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A Look Back: The Universalist Church

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By Jolene Hawkins

Who has noticed the beautiful round stained glass window in the peak of the Lucy Bensley Center?  Wait, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s learn the history of the Universalist Church, whose window it is.

The first Universalist Church was organized in 1846 by Rev. I George , Abram Dygert, I B Childs, and Jonathan Mayo. With over 20 families attending, a new building for the church was finished by 1847. Rev. I. George was the first pastor, followed by C.H. Dutton, then T.J. Whitcomb, and then by J.B. Saxe. In 1879, the church edifice was sold to Morris Hall and I.B.  Child, who remodeled it into the Hall Opera House; they still met there on Sunday.

In December 1916, there was a dedication of the new Universalist Church.  An all day event with several sessions, of singing by Mrs. I.O. Woodward, Mrs. A.D. Jones, Mr. E.B. Bixby, Mr. George E. Reynolds and Mrs. Mattie Fox, who played the organ, and benedictions made by several preachers.

The building, which was Springville’s ninth church edifice (meaning large and impressive building), was started in March with only $1,500. Within two weeks, Mr. Porter Wheeler and his sister gave $500, and Mr. Wheeler purchased the lot for $500 on which it was built on.  They both had intended to help the denomination and saw this as a great time to do so.

A handsome design was made by Mr. Joseph Fleming, as a supervisor, and P. Zimmer as the contractor. It was built of wood with a brick exterior, 30 X 55 feet in size. Windows were large square panes of cathedral glass, and one large round beautifully stained window relieving a large gable facing the street and adding a nice mellow light to the interior.  Material was procured from G.D. Conger, L.J. Shuttleworth and Herbold & Kessler of Springville.

The main building was nearly square, with the auditorium being 30 X 40 with an alcove for the choir and an extension at the entrance for a cloak room. For church socials, folding doors could be opened for a dining room, and there was a kitchen adjoining it, with a gas range.  The building was heated by gas, which A.C. Richardson placed in, two chandeliers and eight Welsback burners to brightly illuminate the interior.  The walls were terra-cotta with the ceiling being painted a sky blue. The decoration is of the finest workmanship by the artist of Mr. William O Dell.  Opera chairs were ranged in semi circular form.

When the Universalist Church disbanded in 1923, they gave their building to the village for use as a library.  In 1928, the public library books were moved to their new home and Miss Lucy Bensley became the librarian and was one for almost 60 years!

From the stories I have heard, when the books were moved from the Griffith School library to the Library at the Universalist Church,  students lined up, down the streets and all the books were passed from student to student as the books made their way from the school building to the new library.

The Universalist Church building has been so many things throughout the years— the library being one that most remember, a BOCES classroom, Sheriff’s sub-station, senior citizen center and in 1997, there was a ribbon-cutting to mark the use as the Lucy Bensley Genealogy Center and Chamber of Commerce.

When you come in the Lucy Bensley Genealogy Center, you can go through the records that are kept here to research your personal family trees, the old bound local newspapers, photography albums, GI yearbooks from the past, genealogy notes from others who have done their own work, and Civil War records, along with atlases from different time periods to show how towns and roads changed names, tax records, and other documents.

  We are open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the second and fourth Sundays 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment.  You can email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com, call (716) 592-0094 or stop by 23 North Buffalo Street and see not only the beautiful window as the sun shines through, but start to view some of the great material that is located inside.

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