Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Architect: William Henry Miller
This church on the northeast corner of Seneca and Geneva streets was originally built in 1884 for the First Congregational Society of Ithaca, which formed in 1873 after severing its ties with the Protestant Reformed Dutch Church. Designed by William Henry Miller (1848-1922), the Congregational Church was his first major non-residential commission and is considered to be the architect's most significant non-Cornell building. Miller studied under Charles Babcock, Cornell's first Professor of Architecture. Babcock designed Cornell University's Sage Chapel (1875) and Sage Hall (1873) and the influence of these High Victorian Gothic buildings is evident in Miller's design for the Congregational Church and the closely related Barnes Hall (1887) on the Cornell campus, in particular the windows and exposed roof trusses.
The building displays a transition between the High Victorian Gothic and Romanesque Revival styles. The use of red and black brickwork and rusticated stone belt courses exemplifies the contrast of materials and color typical of the High Victorian Gothic style. The heavy massing, corner placement of the pyramidal-topped tower, and rounded-arched openings are representative of the Romanesque Revival style.
The battered rough-cut stone base is capped with a string course of white stone carved and painted with the following Biblical quotation beginning at the northwest corner:
Come unto me all that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light. He that believeth in me hath everlasting life. Jesus said unto him I am the way, the truth: and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me. Amen.
The building has a gable-on-hip roof configuration, which creates dormer windows on the south and west facades. That same open roof structure emphasizes spaciousness in the interior with windows that allow natural light to fill the space.
The builders, Richardson and Campbell, used 250,000 bricks for the church with an additional 50,000 for the 11-foot-tall tower. The masons built a furnace in the street to heat the bricks before dipping them in tar to create the black trim and decorative patterns on the exterior.
Several memorial windows made by the legendary studio of Louis E. Tiffany of New York City grace the interior. A tripartite window was installed in the apse in June 1885. The window depicting Christ in Benediction was installed in 1898 in memory of Almira and Leonard Treman, who lived two blocks away from the church. Many members of the extended Treman family lived nearby on N. Geneva Street.
The church underwent various renovations, including moving the pipe organ, rearranging galleries, and installing electric lights in 1921. In 1960 the Congregational Church moved to a new building on Highland Road in Cayuga Heights. Ithaca College bought the building and used it for the music and ballet schools until their move to South Hill in 1966.
The Greek Orthodox congregation, which had come together in the late 1950s, bought St. Catherine's. As a result, changes were made on the interior, reflecting the ritual needs of the denomination. They moved many elements, including the altar and baptismal font, from its church on Bryant Avenue, the former Cosmopolitan Club. Sunday services were held in the Parish Hall while renovations were made on the church proper. The altar screen, called the Iconostatis, was extended by five feet and redesigned to fit its new location.
Many other improvements were made in 1967, including the hanging of a crystal prism chandelier, a gift from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Endicott, NY. The congregation has continued to add traditional furniture to the interior, including a bishop's throne, icon stands, and candle stands. Some of the wonderfully carved pieces were imported from Greece. One installed pulpit was made by a local woodworker, with iconography by his wife, a member of the choir.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Religious Buildings in Downtown Ithaca