The first church on this site was a wooden building erected in 1820. By 1823 the congregation had outgrown it, and a stone church (the one in which we are today) was begun. Very little cash was contributed, but goods and services allowed the parishioners to persevere. The stone was quarried near Auburn by prisoners and brought to Rochester on the Erie Canal.
The church was designed by architect Josiah R. Brady of New York City, one of the early proponents of what came to be known as the Gothic Revival. The building is actually styled after a New England Meeting House, but with many Gothic features, including the tower of 90 feet, pointed windows and arches throughout the building, and other features.
Our pioneer ancestors were clever and used materials at hand to duplicate the richness of Eastern seaboard churches with materials at hand. These features include:
At first there was no organ, so the hymns were accompanied by various instruments, such as flute, violin, clarinet and bass viol. The first organ, the first in the city, was installed in 1832. The current organ is a 1925 Estey, given by the Rogers family. It includes an “echo organ” in the left front of the church.
The original Altar was an Italian marble Table, replaced when the triple decker pulpit was built in the 1830's. The original font was alabaster, but was broken in pieces when Bishop John Henry Hobart leaned against it and tumbled it over during his last visitation to the parish, a few weeks before his death, in 1830. There are (unusually) two fonts in the church now. The stone St. Luke's font sits to the left of the sanctuary and is rarely used. The marble font from St. Simon's Church has been made moveable. It normally sits near the entrance to the church, but is moved to the middle of the church for Baptisms and during Eastertide.
The original pews were “box pews.” Each pew had a door and each “owner” not only paid a yearly rent, but also furnished his own cushions, prayer book, hymnal, arm rests, carpet and foot warmers. The pews were about five feet high with benches on two sides so that the congregation could face the musician when it was appropriate to do so. The box pews were replaced by the current pews in 1867.
In 1828 an addition of 30 feet was built on the west end. The triple decker pulpit was added between 1835 and 1839. It was inspired by Bishop John Henry Hobart, Bishop of New York. The Altar is the first level, a reading desk the second, and the pulpit the third. This gives equal emphasis to word and sacrament. Many of this style of pulpit were built but only about a dozen survive. The pulpit was originally reached by a set of steps to the right. There is evidence of a door on that side.
The altar rail dates from 1843 and gas lighting was installed in 1849. By 1887, electric lights replaced the gas.
The iron tie rods you can see in the ceiling were placed there in 1899 and 1906 to keep the roof timbers and the columns from spreading outward. The timbers were (and still are!) fastened together with pegs.
The organist and choir were located in the rear gallery. In 1924 they were moved to the chancel along with the organ itself. They were all moved back in 1966 when the last major renovation was done.
The “Rochester stone” embedded in the north wall of the church was a gift from the Cathedral in Rochester, England, in 1927. It bears the seal of Ernulf, Bishop there from 1115 to 1124 and builder of the cathedral.
One outdoor curiosity: near the historical plaque you will see a small metal plate. In the days when few public clocks were available, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church across Fitzhugh St (where Irving Place (the first city hall) now stands) built an elaborate sundial in the area between the church and the first court house, and he oriented true west on the dial to the plate on the wall at St. Luke’s. First Church, the court house and the dial have been gone for well over a hundred years, but that little plate is still fastened to our wall.
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