Historic Structures

Calvary Episcopal Church, Homer New York

Date added: February 14, 2010 Categories: New York Church Gothic Revival

This church is the oldest public structure in the Village of Homer still in use.

The church membership does not hold title to the land on which the church stands. This land, the Village Green, is owned by the First Religious Society of Homer, Inc. which granted the Episcopal Society permission to erect their church upon it. Born in Homer, Andrew D. White, co-founder and first president of Cornell University, was baptised in this church June 7, 1835. During its existence, the Calvary Church has been in three dioceses: first, the Diocese of New York, then the Diocese of Western New York (formed 1838), and in 1868, the Diocese of Central New York, thus reflecting the settlement across the State. On the I8th of March, 1833, it was resolved by the Vestry of Calvary Church to establish a library to be known as "The Parish Library of Calvary Church". It was stated in the by-laws that any person could for the sum of one dollar become the Proprietor of one share in the Library and therefore entitled to the right of drawing books subject to the Library regulations. These regulations are outlined in the Eleven By-Laws adopted by the Vestry.

For over fifty years prior to 1890, the basement of the church served as a hall for official meetings of the village and also the town of Homer. In his early years as a Bandmaster, Patsy Gonway conducted rehearsals of the Homer Band in this hall.

A description of the church from December 15th, 1832 states:

"Calvary Church is built of wood, upon a basement story of stone. Its width is 40*, its lengthy including the tower 57 1/2'. The basement room is, on the ground of the same dimensions as the Church, and nine feet high, furnishing a very suitable and convenient place for occasional meetings and exercises of the Sunday School. The style of architecture of the Church is that generally denominated the gothic. The tower is 18' wide, projects 2 1/2', and is 71' in height. It is surmounted at the four corners by octagonal pyramids 17' high, which are connected with each other by an open gothic framework. The distance from the floor of the basement room to the moulding on the top of the pyramids on the tower is 98 1/2'. The tower is divided by its pediment and the cornice of the bell deck into three compartments. The first, including the space below the pediment, is that which on a front view will soonest attract the eye of the spectator, and be regarded with the most delight. Of this space, a portion 8' wide and 24' high might be taken as one grand entrance. A double door, with gothic panels occupies the first square of 8', and separated from it only by the mouldings of the window sill is a gothic window 8' wide, 14' high, and divided by mullions into six sections.

The second compartment of the tower, between the pediment and the bell deck, is ornamented by a clock face 7' in diameter. The upper compartment encloses on each of the four faces of the tower a green gothic blind 8' by 15' and divided by mullions. The three front windows and the blinds in the tower are crowned by gothic mouldings. The pediment and entablature on each side of it are surmounted by gothic battlements 4' high, with quadrangular pyramids at the two front corners of the roof, at the intersection of the roof with the tower, and at the feet of the pediment. In a front view of the building, this range of battlements and the gothic entrance with the large windows above, are the most attractive objects.

The vestibule occupies the width of the tower and extends into the church 8'. There are no galleries, except one for the organ, which is directly above the vestibule, and extends across the eastern end of the buildings. The chancel, which is at the same end, is elevated 17" from the floor, has a front of 13' with circular corners, extends forward from the vestibule 14' and is surmounted with a railing of ornamental balusters 20" high. The desk and pulpit (the latter of which is but three feet from the chancel floor) correspond in width and appearance, and are of plain work, like the front of the gallery. The panels being small and in bold relief, present a specimen of rich neatness. The pulpit rests on heavy pedestals, its square corners project, and access to it is from within the chancel by a winding flight of stairs. The desk and pulpit are dressed in blue cloth, having a border of gold lace. These dressings, the chancel cushions of blue marine, the carpeting of the chancel, and the lamps have all been obtained by the zealous extertions of the ladies of the congregation at an expense of upwards of an hundred dollars. The expense of the entire building has been about $3,300 and it is a most gratifying circumstance that the subscriptions and sale of the pews have left the vestry unburdened by debt. The church thus happily completed was opened for divine worship for the first time, on Advent Sunday, December 2."

Since construction of the church there have been several periods of disuse (a total of 26 years), that have resulted in deterioration, particularly of the tower. In 1890, three feet in height was removed from the foundation wall and the building lowered accordingly. The gothic battlement and railing was removed from the pediment of the roof and the cornice continued across the face of the tower. The roof was shingled with slate and the stained glass windows were installed. Inside, a wooden gothic ceiling was installed and the chancel removed from the east end of the church to the west end, where the rear of the church was extended to receive its depth. New pews (of oak) were installed. The bell was re-cast and a new frame supplied.