Niagara Gazette

November 4, 2013

HIGGS: Moving on to landmark churches

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I am moving on to new Niagara Falls landmarks. A couple of definitions tell me that a landmark (among others) is a structure (as a building) of unusual historical and usually aesthetic interest, especially one that is officially designated and set aside for preservation. This comes from the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia is a little more involved stating” Originally, a landmark literally meant a geographic feature used by explorers and others to find their way back or through an area. In modern usage, a landmark includes anything that is easily recognizable, such as a monument, building or other structure. In American English it is the main term used to designate places that might be of interest to tourists due to notable physical features or historical significance ...”

Niagara Falls had some distinguished buildings in its early history and unfortunately a lot of them have disappeared. Most of the downtown portion of Falls Street was demolished back in the glorified days of urban renewal which was supposed to revitalize our former business district. We all know what happened to that and as a result we lost the possibility of building reuse which is running ramped in Buffalo and other areas.

Fortunately our area churches were spared (even the ones in the designated “renewal” area) and it is these that we shall learn about.

I am fortunate to have Pete Ames as a friend as he has done considerable research on this subject and has offered to let me use some of his findings for this new endeavor. During 2006, Pete, through the Friends of the Local History Department, embarked on a project to chronicle the histories of as many houses of worship in our city that they were able to research. Many sources were used in this research project through a partnership with the Monroe Fordham Institute from Buffalo State such as city directories, newspaper articles by Dick Klug, a former writer at the Niagara Gazette during the 1960s, church records, Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission articles and lots more.

Standing as tall and erect as the day it was dedicated is the former Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church and school at 1417 Falls St. No longer used as a place of worship it has taken on another role in our community which will be discussed later. I usually start at the beginning as that is where much of the history of a great number of our Polish immigrants lies. Like many of other European descent they came to find a better life and settled in Niagara Falls in the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s. Ames found records about Frances Ignaszewski who may be considered the first Polish immigrant, and, who along with many others found employment in the East Side in what became known as Tunnel Town.

Niagara Falls was probably the first area to speculate on the use of the natural scenic wonder to generate power and to bring it to fruition with the construction of the Edward Dean Adams Plant and the great tunnel and canal system for this plant. It was here that a settlement of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe settled and lived in tents and/or shacks near the Adams Plant. At the time “Tunnel Town” as it became known, consisted of a six-by-three block area, and carried a connotation of a place of squalor but later was considered the “second largest percentage of foreign born residents in the state, with 40 nations represented.” according to the Kempfer Report, a study published in 1943 by the New York State Adult Education Department. “The Evolution of an Ethnic Neighborhood That Became United in Diversity: The East Side, Niagara Falls, New York 1880-1930” is a fascinating dissertation written by local author and historian, H. William Feder and contains these and many other interesting facts from our early times.

As the East Side became settled, the need for a church of their own became paramount among the Polish immigrants and in 1901 Jacob and Agnes Pasek, Jacob Kaszyca and Szczepan Ciesielski traveled to a Buffalo parish with plans to organize a new parish in Niagara Falls to be named the Holy Trinity Society of Niagara Falls.

A small wooden church was built on Joseph Stec’s leased lot on 12th and Falls and was dedicated in 1902 with all services and teachings in the Polish language. The first pastor was the Rev. Peter Pilass. Later land was purchased for $6,000 from property owned by Alexander Zaleski located on Falls Street between 14th and Kosziuszko (later changed to 15th) streets. The land was actually registered in the name of “Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church Society of Niagara Falls, New York. The little wooden church was moved to this lot on 14th Street and was painted to resemble a village church.

Before I close I remind you that tomorrow is Election Day and you should find the time to stop at your local polling place to exercise your right and privilege of voting for those who will make decisions that will affect your life. Don’t forget the propositions located at the top of the ballot as well. Other than expressing great relief that the “silly season” will soon come to a close, I also remind you that our early settlers came to these United States to do just that.

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.