Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Architect: William Henry Miller
Encouraged by Ezra Cornell to establish a liberal church in the community, the Church of Christian Unity was formed in 1865. Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White were active in the early services. The congregation’s first building was erected in 1873 at the corner of Buffalo Street and Terrace Place. On December 12, 1874, Ezra Cornell’s funeral was held at the church.
Twenty years later, the wooden structure was destroyed by a fire. The congregation met immediately and made plans for a new building. William Henry Miller, a member of the Unitarian congregation, donated his design services in memory of his mother.
The cornerstone was set in 1893 for the rock-faced gray stone Romanesque Revival-style building, which was completed the following year. The original renderings of the building illustrated a smaller steeple with a pyramidal roof. Charles White, a church member, strongly felt that the steeple should be more prominent so that Cornell University students walking up and down Buffalo Street hill would be sure to see it.
In 1992, a new addition was constructed, linking the Church to the Parish house and providing additional classroom space. The architect, John Cake, described the project:
The plan of the celebration space was known in its time as an Akron plan, characterized by a diagonal orientation of the seating. The column behind the lectern area was originally surrounded by organ pipes. The east arch of the celebration space was closed with a glazed and paneled wall, a portion of which could be raised to allow overflow seating in the parlor beyond. The recent renovation and addition to the church provides an enlarged, safer and more accessible religious education area. Interestingly, the frame house is also a Miller design done for a doctor and his family. Renovations to the celebration space include a large connecting door to the west, reshaping the stage to provide accessibility, refinishing the pews and flooring, a new sound system and accent lighting and painting.
Two beautiful tripartite memorial windows grace the celebration space. On the Aurora Street side, the window “Come Unto Me” was given by Mrs. Frances V. Wyckoff in memory of the Reverend A. E. Goodnough, a former pastor of the church. The Buffalo Street side window illustrates Anna Botsford Comstock, a former head of the Department of Nature Study at Cornell University and a member of the church. Delft ceramic tiles surround the parlor fireplace, adjacent to the celebration space, and depict stories from the Bible.
The garden entry vestibule off Aurora Street features a painting by J.O. Mahoney, Cornell professor and church member. The entry’s faux finished domed ceiling and columns were painted by Red Wolf Designs in 1994, to celebrate the memory of Professor Mahoney.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Religious Buildings in Downtown Ithaca