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Medina: Where History Lives | Public Spaces

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Medina: Where History Lives
Public Spaces
Medina: Where History Lives


September 20, 2011

Village of Medina residents may notice something new as they enter their downtown.  The village has erected five new signs at the entry-points of Medina’s Central Business District.  However, they are not just any ordinary signs.  

These smart-looking new signboards proclaim to all that they are entering Medina’s Downtown Historic District, one of the finest intact and preserved collections of historic downtown architecture anywhere. The contributing structures range in age from the Civil War era to the early Twentieth Century. 

While the historic district has existed for many years, it is the first time the village has erected signs denoting its status.  The district is understandably a point of great pride to its citizens.

Medina, New York is a quaint Victorian village, nestled on a wide bend in the Erie Canal where the canal traverses the Oak Orchard River.  Incorporated in 1832, the village thrived and prospered, most significantly in the years following the Civil War.  

Being home to many industries- furniture, foundries, and stone quarries, Medina boomed during the Gilded Age.  During that boom, numerous impressive buildings appeared, many built of the now famous Medina Sandstone.  

Commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical structures born of this great age earned Medina a well-deserved reputation as a beautiful, flourishing community of prospering businesses and grand homes.

Most of this historic architecture survives today and has been carefully preserved, most notably the collection of downtown commercial architecture.   It is the envy of many communities. 

"A fully intact 19th century downtown is rare, and we're fortunate to have one of the finest and best utilized examples anywhere." said Andrew Meier, Mayor of Medina.

"Downtown Medina is our answer to mass-scale urban sprawl.  Despite our fantastic architecture, it's not a museum or historical facade.  Its a living place where you can shop, interact, and feel connected.  Few spots offer such an authentic American experience."

Meier is not only the mayor, he is also an etrepreneur who has invested heavily in Medina's historic preservation.  Meier has rehabilitated an 1875 downtown hotel into law offices and retail space, with third floor loft apartments coming soon.

Many who have visited Medina echo Meier’s sentiments. An article posted in the Toronto Sun last May by George Bailey states: 

“When you walk the historic downtown you can breathe in the smell of history. Their main street echoes of the nineteenth century. Tucked side by side are clusters of aging Medina Sandstone buildings that have changed little since they were constructed during the boom times of the 1830's -1900's.”

More on Medina from Bailey at: www.torontosun.com/2011/04/29/locals-in-medina-ny-say-hello

In a similar article published in the June 2011 edition of Buffalo Spree, writer Bruce Eaton has similar things to say about Medina:

“...those who want to spend a few hours soaking up some strong vibes from the Boom Years of Yore are well-advised to head east to the village of Medina. ...With only a few modern buildings in sight, it’s possible to stroll up Main towards the canal and imagine that Grover Cleveland still resides in the White House.”

Indeed, Grover Cleveland did once stroll these streets.  His young bride, Frances Folsom, resided for a time on the north end of Main Street.  A historic marker identifies the residence.

More on Medina from Eaton at: www.buffalospree.com/Buffalo-Spree/June-2011/2011-City-Guide-Medina/

Catherine Revelas was the former Executive Director of the Medina Chamber of Commerce when the village was considering a preservation ordinance.  Revelas is also an active member of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Preservation League of NYS.  She won’t admit it, but she was the driving force behind the adoption of that law, as well as Medina’s first Main Street façade renovation program.  The results of her efforts are plainly visible today.

“When a community looks to the future and WORKS together great things can be accomplished.  The Medina facade program was one of the most successful facade programs in New York State with 19 improved facades,” said Revelas.  

Because of her efforts, the historic district today attracts businesspersons, entrepreneurs, and tourists alike who want to invest in and visit a place where history lives.

Said Revelas, “Medina has always been in my heart.  I grew up on Main Street and was there every day hanging out because my Dad had a restaurant in there. When Urban Renewal came along, how wise of the leaders of Medina at the time to reject it!  Thus, today a beautiful Main Street honoring mid-nineteenth architecture.”

The collection of buildings in the Downtown Historic District appear on both the National and New York State Registries of Historic Places.  One needs only stand at any place along the wide thoroughfare and see why- a stunning collection of nineteenth century Italianate buildings built of brick and sandstone in a thriving business district. It is truly is a slice of genuine Americana.

Arrayed along the historic thoroughfare are numerous shops and restaurants- everything from antiques to gourmet coffee, gourmet pizza, books, cookies, yarn, candles, gifts, and a bistro with a classically trained chef. 

Marty Busch, Village of Medina Code Enforcement Officer has long been a proponent of preserving the architectural history of the village.   He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Western Erie Canal Heritage Corridor. 

Busch states, “In Medina we came to the realization fifteen years ago that the historic architecture of the village was a treasure that had to be protected, preserved and recognized. To that end we wrote and adopted a historic preservation law using the NYS Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation model.”

Said Busch, “Over the years many new businesses have located in the CBD (Central Business District) resulting in a tremendous investment in preservation. There is now a great occupancy level in the CBD and it is the focus of many great family events and activities.” 

One of the best downtown family events Busch spoke of is the annual “Christmas in Medina” celebration.  Held on the weekend following Thanksgiving, it is the quintessential beginning to an old-fashioned Christmas.  It is situated throughout the downtown historic district which is arrayed in a spectacular traditional display of decorations and lights. 

Santa arrives at the “Santa House” by noon in a horse-drawn sleigh, vendors line the street, musical events occur throughout the afternoon, and the celebration ends with a massive “Christmas Parade of Lights” attracting participants and over 3,000 viewers from Rochester to Buffalo.  

More on Christmas in Medina at www.christmasinmedina.com/

“Downtown Medina has a real recognizable sense of place,” said Busch.  “Downtown Medina has become a destination and attraction.”  

However, Busch cautioned, “We don’t ‘own’ it (the district). We are just the current caretakers holding it in trust for future generations.” 

The district and immediate surrounding area contain many structures built of famous native Medina Sandstone.  All within walking distance are several sandstone homes and churches.  Nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1832, is famous for having been featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as a “church in the middle of the street”.  

Two other stately churches bordering the district are a must-see: the First Baptist Church and St. Mary’s R.C. Church.  Built of grayish-pink and brown Medina Sandstone respectively, their graceful gothic spires are a landmark on the Medina skyline.  St. Mary’s also is home to notable artwork.

At the heart of the district is a Civil War-era opera house that is currently the focus of a restoration project.  Built in 1864, Bent’s Opera House played host to many notables including orators John B. Gough, Rev. E. H. Chapin, and Theodore Tilton.  

The structure is owned by the Orleans Renaissance Group, Inc., (ORG) who were until recently promoters of cultural events in the Medina area.  That changed two years ago when the Bank of America donated the opera house to the group.

“This building is arguably the most important historic structure in the village,” said Chris Busch, Vice-President of ORG. 

“In addition to the Medina Sandstone aspect, it is not only the cornerstone of the historic district, but of the very culture and history of Medina, from the Civil War to the early Twentieth Century,” said Busch.  “There is no other place in the village that is associated with the history of the era more than Bent’s, and we are firmly committed to its preservation and its place in the downtown historic district.” 

Busch is also chairman of both the Village of Medina Municipal Planning Board and the Architectural and Historic Review Board.

According to Busch, other notables appearing on the stage at Bent’s were silent film star R. D. MacLean, French violinist Camilla Urso, William F. Cody’s Wild West Show, and vaudeville/film star Harry D. Carey who appeared in a play he wrote, “Montana”.

More on Bent’s Opera House at : www.eggstreet.org

Any time of year is a great time to visit this historic village, but fall offers some unique opportunities.  While the community can be reached via the usual NYS routes (NYS 90 to Pembroke 48A to Rte. 77 and Rte. 63 to Medina; Rte. 31 straight to Medina; or Rte. 104 to Rte 63, south to Medina), fall foliage along the back roads of Orleans/Niagara offer not only spectacular fall color, but a bounty of fresh fruits (apples!) and vegetables from the farm stands that dot the route.

Google map a scenic route that will take you winding along the Erie Canal to the village and motor along historic West Center Street (Rte. 31E from Middleport, NY) to see a magnificent collection of Victorian homes, or visit the Medina Railroad Museum at http://railroadmuseum.net/ and take a fall foliage train ride to the historic museum located adjacent to the Downtown Historic District.

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