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With the consecration of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1851, the young city of Buffalo had its first national architectural landmark. Situated a short distance from the terminus of the Erie Canal and designed by the noted Richard Upjohn, it symbolized the progressive spirit of a youthful city enjoying growing prosperity. Upjohn himself is said to have regarded it as his finest church.

Today, St. Paul's is classified as a U. National Historic Landmark. Upjohn had earned a national reputation for his design of New York's Trinity Episcopal Church (1846) - which firmly established the Gothic Revival in American church architecture. (He was also the first president of the American Institute of Architects.) Two years after Trinity opened, the vestry men of St. Paul's in Buffalo formed a building committee to erect a new church.* They immediately engaged Upjohn as architect.

In 1849, after some revision, Upjohn's plan met approval. Capitalizing on the triangular sloping site, Upjohn developed an

Illustration by Dan Haskin

asymmetrical plan. He placed a 270' tower at the southwest corner of the building and erected a two-story chapel, three bays long, adjoining the north aisle. Together with picturesque massing, St. Paul's adhered strictly to the principles of Episcopal ecclesiology, the study of medieval church practice that dictated the architectural requirements for "High Church" ritual.

Construction began in the spring of 1850 and was complete in its essentials when the church was consecrated in October 1851. Spires on the two towers were finished in 1870.

Built of Medina sandstone, the church follows the Early English parish church Gothic of the 13th century, which had come to surpass in esteem the later Perpendicular phase (upon which Upjohn had based Trinity Church). The major ecclesiological advance over Trinity is the chancel, which terminates the nave and is the most important liturgical area of the church. As "ecclesiologistic correctness" demanded, its roof line was lower than that of the nave. To churchmen of the 1850s, the back (or Main Street side) of St. Paul's identified it as an up-to-date parish.

Inside, St. Paul's possessed the openness of a hall, for the flanking aisles reached almost to the same height as the nave. A timber-hammer beam roof covered the nave which was supported by wooden piers painted the color of the exterior stone. The stained glass was described as being salmon toned.

In 1866 it was chosen as the Episcopal Cathedral for the Diocese of Western New York, a role it fulfills today as a very active ministry to the community.

May of 1888, a decade after Upjohn's death, his masterpiece was nearly vanquished in a gas explosion and resulting fire. The interior was destroyed, but Upjohn's stone walls remained solid.

Late that summer, Robert W. Gibson took charge of repairing the damaged building. Gibson, an Englishman like Upjohn, was widely admired for his All Saints Cathedral in Albany (a commission he won in 1883). For all of 1889, Gibson supervised the work at St. Paul's, and on January 3, 1890, the church reopened.

(Gibson was also the architect for the Bank of Buffalo.)

Retaining the original walls, Gibson introduced minor changes to the exterior. The nearly freestanding tower escaped damage and remains unaltered from Upjohn's time. Gibson concentrated on the interior, which he succeeded in making more substantial, spacious, and ornamental.

Yet Gibson showed sympathy for Upjohn's design. Using stone instead of wood for structural parts, Gibson preserved the basic outlines of the original ground plan but made the chancel longer and wider. Further, he added a clerestory to the nave and introduced two oversized arches in the final bay of the nave arcade. Together with the chancel arch of the same height, they give form to a lofty area before the sanctuary.

Gibson also took the opportunity to endow St. Paul's with the composite charm possessed by many medieval buildings combining different period styles. Drawing upon the 14th-century Decorated style of English Gothic, Gibson inserted such details as the leafy capitals of the nave arcade and the curvilinear tracery of the end wall of the chancel. (The earlier windows had been simple lancets like those in the south wall.) Nonetheless, Gibson carefully integrated his Decorated portions with the remnants of Upjohn's Early English church.

Thanks to Gibson's sensitivity, St. Paul's, erected in the style of the 13th century and rebuilt in the style of the 14th century, remains Buffalo's finest church of the 19th century.

The original building on the site was the first permanent church edifice in Buffalo In 1819 the Holland Land Company gave St. Paul's Church in buffalo the first site in the village for religious purposes. Incorporated February 10, 1817, St. Paul's celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1992.

Buffalo's Best is produced by The Preservation Coalition of Erie County

The coalition sponsors educational tours, lectures, and special events. It actively seeks to preserve and publicize the architectural heritage of Erie County. write for information and newsletter.

1993 Preservation Coalition of Erie County

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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