By SKEETER TOWER
Special to the OBSERVER
Six months ago, this Sunshine Corner highlighted the exceptional 19th century stained and leaded glass windows in historic neighborhoods and churches in Dunkirk. Volunteers remain committed to a complete photographic inventory of the special windows. (If you know of any residential leaded or stained glass window not yet photographed, notify the museum for a photo release form).
Above: The First United Methodist Church has stood on the corner of Washington Park since its completion in 1918, its Tudor Gothic style gracing the park for nearly a century. Below: The rose window in the Presbyterian church was a memorial gift from a church member's family.
The window story captured the interest of many. Diane Andrasik, president of the Dunkirk Historical Society, was quick to build on this sense of community enthusiasm and pride. Not only has she taken beautiful photos of the windows, made notecards of selected windows available for sale, but now the Historical Society has designed a tour of the five historic Dunkirk churches.
"We need to display them, to show them off, and to build pride in what our city has to offer," Andrasik said. "The society's arranging of this tour is designed to do just that."
Andrasik has provided the following information related to this Tour of Historic Churches. It is hoped that the community will support this effort and fall in love again with these treasures of historic Dunkirk.
People travel the world to visit the great cathedrals and churches of foreign countries, to see their stained glass windows and admire their architecture and history. Yet those wonderful structures may be seen locally, and Dunkirk's historic churches stand as proof of the city's rich architectural and spiritual heritage. This June, the Historical Society of Dunkirk wants to better acquaint members of the public with five of these wonderful structures through its Tour of Historic Dunkirk Churches.
A document discovered in preparing for this tour paid tribute to Harvey Gidley, who served as official at the local Methodist church for 60 years. The document praised his service to his church and referred to that church as standing "durable as granite and beautiful as a poem in stone." It is hoped that the those who visit these churches will come to understand how each is indeed "a poem in stone."
Other events during the tour will include the opportunity to see and hear important historic personalities of each church portrayed by local citizens. Each may provide interesting religious, financial, military or political information about Dunkirk's history and their roles in it.
The Tour of Historic Dunkirk Churches will be held Saturday, June 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors may chose their own starting point.
"The churches of Dunkirk are the city's secret treasures," says Andrasik, "'secret' because few are aware of their overall beauty, historic and architectural significance, being perhaps more familiar with only one or two from personal worship experience. There have been few opportunities to walk through each with knowledgeable docents. The stained glass windows in the Methodist church would rival any of those you'd see in larger cities. They're magnificent."
In addition, the tour serves as a means of educating the public and of reminding them about its historic citizens who should continue to be a source of honor and pride. These historic persons will include Civil War soldiers, a minister, a businessman, and a former principal of the Dunkirk Industrial High School who left his position to serve in World War II and lost his life, Captain Charles Tinley.
The historically oldest structure is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, which began its existence as St. Mary's, the first Catholic Church in the city. Finished in 1854 at a cost of $30,000 for the lot and structure, the Gothic building owes its existence to the influx of immigrants that arrived in the city following the arrival of the railroad in 1851. Irish and German Catholics, seeking jobs with the railroad and other factory work, swelled the city's population. The church's tower clock for some years was known as "the Town Clock."
The church's interior was rebuilt in 1873 with new flooring and ceiling, thus adding beauty and stability to the building, and has undergone further renovations aver the years. One historic personality to be enacted here will be Captain Patrick Barrett, Irish immigrant and Civil War soldier.
The First United Methodist Church possesses three large and truly magnificent stained glass windows. The windows are opalescent Art Glass and the church's tower features Carillon bells. This Tudor Gothic has stood at the corner of Washington Park since 1916. Church leaders at the time had purchased a plot of land on Central Avenue on which to build their new church, but when a plot opened on Washington Park, they purchased that and sold the other. An OBSERVER article referred to it as "one of the best corners in the city for the purpose, its main entrance opening directly toward the corner of the beautiful Washington Park" (June 12, 1918). Building was delayed due to difficulty in obtaining building material during WWI. At the end of that war, a community celebration of VE Day was hosted by this church, and it was this church that was the first to broadcast a Sunday service when Dunkirk's radio station WVCB began broadcasting in 1949.
The earliest Presbyterians worshipped in a school building and then in an enclosed basement on the corner of Center (now Central) and East Third streets. Eight of the 10 charter members were women. That building was finally completed as a church in 1837. The First United Presbyterian Church, however, owes its presence on Fourth and Eagle to one of its ministers, and the story of how that Rev. William Hyde proved triumphant over the railroad moguls of the 1850's is interesting indeed. The reenactment of Rev. Hyde's story will reveal how the spiritual won over the monetary.
Bricks made in Dunkirk by the Hilton brothers brickyard were used to construct St. John the Baptist's Episcopal Church. The original members of the congregation organized in 1850, erecting a small wooden church on Center (Central) Avenue first, and their present building in 1868. Some of the most important men of Dunkirk would occupy the pews of this church, most significantly Marshall L. Hinman, co-founder and treasurer of Brooks Locomotive Works and president of Lake Shore Bank.
Equally important is the memorial to Colonel William O. Stevens, who lead the 72nd Regiment filled with Dunkirk's men in the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville. The latter will be enacted during the tour. If you've never rung a church bell, St. John's will give you a chance to do so. In addition, those attending the church tour will be able to purchase refreshments in St. John's church hall at nominal prices.
Grace Lutheran is the youngster of the group, the present building being erected in 1925 after the merging of other Lutheran congregations. The first Lutheran Church in Dunkirk, established in 1887 was called St. Peter's, and they eventually merged with a more conservative group called Zion Church in 1927, creating St. Paul's.
Yet another separate congregation formed in 1902 with a church at East Fourth and Columbus Streets, named Grace Church. Then by 1925 the various congregations built a new church on Eagle and Sixth. The architecture of the Grace Lutheran Church is Academic Gothic Revival, like that of the Methodist Church in Fredonia and Trinity Lutheran in Buffalo.
Adult tickets may be purchased for $10 by stopping in at the Dunkirk Historical Museum at 513 Washington Ave. in Dunkirk between 1 and 4 p.m., or by mailing a check and self addressed stamped envelope to the museum address, or by calling 366-3797 or 366-2882. Tickets may also be purchased from the Historical Society board. Historical Society members may purchase tickets at $8 each. Group, veteran and family rates can be arranged by calling the museum. All proceeds will benefit the Dunkirk Historical Museum. Tour numbers will be limited so the public is urged not to delay in obtaining tickets.
Tickets may be purchased by cash or check only.
Skeeter Tower is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org