St. John’s Episcopal Church located on the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets in the Village of Ellicottville is the oldest church in Cattaraugus County. It was built in 1837 and this year marks their 175th anniversary.
To commemorate this occasion, St. John’s will be providing music on the lawn at the Historical Society’s Strawberry Festival. Ellicottville native, Will Lowry, a guitarist, singer and songwriter, will be providing the music on the courthouse lawn at noon on July 1. Lowry began writing music to reflect his faith in Jesus and in 1979 recorded his first album of original music entitled “Mystery.”
Richard Chase, St. Johns’ senior warden and member of the vestry, said, “There is so much history surrounding St. John’s Church.”
The original deed states the last was owned by the Holland Land Company. Joseph Ellicott was a surveyor for the Holland Land Company, which donated the land for the church in 1834 and also donated the other three corners in downtown Ellicottville to the city. The church board borrowed $600 from the Trinity Church in New York City to build the church.
They still have the old-fashioned pews with doors on them that served to keep them warm. The church didn’t have central heat, so people would bring in heating pots and the doors served to keep the heat inside their enclosure. The windows in the church are made of poured glass from 1837. St. John’s still has the original pedal organ that they purchased in 1844. In 1856, they got a pump organ and they used to pay someone 10 cents a service to pump the organ. It is now run on electricity.
The bell in the steeple is made out of silver is perfectly balanced. It is the oldest bell in the U.S. that is still in use. This special bell traveled all the way from Malaga, Spain, where it hung in a mission for 120 years. It was then shipped to America for $125. After arriving, it was transported up the Hudson, through the Erie Canal and was brought to Ellicottville by oxcart.
The bell also served multiple purposes. It alerted the community that church was beginning, and it was also used in the 1840s as the town’s fire alarm and timer, which rang the time three times a day.
Chase has a lot of information about the history of the church and the community he grew up in. “Ellicottville started out in agriculture, lumber and manufacturing. Fitzpatrick & Weller were the world’s largest manufacturer of wood shoe last blocks. Then it shifted into skiing and now it’s more of a tourism industry,” he stated.
Chase explained that St. John’s Church holds their church service on Saturday evening to accommodate the skiers who want to get up early Sunday morning and hit the slopes before they go home. Another way they serve the community is with a living manger scene every Christmas season.
“We bring in camels, goats and donkeys. Kids that attend come to the church and ring the bell. It is a yearly tradition for some kids,” Chase said.
If you are interested in touring the church and getting more information on its history, call (716) 699-4694. Tours will be available in the afternoon the day of the Historic Society’s Strawberry Festival on July 1.