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In Buffalo, a grand trifecta of churches made from Medina Sandstone

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 November 2015 at 10:00 am

3 sites in Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame within walking distance of each other

Photos by Tom Rivers

BUFFALO – The top of St. Louis Catholic Church in Buffalo is an open work lattice spire that reaches 245 feet high.

It is the tallest open-work spire ever built completely of stone in the United States, and it is also believed to be the only remaining open-work or pierced spire in the U.S.

St. Louis was built from 1886-1889 and is considered the “Mother Church of the Diocese of Buffalo.” It features a Gothic Revival design. The church, one of the largest ecclesiastical buildings in Buffalo, can seat nearly 2,000 people.

I heard about the St. Louis Catholic Church and wanted to see it. The church was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame in 2014.

I got my chance to see on Saturday when I was in Buffalo.

St. Louis church entryway

Even the doors and entryway to St. Louis are awesome.

St. Louis is one of three landmark churches (one has been repurposed into an events center) made of Medina sandstone that have been part of the Buffalo skyline for more than a century. The sites are all within walking distance of each other.

I visited the sites on Saturday during some down time in a Lego robotics competition at the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School. My son is on one of the teams that competed from Orleans County.

The charter school is on Franklin Street near the Convention Center. It’s in the hub of Buffalo, near some spectacular Medina Sandstone sites.

St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the Episcopal Church from 1849-1851. The church used stone from a quarry in Hulberton. (The 274-foot-high spire was completed in 1870.)

This church was Buffalo’s first major architectural landmark. It was designed by Richard Upjohn after he earned a national reputation for his design of the Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City.

Step inside St. Paul’s and prepare to be wowed. The columns and arches are also made of sandstone.

There are numerous large stained-glass windows, with some made by the famed Tiffany Company.

The cathedral was largely destroyed in fire in 1888. The interior was ruined, but the Medina Sandstone walls remained solid. This disaster bolstered the reputation of Medina Sandstone as a durable and fire resistant building material. Working within these solid sandstone walls the church interior was reopened in 1890.

St. Paul’s is located next to another famous structure, Louis Sullivan’s Prudential (Guaranty) Building, an early skyscraper built in 1896.

Both St. Paul’s and the Sullivan skyscraper have been declared National Historic landmarks. There are only about 30 sites with this designation in Western New York, including the Rochester region. Orleans County has one of those National Historic Landmarks: The Cobblestone Museum.

The former Asbury-Delaware Methodist Church was constructed between 1871 and 1876 and used as a Methodist church until 1980.

Other congregations occupied the building for the next 10 years, but then it sat empty, its structure deteriorating and its interior vandalized. The City of Buffalo took ownership of the building, but by 1995 stones falling from the structure caused adjacent sidewalks to be closed and the church was slated for demolition.


However an outcry from the community led to the formation of the “Citizens to Save the Asbury Church.” Legal action stopped the plans for demolition and the group began to raise funds for emergency repairs.

In 1999 musician Ani DiFranco and manager Scott Fisher negotiated a plan for purchase and restoration which began a five-year reconstruction process to create a center for music and art in Buffalo’s downtown.

The development of “Babeville” saved this beautiful, historic building and contributed to a new appreciation of Buffalo’s heritage which today plays a major role in the revitalization of the city, according to the Medina Sandstone Society.