During the final
decade of the nineteenth century, congregations in nearly every American
city or larger town built Richardsonian Romanesque churches.
Many of these (especially Presbyterian and Methodist) were lantern
churches. A lantern
is a large
central polygonal tower with a pyramidal roof.
The central tower facilitated the auditorium style sanctuary.
The worship emphasis of many such churches was on the sermon, and a
stage-like preaching platform surrounded by curved pews permitted superior
acoustics and visibility.
Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Uniontown, PA
Lanterns at Trinity Church, Boston & Trinity United Presbyterian
Both churches are a
sub-category of lantern churches, those with square towers.
Some lanterns had as many as sixteen sides, approaching circular.
First Presbyterian’s architect, William Kauffman of
Comparison of Allegheny Courthouse pavilion & Shadyside Church lantern
features at Shadyside are: tower corners are square, with no turrets; the
black slate pyramid roof has four planes intersecting in sharp
corners; the dormers project from the planes of the roof; the louvers
appear in the dormers with only windows in the upper tower.
In this sense, Shadyside more closely resembles the corner
Round Romanesque arch at Shadyside's chapel entrance
So, was Uniontown’s
First Presbyterian Church a Richardsonian Romanesque Revival structure,
closely patterned on Trinity,
Slightly pointed arches on door and window
There are many examples of pointed arches during the Romanesque period – nominally 1000 to 1150 A.D. Likewise, the round arch was not banned in the Gothic period which followed. Romanesque builders, however, did not take advantage of the structural qualities of the pointed arch that permitted the soaring verticality and thin, window-dominated walls that characterize Gothic better than the shape of the fenestration. Soaring verticality and thin walls are not features of any of the three churches shown here.
Pointed arch on French Romanesque church (1) (2)
Romanesque French church, S. Trophime,
Cushion capitals and Romanesque carving
The nature of
decorative carving and columns suggests Romanesque rather than Gothic in
Uniontown. The “plump”
cushion capitals, especially, are typical of the earlier architecture.
Column shafts that are short compared to their diameter also are a
Romanesque characteristic So, is this venture into
Richardsonian Romanesque Revival with almost round arches unique?
No, as we shall see below.
Picturesque massing and details, typical of Romanesque architecture
Other features of
this well-proportioned church are typically picturesque.
Romanesque accommodates asymmetry and organic addition to suit
internal function. Such
buildings are well adapted to corner lots.
The exterior is Peninsula blue sandstone, quarried near
Tiffany Nativity windows at Trinity United (top) (3) and Shadyside
church began life with a single pictorial window.
It was produced by Tiffany Studios, who mentioned it in their
brochure for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in
Tiffany windows at Trinity United Presbyterian Church
While standing at the
corner of Fayette and Morgantown Streets to appreciate this handsome
church, a look in the opposite direction shows a tower dominating the
The short trip of several blocks reveals the Fayette County Courthouse and
Jail. It bears a notable
resemblance to the equivalent buildings in
Corresponding features of Fayette County and Allegheny County courthouses & jails
Careful attention to the doors and windows of the courthouse in Uniontown show them to be the same unusual “pointed round arches” of the church. Not surprisingly, William Kauffman was the architect.
Surprisingly the Fayette County Courthouse arches are pointed, while the adjacent jail arch is circular
Completed in 1890, the courthouse preceeds the church, which raises the question whether the church leaders liked the unusual treatment and asked to have it repeated. Between completion of the courthouse and the church, however, significant changes occurred in the architecture of the jail, finished in 1892. The stone is a warmer brown sandstone. More puzzling is the fact that the main entrance arch of the jail is a typically Romanesque, perfectly round form. Exploration of the reasons would, no doubt, be a fascinating exercise.
Early post card view of Fayette County Jail (4)
The jail as
originally constructed was the most picturesque of any our subjects.
The post card view shows roof dormers and an entrance porch of a design that
seems almost too romantic or whimsical for a lock-up.
Sadly, these along with the graceful termination of the jail’s
tower were less than durable and did not survive a 1963 remodeling.
Fayette County Jail with modifications
driving through Uniontown might suspect tremendous influence from his city
on the Presbyterian church and civic buildings.
A more leisurely inspection, however, reveals significant and
intriguing differences. Were
they chiefly attributable to architect Kauffman?
Did the citizens of
For a Pittsburgh example of a pointed Romanesque arch see Fade to Black...and Back
(2) Drawing from Bannister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954
(3) Many thanks to Linda Chidester, Church Secretary, and Trinity United Presbyterian Church for providing the beautiful photographs of the Tiffany windows and church history.
(4) Postcard from Penny Post Cards from Pennsylvania (cropped for use here)