If you drive east on Mapleton Road, approaching Aiken Road, and look to the right you will notice the back of a church jutting out from a garage facing Mapleton. The question is “What church was this?” By checking several historic maps and books, it was easily determined that it had been a Presbyterian church, opened before 1852 and closed before 1938, but what else could be learned about this church and the community in which it was located?
At the intersection of Mapleton and Aiken roads is the hamlet of Mapleton in the town of Pendleton. It first appears on the 1860 map of Niagara and Orleans counties as “Mapletown” but the name was in use by the 1840s and probably even earlier. Like many crossroad communities, Mapleton had a schoolhouse, a post office (1850-1862) and a church. In 1852, the Buffalo & Lockport Railroad was built and crossed Mapleton Road a short distance east of Aiken Road. A few years later this became part of the New York Central.
After the arrival of the railroad, the nucleus of the hamlet shifted to the area around the train station. Although Mapleton had no post office from 1863 to 1888, when it was reestablished in 1889, it was located at Mapleton Station until 1901, when Rural Free Delivery put it out of business.
The Manning & Keiffer General Store also opened up right next to the station. Even though the business center of Mapleton had moved east, the school and the Presbyterian Church remained in their original locations.
A one-room schoolhouse (Pendleton District #4) had been established before 1852. The original building was replaced in 1886 and remained in use until the Starpoint school district was established in 1956.
Mapleton Presbyterian Church was in existence for more than 80 years. The origins of the church are somewhat murky but it appears to have involved the merger or moving of four separate congregations.
In 1835, a Presbyterian Church was formed in Beech (or Beach) Ridge, which straddles the border of Wheatfield and Pendleton south of Mapleton. Another Presbyterian Church was established at Shawnee, west of Mapleton, in 1844 with the members from Beech Ridge later joining that church. Two other small congregations were also started, one in Pendleton village in 1833, and another at Chalmers in the town of Niagara in about 1837. By 1847, these churches had come together to form what was originally called the “First Presbyterian Church of Pendleton and Wheatfield” but within a few years was changed to the “Presbyterian Church at Mapleton.”
The church itself was built a year later. In 1936, a WPA “Survey of State and Local Historical Records” report described the church as “a meeting house type frame structure with a tower and one bell.” Not much else is known about the church. At its inception, the membership was 18.
Thirty years later the membership was “in a prosperous condition” at 56 “communicants.” By 1902 there were still about the same number of members and 66 enrolled in the Sunday School. Those numbers seemed promising for the future of the church and in 1919 the church was “extensively repaired,” but that same year the congregation lost its regular minister, who was not replaced, and eventually closed in 1931. The remaining members then joined the First Presbyterian Church in Lockport.
Twenty years later the building was altered and became part of the Sadlo Lumber Company, which was in business until 2003. It is now used by the Philpac Corporation.
Two more notes of interest regarding Mapleton, one serious, one light-hearted.
Ninety-four years ago this week, May 28, 1925, a disastrous fire nearly wiped out the small hamlet. A barn on the farm of Burt N. Thompson became engulfed in flames believed to have started by spontaneous combustion. Fortunately all livestock except for some chickens were saved but it took the efforts of local residents to prevent the school, the church, several houses and other barns from going up as well. Telephone service was disrupted but firemen from other communities saw the glow in the sky and responded, saving the community.
Speaking of telephone service, in March 1902, the Lockport Journal wrote, “The independent telephone line erected by the people of Mapleton Station, Pendleton Center and Shawnee did a good service during the severe weather, as the ladies on the line did their visiting over the wire and did not run the risk of being tipped out in the snow and the men bought hay, wheat and traded cattle, ordered groceries from three different stores [and] called up…at any time, day or night, to telegraph to Tonawanda or Lockport for a doctor or a loaf of bread. It is certainly a very great service.”
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.