretary, nor any assistant.” She does mention “Joe” a “jack of all trades” who took care of everything including the “ringing of the bell.”
She tells us that “Niagara Falls had been a small village and in 1897, there were still wooden sidewalks and muddy streets.” She described the many thick woods and farms between what had been the small village of Niagara Falls and the village of Suspension Bridge (now the North End). The two villages merged in 1892 and became the young city of Niagara Falls. Her father performed weddings in the large front room and the fee offered by the groom would be handed back to the bride along with the marriage license and a blessing for their great happiness.
Her story described daily life of the times and she mentioned places some of us have never heard of. When William B. Rankin (who was a Warden of St. Pater’s Church) developed the idea of harnessing the power of the falls it brought industry to the city, along with young men in search of jobs and some prominent engineers. Rooming houses sprang up all over town with rooms for $2 a night. Across the street from the rectory, she noted that Mr. Hotchkiss and Charles Phelps each built an inn. The Marigold restaurant opened and served the best southern food in all of New York state.
Next time we will take a look inside the church itself.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.