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St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Olean, NY

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 March 2013 at 12:00 am
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Olean, New York

Photos by Tom Rivers – St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Olean was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. The building was constructed in 1890 from Medina sandstone.

OLEAN – Pat Piccirillo admired the building for decades before he ever set foot inside St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Olean.

When he finally went inside, at the coaxing of a woman he was dating, Piccirillo said he was awestruck. The long-time Catholic has since married that woman and has become a devoted Episcopalian, and caretaker for the church built in 1890 at 109 South Barry St.

“It’s just a beautiful church,” he told me by phone. “The whole church is just amazing to me with the way they sculpted the stone and put the windows inside. They had people working on the church who knew what they were doing.”

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Olean, New York

In 2001, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A sign on St. Stephens proudly notes that designation. St. Stephen’s is one of many buildings across the state constructed of Medina sandstone that have endured as architectural and community treasures.

Many of these buildings have been added to the National Register, a list of about 88,000 properties in the country that have significant local, state or national significance, and deemed worthy of preservation.

Piccirillo is thankful St. Stephen’s is so well constructed.

“You couldn’t possibly build a church like that today,” he said. “You couldn’t afford it. There isn’t enough money in the U.S. Mint.”

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Olean, New York

The church was built in a Gothic Revival style. It was designed by upstate architect Robert W. Gibson. St. Stephen’s also has stained-glass windows from Germany and an impressive pipe organ.

“People go inside and they stand in awe,” said Piccirillo, 75.

A member of the church vestry, Piccirillo has been going to St. Stephen’s for 14 years. His biggest worry for St. Stephen’s: a small congregation of about 20 to 40 people. He hopes more people join the church to help keep the building up for years to come.
“We do the best we can,” he said.

Editor’s note: I was in Olean for the first time last month. St. Bonaventure University invited to give a presentation about my experiences working with farmworkers in 2008. Back then, I wrote a first-person series for The Daily News of Batavia. I planted onions, milked cows, harvested cabbage, and picked cucumbers and apples. I get asked to share my experiences, and these “talks” take me all over western and central New York.

I love going to these small towns, looking for sandstone buildings and signs of community pride. St. Stephen’s is next to Lincoln Park, one of Olean’s most prominent public places.

Before I spotted St. Stephen’s, I noticed 4-foot-high fiber-glass squirrels sprinkled around the city. The squirrels were painted in a variety of themes, from Starry Night to McDonalds.

Olean Squirrel

Olean Squirrel

The city of Olean launched a public art project in 2007 featuring 4-foot-high painted fiberglass squirrels. There are 28 of them around the city.

The city launched the “Woodland in the City” public art project in 2007 when 28 of the squirrels were painted and displayed around Olean. They remain outside, even in the winter.

Piccirillo said the public art project has been a big success.

“I see people out taking pictures of the squirrels all the time,” he said. “It gets people coming to Olean.”

The city has lots of black squirrels and visitors often comment about them. The fluffy-tailed rodents are also chubbier in Olean than most places, Piccirillo said.

Project organizers also have a sense of humor, he said, and didn’t mind poking fun at the city in Cattaraugus County.

“We’re a little nutty,” he said.