Sacred Heart Church Dedicated May 31, 1906
The early 1900s were a period in which Watertown would see tremendous construction, the Lady of the Sacred Heart Church being one of the larger projects planned for in 1905, though it had, in all earnest, already begun the previous fall.
The original church, built of wood near the corner of Thompson and Gale Streets in 1878, was the first church constructed on the city’s North Side. In 1905, preparations were made to build the new church while the then-current wooden church was relocated closer to the corner of West Lynde and Davidson Street.
On April 1, 1905 article, the Watertown Daily Times would report–
Work is soon to be commenced on the construction of the Sacred Heart Church at the corner of Lynde and Thompson Streets on the north side of the river. The foundation walls were completed last fall, and as soon as the contractors are assured of open weather the walls of the building will be started.
This is one of the largest buildings to be erected in Watertown this year, and when completed will be the most elaborate church edifice in the city. The cost of construction will be approximately $80.000, and the contractors estimated the work will not be completed before July, 1906.
The plans for the new church, by David D. Kieff, called for a Gothic design and a seating capacity of 800. The basement was to be 12 feet high and the full size of the church and arranged for the Sunday School work of the church. By August, the new Sacred Heart Church’s walls and roof were finished, and its two towers’ construction became the main focus.
On May 31, 1906, the new Sacred Heart Church would be dedicated. As the Watertown Daily Times reported–
There was a new star in the heavens last night, like that other star which the shepherds saw in the sky, guiding those who followed it to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. It was a brilliant star, upon which much work has been done to mould it into the form of the cross it represented and it shone against the dark background of the blue value like a burnished cross of steel reflecting the sunlight; for it was as much brighter than the softly twinkling stars behind it as the sun is brighter than the moon.
So it appeared from a distance, a huge, luminous cross suspended by invisible means in the air. But as the crowds who followed its guidance neared, they found it had settled upon the great spire of the new Sacred Heart Church, dedicated yesterday forenoon, and as they came still nearer, they saw that the interior of the edifice was as bright and shining as the cross itself. And when they entered the building, with its cream and gold interior, they found it as bright as day with electric and gas lights, and the many candles flicker upon the five altars.
And When all who took the way to the glowing cross on the spire had assembled for the evening services of the dedication, the church was filled with 1,000 people.
Alas, the same fate befell the Sacred Heart Church as had many grand churches in the past, Arsenal Street Methodist Church, and near future in the 1980’s such as the Stone Street Presbyterian Church and the All Souls Universalist Church on Washington Street in 1984.
On Thursday, February 13th, 1969, at approximately 11:10 p.m., Robert H. Austin, the 10th Ward supervisor, discovered dense smoke from the Sacred Heart Church. He alerted the fire department via the call box located nearby, and within minutes, crews were battling the blaze in what would become a long, cold night of effort to save the church in sub-zero temperatures.
It took an estimated 100 firefighters and most of the city’s resources to gain control of the fire. Volunteers from the fire departments in Glen Park, Brownville, Sackets Harbor, Watertown, and Calcium would help battle the blaze.
In the end, the 61-year-old building that cost $80,000 ($2,493,727.27 in 2021 dollars) was estimated to cost $2,000,000 to replace at the time – and only insured for $567,000. The Watertown Daily Times reported in a retrospective piece of the Sacred Heart Church that the incarnation destroyed by fire was actually the third church to bear its name–
The parish was formed in 1857 to serve the French-speaking congregation in the city. Services were first held in St. Mary’s church on Factory Street by French priests supplied by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Montreal.
The priests first rented and later bought a house on Thompson Street for their residence. Here, after the old St. Mary’s church needed replacing, the wooden Sacred Heart Church was erected within two months in 1878, with an initial contribution of $2,000 from a French woman in Brittany.
At the time of the 1969 fire, the Sacred Heart parish numbered 4,202. Although there was no doubt a new church would be built, there was an acknowledgment at what had been lost – but also a hopeful future based on what still existed, as mentioned in the Watertown Daily Times’s February 15th editorial–
Whoever attempts to replace the past? It can’t be done, nor is it ever done, nor is it ever tried by churches. Their mission is forward, just as in 1878 and 1905. The only thing that the church’s past has accomplished is a foundation. New church buildings depend on foundation of strong belief, and so we confidently expect that there will be ground-breaking and a new Sacred Heart edifice which will carry forward the church for 60, 90 years, or well beyond, into the middle of the next century.
As the editorial suggested, we’re currently nearing the quarter mark of a new century, and the Sacred Heart Church has been rebuilt now 50 years – thanks, in part, to a strong foundation of the history and people that came before it and those who carry its messages and beliefs forward.