St. Louis Church honored as masterpiece of sandstone

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Wed, Jun 24th 2015 06:00 am
Staff Reporter

The Medina Sandstone Society has honored St. Louis Church, the oldest church in the Diocese of Buffalo, by inducting the church into its Sandstone Hall of Fame as an "outstanding example of Medina sandstone."

Since 2004, the society has promoted the preservation of historical buildings made of the material and, since 2013, inducted exceptional local buildings into its Hall of Fame.

Msgr. Salvatore Manganello, pastor of St. Louis Parish, was present during a ceremony, in Medina City Hall, when his church and three other Western New York and Pennsylvania buildings received this honor. The others were Delaware-Asbury Church in Buffalo, now renovated as Buffalo singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco's Babeville; Mt. Albion Memorial Tower in Albion and St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, Pa. Many inductees are often churches but may be homes, public buildings or other historical structures.

"It was kind of like a surprise to us. They called and asked if we would be interested in being a part of this," Msgr. Manganello commented. "Of course, with our history, we always try to be part of any other historic thing around here and since we're the first Catholic Church in Western New York, I thought it would be a good opportunity to participate in the history of Western New York."

The parish was formed in 1829 and the first church was opened in 1832, on the corner of Main Street and Edward Street. It was a small, wooden church that was replaced by a stone church in 1843, Msgr. Manganello said. "That burned down in 1885 with the fire from the music hall that was across the street on the corner of Main and Edward," he explained.

The day after the original church was destroyed in the fire, plans to rebuild the church were underway, which eventually resulted in the current structure, built with red Medina sandstone. The church is noted for having a large center spire. This, according to the Medina Sandstone Society, is the tallest open-work spire to be built entirely of stone in the United States and believed to be the only one left here.

When asked about the challenges of being the pastor of a church that is so old and has such a history, Msgr. Manganello said it has required much maintenance over the years. From 2002 to 2003, for the parish's 175th anniversary, the building underwent an inside-and-out restoration project.

"The complete exterior was cleaned, and the complete interior was repainted and refurbished," added Msgr. Manganello. "New floors were put in. The pews are the same; you can't remove those because the heating pipes run underneath them. The heating pipes are attached to the pews, so when you're sitting on it, you're sitting on your heat."

Msgr. Manganello said since St. Louis Church predates the formation of the Diocese of Buffalo itself, its history makes it a "part of the fabric of what has happened in Western New York." Although he is not sure why the builders chose the Medina sandstone, many buildings constructed during that era were built at the same time with the same type of stonework, many of which still exist.

The selection criteria for the Sandstone Hall of Fame include the building's age, longevity and whether the structure is still in use, beauty and any unique architectural features.

"There's a nomination process where individuals can nominate a potential inductee into the hall," said James Hancock, chairman of the Medina Sandstone Society Committee. "St. Louis was nominated by an individual. I'm not really sure who the person is - it could be somebody who goes there, or somebody who just visits there. Once the nomination is received, our selection committee visits."

In order to make their decision, the committee visited St. Louis Church twice, took pictures, did some research and spoke with community members. They found that St. Louis Church met all of the criteria they look for. "It uses beautiful Medina sandstone, which is another of the criteria," Hancock said. "It's still in use after all of these years. It's absolutely beautiful and its uniqueness is the spire they have."

When asked about Medina sandstone as a building material, Hancock said it was discovered in the area while the Erie Canal was being built in the early 1800s. The particular style of sandstone was fairly easily quarried since workers did not have to dig many feet down into the earth to find it. It was quarried in various shades and hews, including brown, gray, rose and red. Hancock said modern preservationists are discovering "probably hundreds" of old buildings they did not know still exist.

"The sandstone was so durable," Hancock explained. "It was a prime building material in the early and late 1800s, and even in the early 1900s. Its use is all over the state of New York, all over the country and even into parts of Great Britain and Cuba. It's a marvelous building material. You can't slip on it. It's kind of a coarse type of (building material), so it's even better than granite."

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