The History of Christ Church
hrist Episcopal Church is the oldest Episcopal congregation in Lockport, New York. According to early church records, the legal existence of the Parish can be traced to September 28, 1832, when the Certificate of Incorporation was executed. The Parish had been organized at a meeting held in April of 1831, and had grown from services held in “Lower Town” by the Rev. Lucas Smith of Batavia beginning in 1828 – 175 years ago, in the brick McCollum building on Market Street.
The first building was a temporary Chapel at the Market and Vine Street site, consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, Bishop of the Diocese of New York, in 1831. The parish was led by the Rev. David Brown. This was seven years prior to the organization of the Diocese of Western New York. In 1832 a church edifice was erected. It stood on the site at Market & Vine Streets but farther back than the later church. It was constructed of sandstone, in the Grecian style of architecture, the interior being nearly square and about as high as wide; four large wooden columns in front supported a wooden gable, in appearance very pretentious, but very unchurchly. It was built as a Union Meeting House, but funds falling short, application for aid to complete it was made to Trinity Church, New York. A loan, which was practically a gift, was granted on condition that it be used for Episcopal services only. This condition was carried out. Bishop Onderdonk consecrated the church on August 18, 1833 and ordained the Rev. David Brown as the first rector of the parish.
The birth of Christ Church came shortly after the birth of Lockport itself. Governor Clinton was building his “big ditch” from Albany to Buffalo, and the site of the great locks, to climb the Niagara Escarpment, was set. As laborers, foremen, merchants, storekeepers and executives of the Erie Canal Company, they brought along their wives and children. These families needed places to worship God, so the early churches of Lockport were established. Christ Church was the first Episcopal congregation in the town of 2,200 people.
The early years were important ones for the new congregation. The first wardens of Christ Church were Edward Raymond and Dr. Josiah Skinner. The first vestrymen were: Nathan Dayton, Henry Walbridge, Lot Clark, Seymour Scovell, Edward Bissell, Leverett Bissell, Joel McCollum and George Fields.
In 1835, the rector of Christ Church, the Rev. Orange Clark, helped organize the town’s second Episcopal congregation, Grace Church. Services were held there in “Upper Town” each Sunday evening.
The first marriage recorded at Christ Church took place between Washington Hunt and Mary Walbridge, daughter of his business partner. Mr. Hunt previously had studied law with Lot Clark before the firm of Hunt & Walbridge purchased 32,000 acres of land in Niagara County from the Albany Land Company. Two years later, the Rev. Ebenezer Creasey began a four year rectorate and great progress was made. Father Creasey baptized 74 and confirmed 44 and it was at this time that Washington Hunt was confirmed. Washington Hunt later became governor of New York State, but remained a veritable pillar of Christ Church until the time of his death in 1867. His summer home is now the site of Wyndham Lawn on Lake Avenue in Lockport. He left a legacy of $1,000.00 to the parish. Mr. Hunt was Senior Warden when a new church was raised on the same site and was consecrated by Bishop Delancey on November 16, 1854.
In 1847, the Rev. Orlando Starkey became rector. He felt the need of a new and more churchly edifice, and during his travels abroad in 1852, settled upon what he thought was needed. Peter McGraw had the contract for furnishing materials and masonry work. Hilton & Barnes furnished and installed the woodwork and the plans and speculations were made by Wills & Dudley, New York City. While the church was being built at a cost of $6.000.00, and the old church was being demolished, the congregation met for services in the Lecture Room of the Union School on Chestnut Street. The Lockport newspaper stated on March 28, 1854, “The corner-stone of the old Christ Church in the lower village was exhumed one day last week. In it was found a Bible, a prayer book, a copy of the Lockport Balance and various other articles. These things had suffered much from not being properly protected, and the reading was scarcely legible”. The 1854 church still stands today, most recently housing Casa De Dios, a Spanish speaking congregation. Used for over 100 years by the Christ Church family, it was one of the first Gothic churches in the Diocese of Western New York.
In 1863, during the Civil War, the Rev. James Abercrombie became rector and his name is associated with the building of the rectory in 1864 at a cost of $3,000.00. It was stone, Gothic in design, elegant and commodious. Governor Hunt’s wife Mary, gave the church its first organ and the bell was a gift of Dr. B. L. Delano, a former parishioner. The bell was first rung on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1869. The Walbridge-Hunt Memorial Hall was built in 1888 from a donation by Mrs. Walbridge and Mary Hunt. In 1905, Mrs. Hunt also bequeathed a $20,000.00 endowment fund to the church, a copy of Carlo Dolci’s “Madonna and Child”, a complete set of altar hangings and a purple pall that was used at Governor Hunt’s funeral. Shortly after this, the Ladies Aid Society was renamed the Mary Hunt Guild and is so named to this day.
The remaining years of the “Old” Christ Church were outstanding ones indeed! Christ Church had the first surpliced Episcopal Boy’s Choir in Lockport. Composed of 38 members, it was led by John Drew, choirmaster and warden for 36 years. His son, Fred, carried on in his footsteps for over 42 years. Another son, Carlton, served as organist beginning when the Bewley Memorial Organ was installed in 1924. His mother, Emma Hilton Drew, preceded him as organist for 50 years beginning in 1867. The Drew family provided music for almost 100 years!
The Rectors of Christ Church were all exceptional. One of those was the Rev. Irvine Lynds, serving from 1930 to 1945. In 1917 he came to Lockport to become Vicar of All Saints Chapel and left in 1920 to become rector of a parish in Pennsylvania. In 1930 he returned to become rector of Christ Church, Lockport. He was an accomplished poet and wrote many poems.
pon his retirement in 1945, the wardens and vestry of Christ Church honored him with the title of Rector Emeritus. His loving care of the parish went far beyond basic pastor responsibilities. A memorial fund in his name was established by the wardens and vestry upon his death in 1950.
In 1965, Christ Church entered a new era when it moved from its old historic structure in Lower Town to its present site on Rochester Road and Fieldcrest Drive in the Town of Lockport. Here, in ten years, the congregation grew to over three times its former size. The church was modeled after St. Matthews Church, Bloomington, Illinois. The Rector, Wardens and Vestry of St. Matthews voted permission granting Christ Church use of their church plans as a basis for our own construction. The Rev. Forrest Bowman, rector of St. Matthews and a personal friend of Father Robert W. Orvis, our rector at the time of the construction, attended the dedication service on May 30, 1965. The general contractor was Mr. Bruno Scrufari. He led construction with the courteous help of Mr. Edgar F. Lundeen of Lundeen and Hilfinger, the architectural firm in charge of the building of the church in Illinois.
First and foremost, the building of the new Christ Church could not have been accomplished without the sincere generosity of Mr. & Mrs. George W. Bewley! George was also Jr. Warden. He led the building committee along with Herbert B. Cannon, James Williams and Father Orvis. Janet was very active in the Altar Guild. Their leadership and enthusiasm was evident in all areas of parish life. In 1969, fire destroyed the Parish Hall. During the year that it took to rebuild, an unoccupied home in the Nottingham Estates development was used for Sunday School classes and meetings. Miraculously untouched by fire was the church itself and the lower level of the parish hall where the Sunday school rooms and Chapel are housed. Surrounding the Chapel to this day are the original stained glass windows of the old Christ Church.
ince the building of the existing structure, a garage in the back and a bell tower in the front has been added. A Columbarium was installed in the back of the church by the Narthex and a peaceful Prayer Garden is located by the south entrance of the Cloister. Most recently a major renovation has taken place including a Lift-a-Vator and the enlargement of the Cloister.
We have so much to be thankful for. Let us join together in thanking God for the ways He has blessed Christ Church. With His help we will continue to grow and to serve.
Names of former Rectors of Christ Church and their dates of service:
The Reverend David Brown - 1831-33
“ “ Orange Clark - 1834-36
“ “ Russell Wheeler - 1836-37
“ “ Ebenezer H. Cressey - 1837-41
“ “ Origen P. Holcombe - 1841-43
“ “ Erastus B. Foote - 1843-45
“ “ Henry Stanley - 1846-49
“ “ Orlando F. Starkey - 1849-55
“ “ Martin Moody - 1859-60
“ “ Albert C. Lewis - 1861-63
“ “ Jas. Abercombie, D.D - 1863-74
“ “ Frederick S. Hyde - 1874-77
“ “ G. W. Southwell - 1877-88
“ “ C. Graham Adams, D.D - 1888-90
“ “ John Perkins - 1890-94
“ “ W. F. Faber - 1894-05
“ “ G. Sherman Burrows, vicar - 1896-99
“ “ Eugene J. Babcock, vicar - 1899-05
" " Eugene J. Babcock, rector - 1905-07
“ “ Charles E. Freeman - 1908-10
“ “ Wallace F. Thompson - 1911-15
“ “ William G.H.Lewis - 1915-22
“ “ John Peckham - 1922-28
“ “ H. F. Zwicker, D. D - 1929-31
“ “ R. M. Davis, vicar - 1929-30
“ “ H. Irvine Lynds, vicar - 1930-31
“ “ H. Irvine Lynds, rector - 1932-44
“ “ John S. Carrie, vicar - 1945-52
“ “ John S. Carrie, rector - 1953-54
“ “ Kenneth L. Seitz - 1955-59
“ “ Benjamin W. Nevitt - 1960-61
“ “ Robert W. Orvis, vicar - 1961-63
“ “ Robert W. Orvis, rector - 1964-65
“ “ Robert E. Eggenschiller - 1966-76
“ “ Donald W. Kirkwood - 1977-79
“ “ J. Frederick Barber - 1980-89
“ “ Michael C. Fedewa - 1990-92
“ “ Howard B. Bowlin - 1993-97
“ “ John A. Marshall - 1999-2009
" " Thomas Mitchell, Priest-in-Charge - 2011 - Present
Recent history shows that the following have served as Interim Rectors who so prayerfully and graciously served our parish as priests-in-charge while Christ Church was without a rector:
The Reverend J. Robert Jackson - 1976
" " J. Robert Jackson - 1979
" " Robert G. Pope - 1989
" " Kenneth F. Connor, Jr. - 1992
" " R. Benjamin Moss - 1998
" " Albert Sam - 2009 - 2010
A very special thank you to the Diocese of Western New York and the Niagara County Historian's Office for their help while I was researching data for this article....
Pat O. Few, Website Coordinator