ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – The Southern Tier of New York, has its fair share of exceptional history and gems.
The Park Church is one of those gems.
Sitting alongside Wisner Park, it runs the length of an entire city block.
Designed by Horatio Nelson White, the church was constructed from 1874 through 1876, replacing its much smaller, wooden predecessor.
The design of the church is extremely eclectic to say the least, borrowing from a vast array of architectural styles.
This church was meant to be “the first institutional church in America.”
There was a gymnasium, health clinic, kitchens for feeding the homeless, and parlors and facilities open to all
And it was meant to be multi-use.
From 1854 until his death in 1900, Thomas Kennicott Beecher was the pastor of Park Church.
Thomas Beecher is known for many things.
His incredible legacy of this church and congregation in Elmira.
His friendship with Samuel Clemens – in addition to intellectual conversation, they shot pool together and were drinking buddies at Klappworth’s Tavern.
But his most enduring legacy is his great works as both an abolitionist and humanitarian.
Beecher was known to sit and write his sermons – but more importantly – this was the first public lending library in the city of Elmira.
And if you frequented the church, would have encountered Miss Ella Wolcott – and she would have helped you select the book you wanted.
Miss Wolcott, taught Literary classes and sponsored literary clubs in the church. The Shakespeare Club was her particular pride and joy.
It sponsored such elaborate affairs as Costume parties in which guests came costumed as Shakespearian characters. This club provided Shakespearian plays on the romp room stage.
Miss Wolcott had been an entertainer in government hospitals in Washington during the Civil War, and came to Elmira because of her great admiration for Mr. Beecher and the kind of church life he was developing here.
This was Elmira’s library until Steel Memorial Library opened in 1893.
Everyone who has what they consider “a collection of books” knows how important and cherished they can be to a person.
The lending of a book can be akin to the lending of a piece of one’s own heart.
The popular room within the church may better display one man’s love for the community better, than anything else that took place in the building.