177 Main Street: St. Mark's Episcopal Church

St. Mark's Church

n Episcopal Church has stood on this site since 1879; the structure arose almost literally from the ashes of a previous building, and in itself represented the healing of an old wound in the religious body of the village.

The Episcopal Congregation of St. Mark's was founded in 1826, and formally incorporated in 1837. Its first church home was much farther up Main Street, but apparently no photographs remain of this building, which stood on its site until 1879. The bitter partisanship that characterized the period just before, during and after the Civil War split the Episcopal congregation as well as all but one of the other Protestant denominations, but unlike the others, this happened as late as 1870 at St. Mark's, when a large number of communicants withdrew and formed a new congregation called Grace Church.

Grace Church acquired this corner lot, lately cleared by a disastrous fire. They laid a foundation, but ran out of money to finish it when after about six months further aid was refused by the Missionary Board. The work of building the new church was abandoned.

Meanwhile, St. Mark's was forced by its reduced circumstances to sell its rectory and part of the lot the church then stood on. Between 1872 and 1875 there were periods when services weren't even held, but by 1878 many of the Grace Church parishioners had returned, a reorganization was completed, and with its improved finances the congregation sold the remainder of the old lot and acquired the corner lot where the foundation of Grace Church had stood so long unfinished.

The new St. Mark's was completed in October 1879. Though the structure still remains, and the sanctuary has been recently and beautifully restored, the exterior of the building has been through a number of changes that have resulted in quite a different appearance from the original Gothic Revival design. Fortunately, a number of photographs of the church remain to show what it looked like when built. The major alteration, the removal of the tower, took place in 1956.

A fire on the night of 3 July, 1867 (as mentioned above) cleared this site for the Grace Church foundation. The building which with its neighbors downstreet was destroyed was an extraordinary five-story chair factory owned and partially occupied by Samuel F. Curtiss, who lived a block west of here on Clinton Street. Next door was a carriage works and blacksmith shop where the fire apparently started.

Curtiss had already made chairs in at least two locations in Penn Yan before he landed here. His first factory, established about 1820, was on the north side of Head Street west of the intersection with Main Street; this was apparently destroyed by fire (a very frequent fate for buildings in this period of open flame for heat and light; coupled with the fine dust in a factory or mill, it was an open invitation to disaster, one which was more than occasionally accepted), and he moved to another site on the west side of Main Street where 162 is now.

In 1833 Curtiss bought an acre of ground from Miles Benham, just south of "Center Street." By 1835, when he acquired enough more to clarify his boundaries, the "street lately laid out" was called Clinton Street. His factory stood here for another 30 years.



100 block, north half

Above, far right: St. Mark's as it appears today. The loss of the tower makes a huge difference in the balance of the facade, as has the loss of the contrasting window arches and lintels. The portico is shallower now as well. The interior is much less changed, and will perhaps give a better understanding of the original Gothic Revival style.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Miles Benham
  Samuel F. Curtiss

Related sites:

  319 Main Street
 162 Main Street

Related history:

   Looking Backward


Near right: A photograph of the two churches at the top of Clinton Street, taken probably at about the end of the 19th century. In this picture St. Mark's looks as it did when built, a smaller and less pretentious building than the First Presbyterian Church across the street. The two were built at the same time, both in Gothic Revival style; seeing them together points out the very obvious common elements, and the equally obvious differing individual details.

1857 view1865 view1874 view1876 view1896 view1931 view2008 view  
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