The start of Lockport Protestantism
If you came to Lockport in 1819, before the opening of the Erie Canal, you would have found your choice of churches limited to one. The first church was formed to provide a place of worship for some of the dozen or so families that had come to the area, most of whom were Quakers. These early Lockportians, founded the Society of Friends Church with the help of an existing Quaker church on the Ridge Road in Hartland. They purchased two acres of land from the Holland Land Company encompassing much of modern day Main, Market, Chestnut and Elm streets. The cost for the land was $24 and the Quakers built a log-cabin church for $200. In addition to providing a place of worship for the early Quakers, the church was used as a community building and the first school in Lockport met there. The first wedding was performed in the church and the first burial took place in a cemetery adjoining the log church.
Following the lead of the Quakers, the early Presbyterians formed a congregation in 1823 and built a frame church on the Court House Square. It was located on Bond/Hawley Street, a short distance south of Niagara Street. The Presbyterians continued to assemble there until 1830 when they constructed a brick church on the site of their current stone church in Lowertown. The old frame church was used as a Seminary until the Civil War when it was moved to West Avenue and used by Ira Bronson for his carriage factory.
The Methodists were the next to enter the Lockport scene and in 1823 they built a long-narrow church on Genesee Street between Cottage and Pine. As the congregation grew, the length of the building was increased and it became known as the Ball Alley Church. This sufficed until 1833, when they built a large brick church on the corner of Church and Canal (Richmond) streets. This building was destroyed during Lockport’s “Big Fire of 1854” and was rebuilt a few years later. Later in the 20th century, the building was home to the Ford Gum plant and many youngsters of that era have fond memories of workers tossing gumballs out the windows to eager passersby.
The Baptists joined the village congregations in 1825 and met in the newly erected Court House, as well as the Presbyterian building and other places. They built their own stone church in 1833 at a cost of $5,000 on the southwest corner of Pine Street and Center Alley. The congregation survived a drastic split in 1842 when about 50 members left to follow the end-of-the-world teachings of William Miller, the originator of Millerism, who spoke in Lockport. He and his devotees were certain that the world would end on April 21, 1843.
The first Episcopal services in Lockport were held in the upper story of Judge McCollum’s brick building on Market Street. The congregation grew and organized Christ Church in 1832, building a stone church at the corner of Market and Vine streets. Still later, Grace Church was organized in upper Lockport in 1835 in a wooden church at the site of the present day St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The cornerstone of the existing building at Genesee and Cottage streets was laid in 1853. Surviving a disastrous fire in 1975, the congregation plans to celebrate their 175th anniversary in 2010.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094