Clarence Presbyterian Church:
Steeped in History

 By Julie Ottaway Schmit

This is the first in a series of three articles about the history of the Clarence Presbyterian Church.

    In 1817, the First Presbyterian Church of Clarence was born. Well, kind of. It was then that a group of Calvinists began to gather regularly in a meeting room across the street from the bowling alley.

    The absence of a physical church changed when the “Gospel Lot,” comprising 90 acres of land about three miles from Clarence Hollow, was deeded forever to the Presbyterian Society of the Town of Clarence. 

    At that time, Clarence included what we know today as Newstead, Alden, Lancaster and even a part of Elma. There was a bit of a feud over the land, until it was agreed that the town be divided, with the part containing the “Gospel Lot” becoming Newstead. The agreement was that 40 acres (valued at $800) would go to Newstead and 50 acres (valued at $1,000) of “God’s Acre” would belong to Clarence.

    On the Clarence side, at the corner of Salt Road and the Buffalo Road (which we now know as Main Street), the Clarence Presbyterians constructed their first actual house of worship, which would be attended by Presbyterians and visitors for the next 113 years.

    The pastor, Rev. Jackson, helped lay the foundation himself, earning him the nickname “Stonewall Jackson.” Male members banded together to build the church, and Hugh L. Long examined each brick, making sure it was neither too soft nor too burned. The bricks were then brought in from Buffalo by night on horse-drawn sleighs. It was a labor of love.  

    The cost of construction? Two thousand dollars. When more money came in, it was agreed that a bell could also be purchased. The belfry and steeple were built with the help of farmers and their rigs, and the steeple itself stood almost 50 feet tall, looming 90-plus feet off the ground.  Word is that the pastor “bragged a little” that this church would have the tallest spire in town, and indeed, it did.

    At the dedication of the church in 1844, it was “the pride of all ages and the topic of the tongues,” wrote the Rev. J.K. Kilbourn. During the daylong dedication festivities, every hitching post in Clarence was occupied, and folks brought their lunches in baskets to celebrate. 

    The building still stands at 10750 Main St. today, most recently as the Aurora Sewing Center. The steeple was removed in 1957, when the congregation decided to build another new church, as a building not being used as a house of worship could not have a steeple.

    Workers estimated that the wood steeple, intact for more than 100 years, weighed more than six tons. Removing it was an enormous job, magnified by the fact that it was first attempted on a windy day. The crews brought their cranes back and finally dismantled “the tallest spire in town.”

    When you are at the corner of Main and Salt in Clarence, take a minute to read the words on the black wrought-iron sign, which in a sentence or two, will remind you of our town’s storied history.

Doug Kohler, Erie County historian, assisted with this article.