I always wondered how our church came to be, and who was the person that built it. It’s the most beautiful church I have ever seen, and I bask in its glory every time I enter the Sanctuary. The oak carvings of the ceiling beams, walls, and detail in the church, is always a wonder to me. You just don’t see that sort of detail in today’s churches. In preparation of our 140th Anniversary approaching in 2018, I thought it was the appropriate time to get to know our churches builder John E Aldred.
I knew his name was John Edward Aldred (hence the carved stonework above the front door), but never took the time to research who he was, and why he built a church in the middle of Lawrence, Massachusetts.
John E Aldred’s father (John A. Aldred) was very prominent in the Riverside Church. The first church meeting house was a schoolhouse, moved to Water Street from Newbury Street Lawrence. John A. Aldred started the Sunday School, and was an ardent supporter of the Riverside Church. His son, John E. Aldred, whose banking firm, Aldred & Co., financed an empire of public utilities. Aldred was a director of gas, water, power, and electric companies, and at one point chairman of the Gillette Safety Razor Co. John E. was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and became one of the leading authorities on hydro-electric power in this country and Canada, and became the Chief Executive of the Shawinigan Water Power of Quebecwas. This plant was one of the greatest factors in the production of electricity in North America. He was Director of United Railways and Electric Company of Baltimore, Maryland. He was President of Consolidated Gas, Electric Light & Power in Baltimore, and the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company. He was also the Chairman of the Gillette Safety Razor Company. He was with Gillette when he decided to build the chapel (we now know as United Riverside Congregational Church) in memory of his father in 1928. Around the same time, he built a chapel in memory of his mother (St. John’s Episcopal Church) in Lattington, NY, very close to his “Summer home” on Long Island.
The people of Riverside were ecstatic to receive such a gift, but wanted to keep their “Old House of Worship”, so they decide to move the old schoolhouse they were having their services in, to the rear of the lot, and build the new church in front of it (where it now sits). On January 5, 1930, the last service was held in the old church. On January 11th and 12th, 1930, the John Aldred Memorial Chapel was dedicated to the Glory of God. The new church was blessed to have a brand new Frazee Organ built by the Frazee Organ Company of Boston. At the end of the service the congregation sang “Blest Be The Tie That Binds”. That same hymn has been sung at the end of the service since 1930 to this day, and that same organ remains in the Sanctuary today.
Mr. Aldred also built an estate on Long Island, NY called Ormston (his mothers maiden name). It had 119 acres, 40 some odd rooms, numerous outbuildings, and a stable. He spared no expense in building his bit of heaven with oak paneled rooms, molded plaster ceilings and leaded glass windows. Very similar to our United Riverside Church. Mr. Aldred lost the house in 1942 due to bad financial investments, the economy, and the rising cost of estate up keep. Ormston was bought at foreclosure in 1944 by the Basilian Order of Ukrainian Catholics for $75,000. The estate was renamed St. Josaphat Monastery. The house and outbuildings are still intact, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The staff of 60 are long gone, and the few monks who remain are cloistered.
We owe everything to John E. Aldred, in his generosity in building our glorious church, and in his yearly endowments. The same oak panels that are described in his Summer house on Long Island, are the same oak panels that adorn our church. Our church is one of the most beautiful and detailed churches ever built. You certainly would not get any where near the detail in today’s churches. What a generous and giving man…To this day, we enjoy and covet this precious church, as it was given…to be God’s house forever more.