Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Architect: John M. Wilgus
The first building to occupy the site at the base of Cascadilla Falls was a grist mill built by Jacob Yaple sometime between 1789 and 1791. Timothy C. Williams built another in 1846, known as “Cascadilla Mill.” By the late nineteenth century, the building operated as a plaster mill.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist (Ithaca) incorporated on September 3, 1901. The present property was purchased from the Cascadilla Company, which operated the Campbell Mill. That building was demolished and the cornerstone for the new church, designed by John M. Wilgus of Ithaca, was laid in September of 1910.
The first service in the church was held on February 5, 1911. Described in the May 23, 1910 Ithaca Journal as being built in the “bungalow” style to keep in conformity with the other buildings in the vicinity, the one-story stucco-finished church is residential in scale, featuring an intersecting gable roof with decorative trim, projecting eaves supported by wooden brackets, and a stepped chimney on the west façade. The building plan is in the form of a Greek cross.
The interior of the church is as pure in function as it is in form, with minimal ornamentation consistent with the exterior. The main entrance and lobby were remodeled in 1969, enclosing the north opening of the porch and installing a new set of double doors in the arched porch opening facing west. The lobby was enlarged, eliminating two small rooms (possibly waterclosets) on either side of the main entrance. Another change was the removal of a wall that separated the lobby from a room with a fireplace, which may have served as the congregation’s Reading Room.
A pair of rounded, arched openings lead to the symmetrically-planned main auditorium. Each tripartite window is filled with stained glass in green, cream, gold and purple hues, arranged in geometric patterns. The wooden brackets supporting arches on the ceiling suggests a simplified nave and transept configuration, thereby giving a visual division to the open floor plan of the main auditorium.
The curved pews replaced straight pews in a 1931 interior remodeling. A pit for the organ was created behind the new “readers’ platform,” which previously had been two separate podia. In 2012 the elevated platform was removed to create a floor space level to the auditorium to accommodate the large desk and the newly acquired Nigel Church tracker pipe organ.
Painted above the north windows is a quote by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science in 1866, which reads, Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need. Painted above the readers’ platform is the phrase God is love. On the south wall a quote from the Bible appears: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
Gustav Stickley, in his book Craftsman Houses, published in 1909, describes a design philosophy that may have influenced the architectural style of the church. He wrote: A house reduced to its simplest form,” one that “never fails to harmonize with its surroundings, because its low broad proportions and absolute lack of ornamentation give it character so natural and unaffected that it seems to sing into and blend with the landscape...it is beautiful because it is planned and built to meet simple needs in the simplest and most direct way."
This point of interest is part of the tour: Religious Buildings in Downtown Ithaca