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Visiting First Presbyterian Church, in New York's Lewiston: historical gem in Cayuga Street

Updated on April 9, 2011
State flag of New York
State flag of New York | Source
First Presbyterian Church at Lewiston, New York
First Presbyterian Church at Lewiston, New York | Source
Centenary plaque, dated 1917
Centenary plaque, dated 1917 | Source
James Fenimore Cooper, engraving by J. C. Buttre
James Fenimore Cooper, engraving by J. C. Buttre | Source

Nearly two centuries of history and some interesting associations

Lewiston, New York's Cayuga Street is within the Historic Area of this noteworthy village, and with reason. Not only are there various, well preserved residential properties on the street, there is a local landmark, First Presbyterian Church, the cupola of which may be seen from a distance.

History of the church

The cornertone of the church building was laid in 1830. Subsequently, in approximately 1848, a Greek Revival feature, the portico, with four Doric columns, was added, as was the cupola.

The building is also distinguished by pointed, arched windows.

The congregation itself dates from 1817, when a group of local people started to meet together as Presbyterians. Prior to 1817, meetings were held in homes in the district, and with Native Americans on the nearby Reservation. A plaque at the church, dated 1917, thus stands by way of commemorating the congregation's first centenary.

Underground Railroad

Prior to Emancipation, First Presbyterian Church was also involved in the Underground Railroad. The church building was used to hide fugitives, on their flight to nearby Canada (as was the Episcopal church on Plain Street). This harbouring of fugitives at First Presbyterian particularly occurred when the dreaded slave-catchers were known to be in the Lewiston area. It might be added that among local citizens this group of slave-owner representatives tended to be extremely unpopular. Residents of Lewiston would strictly respect the secrecy surrounding the passage of their imperilled guests towards Canada.

At the front of First Presbyterian Church is the burial site of Josiah Tryon, a prominent Abolitionist heavily involved with the Underground Railroad, and a member of the church.

Remembering James Fenimore Cooper

In the village cemetery, adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church, are buried Thomas (died 1822) and Catherine (died 1832) Hustler , who were the models for James Fenimore Cooper 's characters Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flanigan in his novel The Spy .

The novelist is known to have stayed in Lewiston, where this interesting couple acted as his hosts.

Also worth seeing

Former Episcopal Church , Lewiston (distance: 0.2 kilometres); this building, originating from 1835 at the intersection of Plain and Niagara Streets, serves as the Lewiston Historical Museum, and also has associations with the Underground Railroad.

Frontier House , Lewiston (distance: 0.3 kilometres), probably Lewiston's most well known historic property, this former hotel dates from 1824.

Freedom Crossing Monument , Lewiston (distance: 0.9 kilometres); this impressive monument was unveiled in 2009, and stands on North Water Street, close to the banks of the Niagara River.

Broderick Park , Buffalo , New York (distance: approx. 36.8 kilometres) has poignant memories of the Underground Railroad.

The US Post Office, Niagara Falls , New York (distance: approx. 12.5 kilometres) is a striking building dating from 1904-1907, which was designed by James Knox Taylor in French Neoclassical style, with Beaux Arts details. It is situated at the intersection of Main Street and Walnut Avenue. The American Falls themselves are of course an outstanding visitor attraction.

Niagara Falls, Ontario , Canada (distance by road: approx. 14.9 kilometres); the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. may be viewed from the particularly suitable location known as Table Rock Point.

Bergholz , New York (distance: approx. 18.3 kilometres), at Wheatfield, became a German settlement in 1843, and has the Das Haus historical museum.


How to get there:

A number of airlines fly to Niagara Falls International Airport (distance from Lewiston, NY: 15.4 kilometres) from various destinations in the Southern United States. Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (distance to Lewiston, NY: approx. 48.7 kilometres). I-190 is the nearest Interstate to Niagara Falls, New York, linking near Buffalo, NY with I-290 and I-90 to Albany, NY. From Canada, accessible via the Rainbow Bridge, the QEW links Niagara Falls, ON with Hamilton and Toronto. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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