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May. 18, 2021 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: Two churches, two styles
Left: Grace United Church - Romanesque style. Right: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church - Greek Revival style. (Brian Marshall)

It’s 1852 in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the second Presbyterian church in town had just opened its doors. Built a mere five-minute walk from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, it was a very different building.

The new church was designed by William Thomas who, just a few years earlier, had designed the town’s new Court House and town hall.

Despite being of fairly modest dimensions, this church followed the styling cues of the early Romanesque Revival. A series of proportionally massive piers flanked each side of the building, dividing the tall semi-circular arched windows.

On the facade, the windows and entry door were capped by smooth, stylized cable and tassle mouldings. Following the facade’s gable roof line, set proud of the main field in the contrasting pink brick of the piers, was the repetition of the semi-circular arch pattern typical of the style.

In all, a very clever and striking rendition of an architectural style typically meant for much larger buildings.

A mere 20 years earlier, in 1831, St. Andrew’s had been completed in the then cutting-edge Greek Revival style. With capacity for 600 people, it was the largest church in town.

Its facade is dressed with six Doric columns, which rise to support a clean, simple entablature undecorated except for 11 triglyphs and broken dentil mouldings.

These mouldings are used again on the raked edges of the pediment centred within which is the striking (but unusual for a Protestant church) gilded sun emblem. Limestone quoins, watertable and semi-circular keyed arches above the windows and main entry set off a brick field laid in a modified Flemish bond pattern.

Rising high above the church itself is the steeple with its copper-clad roof supported by four pair of Ionic columns. This was a church designed to impress.

The answer to why the second church was built, I’ll leave to the historians, but it was not likely due to too many congregants in St. Andrew's. It was subsequently sold to the Methodists in 1874. Then, when the Methodists merged with others to form the United Church, the building became Grace United Church.

Both buildings representing two 19th-century architectural expressions are worthy of viewing. And, if the doors are open, the original interior of St. Andrew's with its box pews, high pulpit and preserved elements is a special treat.

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