While Museum staff and Trustees have known there are inconsistencies between our Neumann Log Chapel and the original structure that existed in North Bush, it has become necessary to finally come to a decision about the future of this structure. Because of concerns regarding the structural safety of the chapel as well as its general historical inaccuracy, it has been decided to dismantle the structure. As it is now, the building is a false representation of what the Neumann Chapel was.
The original Log Chapel was constructed in 1833 by a group of German Catholic farmers who settled in North Bush (now Tonawanda). St. Louis Parish, Buffalo served this church until Reverend John Neumann provided services there from 1836-1840. In 1849-1851, a new stone church was built by the congregation. By 1851, the other Log Chapel was in complete disrepair.
1. Structure: The only authentic description of the original Neumann Log Chapel describes the building as “block house” a distinct form of log building made with squared logs not round. The original log structure would have been similar to other examples that existed in our area such as the Evans House and our Smith Log House.
2. Doors: One front door was the norm for small churches, especially for a Catholic church. For instance the SS. Peter and Paul stone Church in Williamsville, built c. 1834 had only one front door. In addition, the Mennonite Meetinghouse in Williamsville, built c. 1834, and the Good Meetinghouse on Greiner Road, built in 1829, both have only one door.
4. Overhangs: The extended overhangs are not in keeping with most “block houses” of the time. They are more indicative of a Native American longhouse, but the North Bush mission was created by a small group of Germans who built it in a style they knew.
5. Front Steps and Elevation from the Ground: A log chapel would not have board steps running the width of the building. This would have been a waste of valuable wood for the small congregation that used it. For a “block house” a small set of steps immediately outside the front would be used such as in our Smith Log House, Dann Road House or Bigelow House.
6. Size: The original Chapel would not have been a large building; it was only a small community of German farmers who formed the congregation.
7. Background Research: Museum files held a drawing of what would be our Neumann Log Chapel.This image is taken from a 1936 illustration created by an artist, Leonard C. Butler for a History of Tonawanda Booklet. There are no known contemporary drawings or engravings of the structure. This 1936 drawing was not in all probability created from eyewitness accounts, as the Log Chapel had been torn down 86 years earlier.
If any of you have been to the museum in the past years, you might have noticed signs that have been placed on the doors to the chapel informing visitors that the building is unsafe and that no entry is permitted. However, we have found that denying people entry only makes them want to try harder! We have caught visitors entering the chapel and walking around during several summer events. Because this building is unsafe for visitors, it is necessary for it to be removed from the grounds for their safety.
In addition, this space on our grounds is currently underutilized. There are plans, as per our strategic plan, to likely use this space in the future to create a farm complex with live animals. The dismantling of the chapel would create the space needed to start this project which could be a major draw during our busier summer season. In the meantime, before the complex is constructed, this space could be used for growing flax, wheat or other basic agricultural demonstrations, making the space an educational resource. To the left, you can see a plan drawn up by our Historic Buildings and Grounds Manager, Scott, illustrating what the space might look like. The Neumann Chapel currently stands where his “swine area” would be.
Some of you might ask “Well, why can’t you reuse the building? It seems a shame to lose a structure like that.” Unfortunately, reuse of the building was found to be at too a high a cost especially considering our other building maintenance needs. In addition, the building is not truly an accurate representation of buildings in Western New York and its reuse would still not solve its inappropriateness at our site. We need to begin the arduous task of examining our interpretation of our buildings and grounds for their accuracy and truthfulness. This structure flies in the face of good historical practice. In dismantling it, it provides us an opportunity to tell the public about how important history museums are and why our work is relevant.