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Our Sandstone Heritage: Sandstone church in Jamestown built as ‘The Gate of Heaven’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 October 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – The tower at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church includes the only chime bells in the city of Jamestown.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was built from 1892-1894 at 410 North Main St., Jamestown.

JAMESTOWN – In 1892, the daughter-in-law of the city’s founder, James Prendergast, wanted to build a memorial for her daughter, Catherine.

Mary Prendergast chose to construct a new church for the St. Luke’s Episcopal congregation in Jamestown. A sprawling and towering church edifice was constructed from 1892 to 1894. The site includes a tower with a clock on four faces, as well as the city’s only chime bells.

I saw this church for the first time on Sunday. I approached it in the morning darkness. The church had a light glow, a feeling of mystery. Even with its dark outlines in the morning, I knew this is one of the most impressive church buildings I’d seen in a small city.

The site at 410 North Main St. also includes a Medina sandstone chapel and an office building made of our local stone.

The Episcopal Church in Jamestown lavishly used Medina sandstone to build not only the church, but this chapel and an office building next door.

James Prendergast founded the city in the early 1800s. His family also built a public library for Jamestown and picked Medina sandstone for that building. (I’ll feature the library in an upcoming Sandstone Heritage article.)

Mary Prendergast was married to Alexander, the son of the city founder. Family members were long-time leaders of the Episcopal church.

A plaque inside the church recognizes the family for their gift of building the church.

“This is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven,” the inscription states.

It feels calm and reverential inside the church sanctuary.

The church includes numerous stained-glass windows that are all works of art.

The Episcopal Church first built at this site in 1856. But that wooden building burned six years later. The second building was removed in 1892 so the massive Medina sandstone complex could be built.

I grew up not far from Jamestown. In this corner of the world, Western New York winters are their fiercest. When we have 2 inches of snow in Orleans County, the Jamestown area is often hit with a foot of the white stuff. The wind blows hard over there and it feels a lot colder.

This church has stood strong throughout it all, but it is showing signs of wear. A chunk from up high had recently fallen from the tower and the church had a section below on the sidewalk area blocked off, with bright tape that said “Danger.”

A chunk of the tower has fallen at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

This church isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it clearly should be. I also noticed active ministries at the site, including a coffee shop, and clothing exchange.

I’ve noticed that Episcopal congregations in Western New York were devoted customers for the Medina sandstone quarries. Besides this great church in Jamestown, I’ve found Episcopal churches made of Medina sandstone in Buffalo (St. Paul’s Cathedral may be the most awesome of them all), Rochester at Christ Church, and churches in Olean, Medina, Holley and Brockport.

I’m looking for more.

One last view of St. Luke’s in Jamestown.