When in the course of choosing a structure to feature in this series of articles, certain criteria such as a style, character, location and distinction are key elements in the selection process. Needless to say, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church located along Jefferson Street in Uniontown surely meets and exceeds the selection guidelines. With the advent of the religious holiday known as Easter upon us, the choice is rather appropriate.
St. John’s congregation was organized in 1851, and their original church was located along Morgantown Street near the intersection of Berkley at the top of the hill. Due to the growth of the membership and the community, the decision to construct a new and larger church was well warranted.
The cornerstone of the new church was laid on June 10, 1894, and the actual dedication ceremonies were held on May 20, 1895 conducted by Bishop Richard Phelan of Pittsburgh. The church’s unique architectural type is a classic example of an Eclecticism Style with Romanesque features, which were quite popular at that time. The structure’s cross-type overall footprint measures 72 feet wide, 124 feet long and an imposing 72 feet high inside dimension. The exterior walls are constructed utilizing solid red brick in multiple patterns and depths.
The varying pattern brick relief details exhibited along the façade are quite stunning. The gable-type roof surface was originally covered with natural slate but has since been replaced with conventional shingles. Of specific interest related to the outward appearance of the church is the stainless steel roof/wall junction cornice trim which was installed during the 1960s.
The trim design is actually more art-deco influenced but is indeed quite interesting to look at, especially when viewed on a sunny day which seems to highlight the roof. The brick gable peaks above the beautiful wood front entry doors, which are still trimmed with the original sheet metal cornice trim. The magnificent cut-stone trim details surrounding the front doors are stalwart in stature and are highlighted by the upper circular arches which further define the Romanesque style.
The use of the rounded arches and circles are quite prevalent, not only from an outward appearance, but also from an interior design element feature. The sidewall and corner buttresses are not only functional features, but act as an element of verticality related to Aesthetical design.
Additionally, the rounded brick veneer treatment with cross located along the left-front corner buttress is unique and fitting of the Eclecticism style. The Romanesque-influenced square bell tower located along the right-front corner further defines vertically, which serves as a design diversion from the overall somewhat symmetrical design of the church.
The interior of the church is abundant with magnificent features. Although the exterior has remained very similar in appearance to its original construction, the interior has been extensively renovated. In a word, the overall interior appearance of the church is breathtaking.
The renovation, which was conducted during the 1950s, included the installation of the marble altar with its statuesque marble baldachin serving as a canopy. A new highly-detailed and appropriately-sized marble communion rail as well as new pews and new stations of the cross were also added. In the 1960s, new stained glass windows built by the Edward W. Hiemer Co. of Clifton, N.J. were installed. Only six of the original 1895 stained glass panels remain.
The interior walls and ceilings are plastered and painted with complimentary accent colors with stunning details. The original wood floor surfaces have been replaced with terrazzo, which also acts as a great conductor of natural sound transference along with the marble surfaces and the openness of design.
A second floor choir loft complete with an organ is highlighted by the presence of the rounded stained glass window above.
St. John’s Church is one of those structures that truly must be seen not only from the exterior, but from the interior as well as it is quite a splendid visual experience. The church and its congregation’s endeavors regarding preservation and maintenance are to be applauded as their efforts have been steadfast and endearing.
Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of stories by Robert Adamovich, a residential architectural designer since 1974, a retired design engineer and local architectural historian. The creator and host of HSTV’s “Historically Speaking,” Adamovich is also an award-winning historical artist. He can be reached by phone at 724-439-3711. His website is www.RobertAdamovich.com. A slide show of the church can be viewed at www.heraldstandard.com.