Adventures in Buffalo with NEHA, National Episcopal Historians and Archivists

Adventures in Buffalo with NEHA, National Episcopal Historians and Archivists

Did you know that the Episcopal Church has three historical societies? We’ve got the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Women’s History Project, and the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists, all devoted to research and exploration into our rich history. This past August, your reference librarian, already active in EWHP, ventured forth to Buffalo, NY to bring greetings from the Keller Library, to learn about the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists and see how the Library might work with this and other historical groups.

Every three years, these groups get together for the Tri-History Conference and celebrate our shared heritage (find out more about the call for papers here).

These groups encourage the collection and preservation of records that will show what Episcopalians were like to people who’ll research us 200 years from now. The people involved in these Societies want to fund research that will share this history with the world. Not just the history of the church buildings (though that’s completely fascinating!). Not only the history of the leaders, but to focus on the study of parish histories, organizations and who we might think of as ordinary women and men who made a difference.

Our program was Living into the Legacy of Hobart and Brent, and we enjoyed the fine hospitality of the Diocese of Western New York and Bishop William Franklin throughout our time together in the Buffalo/Niagara region. Welcomed by the Pipe and Drum Corps of Trinity Episcopal Church of Hamburg, NY on Tuesday evening at St. Paul’s Cathedral, we worshiped together and enjoyed each other’s company while scarfing down buffalo wings and other goodies at the reception afterwards.

The next morning, cathedral archivist Wayne Mori led us on a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral and gave us an overview of Buffalo and Niagara history. We then proceeded downstairs and learned about some amazing research NEHA members are working on.

We explored the episcopacy in Maryland from P. Kingsley Smith (historiographer, Diocese of Maryland) and Vermont (thanks to Elizabeth Allison, archivist, Diocese of Vermont). E. Kim Byham (historian, Diocese of Newark) explored how the Episcopal Church fared compared to other denominations in the Burnt-over District of New York from 1815 to 1830, and in the afternoon Matthew Payne (archivist, Diocese of Fond-du-Lac) shared some great technical tips with us. Cynthia McFarland (archivist, Diocese of New Jersey) made 19th-century Auburn, New York come alive with her descriptions of Anglo-Catholicism in the area, and finally, the Rev. Phillip Ayers read a paper on St. Paul’s Cathedral Dean William Shelton‘s fifty years of ministry (written by Adrian Cross, former archivist, St. Paul’s Cathedral).

Soldiering on, we continued with a reception and dinner looking out over Lake Erie  on Buffalo’s beautiful waterfront and heard about preserving our heritage from Heidi Bamford of the Western New York Library Resources Council and Sr. Mary Serbacki, archivist of Stella Niagara.

Deaconness Bedell at the Mission of Our Savior, Collier City, FL. Image courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

On Thursday, we boarded our tour bus good and early and we were off for adventure! Not to miss a minute of history, Susan Witt, archivist, Diocese of Western New York, we learned on our journey about Harriet Bedell, Buffalo native and Deaconness who worked with Native Americans in Oklahoma, Alaska and Florida. Deaconness Bedell’s family was prominent in the Niagara area, and Bedell Road on Grand Island was named for her uncle, a hotel operator. Harriet Bedell gave the invocation at the dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947.

Courtesy of Trucker Mike at
Rapids, Niagara Falls. Photo by Mary Robison.

On the way to Niagara Falls, your reference librarian was astonished to see the multitude of power lines leading to the Falls. We learned that because of the enormous amount of electrical power generated by the Falls, consumers in the Buffalo/Niagara area pay greatly reduced rates for electricity. (The photograph that shows this is from mikiemetric, a trucker blog that has some great shots of interstate highways.) Unfortunately, your reference librarian’s forte is not photography from a moving vehicle, and Trucker Mike has considerably more expertise in the area.

At Niagara Falls, this librarian who minored in geography was thrilled to see and hear the Falls, and honestly, just as gorgeous (but mentioned far less often) are the rapids leading up to the Falls. What an amazing sight, and it was hard to believe that the Army Corps of Engineers had stopped the Falls altogether in 1969. (Find more about that, including some great vintage shots of the project, here.)

Firing a musket at Fort Niagara, photo by Mary Robison.

…and on to Fort Niagara, where we caught up on our War of 1812 history and assembled for Morning Prayer in the fort’s chapel, the service officiated by incoming NEHA president Rev. Bindy Snyder.

Looking out at Lake Ontario from Ft. Niagara, photo by Mary Robison.

Here we enjoyed the fresh air and the Technicolor blue skies and water of Lake Ontario, and learned about the life of a soldier during the fort’s time period.

We were a bit short on time, so we took a minute to see the Freedom Crossing and Underground Railroad in Lewiston, NY and raced to St. Andrew’s Church, Buffalo where we enjoyed our boxed lunches and heard about Bishop Charles Brent’s involvement with St. Andrews from Susan Witt. Bishop Brent was a young curate assigned to St. Andrew’s when he became embroiled in various controversies such as candles on the altar and wearing a chasuble while celebrating Eucharist each Sunday. Thirty years later, after ecumenical work overseas in the Philippines and service in W0rld War I, Brent was consecrated Bishop of Western New York in 1918. You can find out more about Bishop Brent through Project Canterbury. The church itself has some interesting architectural features, including a stained glass window with one of our favorites, William Reed Huntington.

William Reed Huntington stained glass window, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Buffalo. Photo by Mary Robison.

Our tour bus took us around Buffalo and our last two stops were in the beautiful Parkside neighborhood: the Church of the Good Shepherd and the recently-restored Darwin Martin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The church is a beautifully-designed and well-maintained example of a late nineteenth-century neighborhood church, and the Tiffany windows are gorgeous, set against the dark wood that predominates in the church.

On our last morning together in Buffalo, our group visited St. Louis Roman Catholic Church and learned about their history and archives program. This church has an excellent parish museum on the lower level, and we were able to learn from church archivist Michael Riester how it came to be.

Cope, Collection of St. Louis RC Church, Buffalo. Photo by Mary Robison.

The current building is the second for this congregation and was built in 1889. It was fascinating to see what Mr. Riester chose as pieces for the museum–included was this ornate and beautifully worked cope. While the imagery of the Holy Trinity might not be what one would find on a liturgical vestment today, the cope is a lovely example of early 20th-century Catholic expression, and a gorgeous example of needlework that is not often seen in present times.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit inset on cope, St. Louis RC Church, Buffalo. Photo by Mary Robison.

Our time of touring concluded, we repaired to the hotel for the NEHA business meeting and lunch together, and our time together ended. We hope to see our friends again in Texas at the Tri-History Conference in 2013, and we hope that all who have the chance to visit the Buffalo-Niagara region will get there soon. There are an awful lot of cool places to see in the area, and this post only touches on a few of the highlights.

4 Responses to Adventures in Buffalo with NEHA, National Episcopal Historians and Archivists

  1. I am from Australia. Interesting article. Do you know how I can contact Susan Witt, mentioned in the article? Thanks

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