By SKEETER TOWER
SPECIAL TO THE OBSERVER
Historic Dunkirk has treasures to share and when you catch a glimpse of them, they will sparkle and bring forth feelings of pride and wonderment. If you walk around the streets of the old Dutch Hill (parts now referred to as Academy Heights) and Washington Park, you may have already appreciated the architectural feature of these two neighborhoods to which we refer. Leaded glass and stained glass windows of the 19th century are still found in abundance, not only in the sacred and historic houses of worship, but in residences of this vintage style.
In general, we know that this glass was most popular between 1870 and 1920. The very first glass crafted in America was made in Boston in 1803 but as late as 1825 new settlers to this country were advised to bring their own panes along on the passage. Most glass manufacturers established themselves in the Northeast or Midwest, close to the source of natural resources - sand, potash and lead, plus coal to stoke the kilns.
According to the U.S. Government Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, stained glass and leaded glass were being mass produced by 1900, actively promoted in Home Journals, and could be ordered by catalog in a great variety of designs. These were very booming years in Dunkirk and many could afford the extra flourishes of specialty glass. We have a wide selection of designs in this city. We are still looking for leads about where some of the Dunkirk glass originated. Call the Dunkirk Historical Museum if you have any information.
The use of leaded glass diminished for several reasons after this relatively short period. The highly decorative Victorian styles became less popular. Cheaper foreign labor challenged American manufacturing which led to a 46 percent tariff being placed on imported windows. And finally the United States' Involvement in World War I curtailed the availability of lead which in turn eliminated the production of quality leaded and stained glass.
Our 19th century glass windows have survived over 100 years. Most are intact and add a real touch of class to the buildings within which they abide. At this age, however, there are risks to the lead (sometimes zinc or copper) cames, the metal skeletal frame, which holds the glass in place. The wooden sashes may also be subject to deterioration. Some beautiful neighborhood and church windows are already showing signs of aging and may be in need of restoration. Some forms of protecting glass from outside damage, such as Plexiglas, may actually cause more rapid deterioration of the cames. Efforts to gather information and resources for preservation and restoration will be made through the Dunkirk Historical Museum. It is hoped that those with any special expertise in this area will step forward to offer assistance and guidance to preserve this local treasure so it may add luster to the lives of future generations.
Debra Bentley at Randy's Antiques considers herself a "beginner" with the art of stained glass with her 15 years of experience. She has her new creations available at Randy's Antiques and is able to make some repairs. She lists her teacher, Lin Finger, as one of the most skilled in the area with her workshop in Fredonia. Cindy Gailey at Creation Station in Silver Creek reports that they are able to repair windows which are brought into the store. It is the hope of this project to obtain some grant monies in the future to continue the work of preservation of the windows.
The Dunkirk Historical Museum and members of two neighborhood revitalization groups, Academy Heights and Washington PARC, have joined forces in an effort to document and inventory these windows, highlight their unique qualities and designs, research their origin, and better understand how to protect and preserve them from harm.
A successful project will require the cooperation of city residents. Those who have the windows, those who have knowledge of family stories about the windows, memories from long ago, old documents, photographs, old catalogs and Home Journals, craftspeople with special interest and knowledge, antique fanciers of all kinds. (One house in our inventory, in the process of restoration, found the original mortgage and other historic treasures of an earlier family under the attic floorboards). One never knows when some piece of the historic puzzle might present itself. There will be inside windows and those on the side of a house that may not come to the attention of a casual walker or those attempting to document every single leaded glass or stained glass window.
Perhaps you have removed a leaded glass window and it is just stored in your garage or attic. Helpful leads can be brought to our attention with a phone call or email to the museum: email@example.com or to Diane Andrasik, 366-2882. Community residents might also contact me (366-3738) and Michele Bautista from the Washington PARC (366-8395).
The process begins with a community survey which is already underway. Steve and Mary Rees pinpointed the most obvious windows in Academy Heights. Michele Bautista and Pat Sysol will be inventoring the windows in the Washington Park area. A photo release will be requested of each property owner so the window may be photographed for the main collection of Dunkirk's 19th century window images to be housed in the Dunkirk Historical Museum, "dedicated to the promotion of the city's historical, cultural and artistic heritage." How perfect! A volunteer photographer will then come on site to take the picture. Right now this may be Diane Andrasik, Alan Hollender or Brandt Klein.
Now, here is the best part. Selected window images will be reproduced in the form of note cards, prints and possibly calendars by Anderson Design and Marketing. The project will contribute to an effort to preserve and value some of the older, quality homes, churches, and neighborhoods of the city. All proceeds of this project will go to support the activities of the Dunkirk Historical Museum. The first collection of cards will be available in mid-December at selected city sites: the Dunkirk City Hall, the Dunkirk Public Library, the Dunkirk Historical Museum, P&G Foods, Wheel People, located in the Papaya Arts gift shop, Randy's Antiques and at some point in the various churches whose windows are being featured. There was also a display at the Washington Park Winter Festival on Friday.
What unique stocking stuffers for this Christmas, while at the same time supporting a valuable city institution and boosting the image of our city!
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