HISTORY OF THE CANANDAIGUA FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
A BRIEF HISTORY OF METHODISM IN CANANDAIGUA
The congregation of the First United Methodist Church on Main Street in Canandaigua had its roots before 1800 among the early settlers in Ontario County, New York. These individuals or families were gathered into classes by circuit riders from the Philadelphia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church. Assigned to the Canandaigua circuit, Rev. William Barlow visited area classes. In 1815 he invited members of local classes to become members of the First Methodist Episcopal Society of Canandaigua. Under Barlow’s guidance, the congregation purchased a lot on the north road to Chapin and constructed a Methodist chapel which was dedicated on July 26, 1818. The north road to Chapin was later renamed Chapel Street.
Soon after the chapel’s dedication, key members of the society withdrew to join new societies nearer their places of residence. By 1821 this diminished financial support resulted in the society of Methodists becoming insolvent and losing control of the chapel and property. In a pay-out agreement, they were granted the use of the building.
On February 4, 1823, a group of believers, largely from within the village, incorporated as the First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Village of Canandaigua. This Village organization spent the next ten years paying off the debt which encumbered the chapel. By 1834 the congregation determined that they needed to be nearer the center of the Village and in 1835 acquired a lot at 100 Main Street from Rev. John Raines, a local Methodist pastor. The lot was prepared and the chapel moved from Chapel Street to its new location on Main Street, mid-way between the Congregational and Episcopal churches. The relocated chapel was renovated and rededicated in 1836. Later that year, the Genesee Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held their annual meeting in the refurbished chapel.
During the next several decades the chapel was renovated and expanded. People began referring to the chapel as a church. The most notable physical renovation occurred in 1855 when the interior was modified to eliminate box pews.
A small steeple and bell were added and a brick facade was applied to the building. The earliest image we have of this structure was taken by August Coleman from his home at 60 Gibson Street, due east of the church.
By the 1890’s participation in the church had grown to the extent that a new and larger structure was deemed essential.
Warfield, Cribb, Franklin Cook and Sutherland were members of the Building Committee and the driving force behind the construction of the new church. With the leadership of Franklin Cook, a trustee and member of the Building Committee, the former Beals house to the south was acquired by the trustees. This property doubled the size of the lot available for the new church.
The Beals property was cleared and the modified chapel was demolished in 1901. Work then began on a much larger building with a stone exterior. It was designed after the “Akron Plan” which was common in the region at the time. This design featured rooms for the Sunday School classes placed in a semi-circle around the outside of the auditorium or sanctuary. Movable walls separated the classrooms from the auditorium and could be opened when needed. This new structure was dedicated on February 8, 1903. The church was a grand facility and the largest indoor gathering place in Canandaigua for almost two decades.
An education wing was added to the church in 1957.
The interior of the original building suffered a fire on March 31, 1960 which badly damaged the sanctuary. Many members of the church donated long hours to supplement the contracted work to repair the damage and remodel the sanctuary in a more contemporary style. Several local institutions provided space and other support for continued church operations during this period. The restored church was reconsecrated on April 9, 1961. In 2003 the church celebrated the centennial of this structure serving the greater Canandaigua area. It was reconsecrated February 2, 2003 by Bishop Violet Fisher. Its service continues today.
Written by Gil Smith and Nancy Taylor, 2014-2015