New Hall of Fame shines light on great buildings made from local sandstone
MEDINA – They can be easy to overlook or to not fully appreciate because we have so many in Orleans County and in Western New York. But some of the great Medina sandstone structures are now getting their due.
The Medina Sandstone Society unveiled the first inductees in the new Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame on Thursday. The debut class includes three churches, a seminary turned into senior apartments, a massive former psychiatric center and an armory that is now home to the Orleans County YMCA.
The Sandstone Society wants to celebrate Orleans County’s role in providing the stone, skill and brawn for building some of the most iconic and treasured sites in the county, region, state and beyond.
The first class of Hall of Fame inductees includes three in Orleans, two in Buffalo and one in Rochester. A Hall of Fame Committee narrowed a list of 21 nominees to the six selections. The honorees are enshrined inside the main meeting room in Medina City Hall, a sandstone building that was built in 1908.
The committee – society members Jim Hancock, Dave Miller and John Slack – went hunting for great buildings made from Medina sandstone. They didn’t need to look to far to find great examples of architecture and craftsmanship. Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin noted that the many local and regional sites wow visitors, but often aren’t greeted with much fanfare locally.
“Don’t miss the extraordinary ordinary we have in Medina sandstone buildings here locally and spread throughout New York State,” Lattin said during the Hall of Fame induction.
Lattin was part of a contingent from the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, one of the six inaugural members. That church was built in 1894 primarily with funds from George Pullman, an Albion native who made a fortune selling sleeping cars to the railroads.
He built the church as a memorial to his parents. He didn’t spare any expense in the building, which includes more than 40 Tiffany stained-glass windows, Miller noted.
“It is a flawless pink sandstone in the old English Gothic style,” Miller said.
There are bigger sandstone churches in Albion than the Pullman site, but Miller said the Pullman church is an exceptional example of precision stone work. The long low profile of the church is also very unique, he said.
Lee Richards, the church pastor, said the congregation takes great pride in the architecture of the building and all of the stained glass. Church buildings like Pullman were designed “to uplift souls,” Richards said.
Other inductees include:
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, completed in 1904 in Medina, is an immense structure with two tall towers. The building was constructed during Medina’s glory days at the turn of the century. It has been lovingly cared for by the congregation for more than a century.
The congregation paid $75,000 to build the church that uses brown Medina sandstone. One of the towers reaches up 170 feet high. The original Vermont slate remains on the roof.
The Medina Armory opened in 1901, a few blocks from St. Mary’s. New York State paid $55,000 to build the structure that includes octagonal towers. It was closed by the state in 1977 but then the 90,000-square-foot site found new life as a YMCA.
“We’ve tried to be good stewards of the building,” said Y director Jeff Winters.
The YMCA is currently working on a $400,000 upgrade of the site, improving accessibility and amenities.
In Rochester, the Hall of Fame Committee picked Saint Bernard’s Seminary, a collection of four buildings that were constructed between 1891 and 1908. The seminary has been converted into apartments for senior citizens.
The Medina sandstone was quarried from the Genesee River gorge. It is an unusual type of red sandstone with white inclusions. It has well-done decorative brick trim.
“It’s the most unique looking sandstone,” Miller said.
Perhaps the most prominent Medina sandstone building – the Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo – is in the midst of a major transformation from a long dormant former psychiatric hospital into a boutique hotel, center for architecture and high-tech conference rooms.
The twin copper-roofed towers of Medina sandstone rise 185 feet above Forest Avenue in Buffalo, making the complex a prominent landmark since 1872. The site was designed by famed architect H.H. Richardson, who also chose Medina sandstone for the steps in the state capitol in Albany as part of the Million-Dollar Staircase.
The complex took about 20 years to complete and includes a park designed by the country’s most respected landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. It was built to be an Eden to help patients recover from mental illness.
Clint Brown, a historic preservation architect, is a member of the board of director for the Richardson Olmsted Complex. He said the board would accept the honor in memory of the patients at the site, and “the quarrymen who mined the stone and the masons who dressed it.”
Brown and the site’s director Monica Pellegrino Faix would like to include a display about Medina sandstone and the quarrymen as part of the site’s center for architecture.
The oldest inductee in the Hall of Fame was built from 1849 to 1851. St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Buffalo used sandstone from a Hulberton quarry.
The church was designed in the Gothic Revival style by Richard Upjohn, the leading church architect of the day. The U.S. government declared the church a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the only church in Western New York with such a designation.
A fire at the church in 1888 destroyed the interior of St. Paul’s. But the sandstone shell remained and the church rebuilt and reopened. That fire bolstered the reputation for Medina sandstone, Hall of Fame Committee member John Slack said.
The brown sandstone was used for the pulpit and columns in addition to the exterior structure. The Rev. Don Huber, the cathedral canon vicar, said the brown stone has a calming effect.
“The sandstone feels mothering,” he said. “It’s not cold and hard. The sandstone gives St. Paul’s warmth.”
The Hall of Fame Committee plans to induct new members every year. The committee is led by Jim Hancock.
“It was really hard to narrow it down to six,” he said. “There are so many beautiful and unique structures.”
Takeform Architectural Graphics in Medina created the plaques and display for the Hall of Fame. The company made a second set of plaques so each honoree could have one to display.
City Hall has been used as a visitor center during the summer. Hancock said the Hall of Fame should make the building a bigger destination.