Architecture Around Buffalo: Black Rock Union Meeting House
By Lucas Watson, Features Contributor
In the spring of 1827, the residents of Black Rock convened to discuss building a meeting house where they could congregate. The meeting house was completed on May 10, 1827 and sat at the corner of Breckenridge and Mason and followed the federal style of architecture. There is no unique architect for this style, but it was built on land donated by Major General Porter. It holds the fine distinction of being the oldest church building in Black Rock and Buffalo. It served as a church from 1827 to around 1910. Grover Cleveland, former Sheriff of Erie County, Mayor of Buffalo, Governor of New York and the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, attended services at this location during his extensive time in Buffalo.
It was built to serve the Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Originally, all three denominations took turns sharing the church, but ultimately, ownership was transferred to the Presbyterians, and the First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock was formed. Conflicting maps and records show the Black Rock Meeting House listed as an Episcopal Church in 1836 and another account refers to it as the Church of the Puritans from 1850 to 1865.
Its history was relatively uneventful until 1870 when the name was changed to the Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church. During its time as a church, Lewis Allen, the uncle of Grover Cleveland and the namesake for Allen street and Allentown, was a listed member. This church and the Porter mansion across the street helped to make this vicinity overlooking the Erie Canal and the Niagara River the center of the Black Rock community. Around 1910, it was converted into a detention center for housing Chinese immigrants coming to the United States from Canada. The bars on the second floor windows still remain from its time as a detention center. Sadly, as the story continues it isn’t as exciting or eventful. It served as an orphanage until it was turned into a plumbing supply warehouse when it was purchased by Rich Products Corporation in 1993. Since then, Rich Products Corporation has seemingly done nothing with the building, letting the weather and decay get the better of it as it sits there.
Empty and with a fading facade and roof, its steeple was removed sometime between 1911 and 1920. The entire second floor rear wall was damaged to the point of it being missing, but it has been repaired since. Rich Products has been cited for a number of code violations that have caused leaks and deterioration, though the structure is still sound. The interior appears to lack any significant features, but the exterior still demonstrates classic federal style architecture, including its neoclassical rectangular design and arched brick entryway framed with pilasters. There is rumor that local developer, Bill Breeser, has purchased the building, but it is unconfirmed as of yet.
This building, a landmark for the historic Black Rock Community for nearly 200 years,
unfortunately does not have a story of redemption. Sadly, it has been in decay and misuse since the 1940s and has seen far better days throughout its long life. This small church hidden in the heart of Black Rock has been forgotten by so many, but even still – 195 years after its construction – it stands.