Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Architect: Brown & Davis
The stately stone structure at the corner of Court and Aurora streets is the third Methodist church to be built on this site. The first, a wooden Greek Revival-style building with a dome-topped steeple and housing the community’s first church bell, was erected in 1820. By 1864, the congregation had outgrown the 44 by 58-foot sanctuary, and the wooden structure was torn down to make way for a much larger red brick church. This church also proved to be too small and was razed. The third, and current, church building, dedicated in 1909, looks much as it did when it was new, except that a tower once rose from the center of the nave. Declared unsafe, the tower was removed in 1925.
The Romanesque Revival-style church was designed by the firm of Brown & Davis, who maintained offices in Cincinnati and Chicago. The uniform rock-faced exterior stone finish is highlighted with round-arched window openings and belt courses of smooth stone. Carved foliated capitals support the arched openings of the entrance turret.
Inside, the woodwork, which dominates the interior, was produced by the Ithaca contracting firm of Spencer and Spencer. The sanctuary is voluminous with the chancel recessed in an arched niche and curved balcony creating the mezzanine level within the space. The octagon pattern on the ceiling was the location of the art glass dome and tower removed in 1925.
The sheer size of St. Paul’s is impressive. Its three stories offer many rooms and meeting spaces; the sanctuary can seat 750; and the connecting education wing, added in the 1950s, even has a gymnasium, now with a 37-foot diameter meditative labyrinth that is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons.
The sanctuary is set aglow by two of the church’s glorious stained glass windows, patterned after the paintings “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt and “The Ascension” by Gottlieb Peter Biermann. The bases of these windows are of Tiffany style glass and design. Another large window is dedicated to Frederick Bates and his wife, Rev. Juanita Breckenridge Bates, an early leader in the local suffrage movement. Other stained glass windows, including some saved from the earlier brick church, grace St. Paul’s many rooms. Long known as the First Methodist Church, St. Paul’s took its new name in 1960 when it was joined by the congregation of Ithaca’s State Street Methodist Church.
In 2013, St. Paul’s made significant improvements to the structure, including new bathrooms, other interior remodeling, improved lighting, and window repairs and replacements.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Religious Buildings in Downtown Ithaca