From Stephentown Genealogy: Roots & More
Compiled by Tina Ordone
The information on this page came from the Stephentown Historical Society's Bicentennial Album 1784-1984
"The early churches were built of logs and contained benches made by the parishioners. The churches were never heated. People sat in order of social rank and listened to long sermons. If a man or boy fell asleep he was awakened by a rap ont he head from a rod that the deacon or rod man carried. When a woman or girl fell asleep she was awakened by the brushing of her face by a rabbit's foot which was attached to a rod. In those days men came to church armed for fear of being attacked by the Indians.
There was one known log church in Stephentown and another log church on lower West Hill Road in New Lebanon, served by a circuit-rider preacher. This church in New Lebanon had a cemetery on the hill behind it, containing gravestones dating back to the 1700's, called Mott Cemetery. It was probably built before the Presbyterian Church in Stephentown. It was divided when they built another log church int he village of New Lebanon. This made it harder for the parishioners from Stephentown to travel to, so they then built their own Presbyterian Church on Presbyterian Hill Road.
The Second Free Communion Paptist Church was organized in Stephentown on march 20, 1793. It was located at what was known as Little Hoosic Hollow (Cherry Plain). It was in the northeastern part of the town. Nicholas Northrup was ordained as its "Watchman". He was a man uneducated, plain and somewhat eccentric, but his spirtual labors were greatly blessed. He was pastor for 35 years. In fact, he was the only pastor this church ever had, because somewhere areound 1830, he moved out west and the church was dissolved.
In 1841 a church known as the Christians Chapel existed in Stephentown. A meeting house was erected near the village. The movement died out after a few years and the parish dissolved. The property was sold and the chapel was dismantled. The lumber was used for the St. Joseph's Church when it was moved to this plot.
FREE WILL BAPTIST CHURCH
The oldest church was the Free Will Baptist Church which was opened to all residents on September 13, 1783. The society had no regular place to worship, so folks met at various places, such as private homes and Black River District School House until 1828, when a meeting house was erected and called "the Old Yellow Meeting House". This lasted until 1855, when they moved to a more convenient location in Stephentown Center. It was enlarged and remodeled, and remains as the Free Will Baptist Church. Elder Benajah Corpe was its first pastor. It has no ordained preacher for two years after its organization, so 23 members were baptized by Elder Crandall. Church records were badly kept and neglected and in most cases it is impossible to acquire dates and periods of services of past pastors. When they had no ordained pastor available, one of the neighboring pastors, like Elder Nicholas Northrup, pastor from the Second Free Will Baptist Church, would supply or preach more regularly between 1797 and 1824. The first five pastors were ordained from its own membership. Black River district was settled by families from Connecticut and Rhode Island. The immigrants settled on the crest of the hills above the river for safety from the Indians and diseases in the valleys. Around 1855 the majority of business and populace moved into the valley, where a gristmill, sawmill and turning shops were supported by the dams. The church's location was no longer convenient, so they took the building down and reassembled it in its present location called "Little Mechanicville", now Stephentown Center.
- 175 YEARS OLD
The Stephentown Center Baptist Church observed its 175th anniversary Sunday, September 14, 1958. It is the second oldest Baptist Church in the United States. Over 150 persons, many of them former members, attended the afternoon and evening services. The Rev. Frank Beach, instructor of history and English at Averill Park Central School, and an ordained Baptist minister, was the speaker at the afternoon service. He was introduced by the pastor of the church, the Rev. Oscar Arnold. The evening sermon was delivered by the Rev. Paul Maxson, pastor of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church, Berlin, NY. The evening service was featured by a hymn sing led by Wayne MacVeigh of Stephentown. Mrs. Albert Fise, church clerk, read the church history and messages of congratulations from former members and former residents of the community. The first meeting place of the church was a big log cabin. When this became too small, the services were held in a schoolhouse. In 1828, they were moved to the Yellow Meeting House. The building was later moved intact to the present location." This account was printed in the September 24, 1958 issue of the Berkshire Eagle.
St. Joseph's Church was not always in Stephentown. The original edifice was erected October 1, 1852 on the hill in Lebanon Springs. As the church grew in attendance, it was apparent the location was putting the membership and the parish priest to untold hardship on bad or nonexistent roads. The initial building was a small mission church. In 1871 it was dismantled by parishioners and moved by horses and wagons to Stephentown, where it was reassembled on a lot donated by a local communicant. Due to an oversight, no deed to this lot was ever recorded, so,upon the death of the donor, ownership of the lot was impossible to prove. By 1888 an increasing congregation necessitated a larger space and a lot was purchased for $400.00. A small unused Protestant Christian Chapel (built in 1841 on the new property) was razed, and the present church was constructed on the site, using lumber from both buildings. In 1896 St. Joseph's Cemetery was blessed and became the final resting place of the parishioners. Over the years the parish was assigned to various districts of the church until in 1928 there was a final incorporation of St. Joseph's Church in Stephentown with the Church of the Sacred Heart in Berlin. These two churches then constituted one separate parish with the permanent pastor residing in Berlin and responsible to both churches.
The First Baptist Church was organized in 1783. The congregation held services in an unheated log meeting house near the present Dennison burial ground in Berlin on the Vincent's farm. In 1796 the Second Baptist Church was built on the hillside at the present Stephentown Baptist Cemetery. When Berlin was withdrawn from Stephentown in 1806, the Second Baptist Church became the First Baptist Church of Stephentown. The edifice was a lofty structure, the seating was made of old fashioned box pews, and had a large gallery around the three sides. The church was incorporated in 1825. The church elders resolved the problem of the church hours by voting to close all church meetings a half hour before sunset. The opening sermon was preached by the Elder Edward Barber. At a meeting on November 19, 1795, elder Robert Niles was chosen moderator and received as the first Elder of the church. In 1820 a singing school was instituted and widely attended by young members and nonmembers. In 1830 the congregation bought two stoves and in 1831 they pruchased a funeral bier. Then in 1834 the burial ground was fenced in and a cloth for burial purposes was obtained for the benefit of the church at a cost of seven dollars. Sabbath school was established and the congregation decided to centralize and enlarge the church in 1840, to 36x60 feet. The present site was chosen and the raising of the new church occured June 9-10, 1846, using some of the timber from the old church. The building was dedicated December 24, 1846. The Stephentown Baptist Association was formed in 1832 and many Baptist churches were members furing its 133 years of existence in this area. In 1965 the association was dissolved and the First Baptist Church of Stephentown joined what is now known as the Northeast Baptist Conference.
In 1788, Presbyterians from Lebanon and Stephentown built a church on what became known as Presbyterian Hill. The church was incorporated as the Presbyterian Church and Society of Stephentown July 31, 1793. 'The raising of the frame of this building occupied three days, and although it was mostly finished in the year 1788, rough hemlock boards were the only flooring for about six years.It was nearly square and had a tower on one side about 50 feet high. The interior had a gallery on three sides, has square pews with seats having perpendicular backs on three sides, and a pulpit of immense altitude, enclosed all around, being entered by a door, and surmounted by a sounding board of the most approved pattern.' Church members and the board of turstees kept strict accounting of the morals and integrity of their membership. The Evangelistic meetings of Charles G. Finney and the population increase swelled the membership. A burying ground was established near the church. In June 1820 the burying ground was fenced. By 1835 the valley was cleared of timber, the swamps were drained, and people and businesses were moving into the part of the valley that became Garfield. The church on the hill became inconvenient to many members, so in 1836 they took the building down and re-erected it on its present site, leaving the cemetery at its original site. The cemetery grounds were enlarged in 1875. In 1849 the church bought a seminary, next door to the new church, for use as a parsonage. The same year the horse sheds were built back of the church, where they remained until the automobile made them obsolete and they were torn down. In 1844 and 1845 several anti-rent meetings were held in the church in an effort to help the residents get fair ownership deeds with no entailed rents. On December 24, 1868 fire destroyed the beautiful house of worship. The cornerstone of a new church was laid the following May 12. The final touches to the church were made in 1890, when wood panelling replaced plaster and fresco throughout the interior. In 1898 an annex was built back of the building. In 1903 wide center doors were installed, replacing two small entrances on each side of the front. A large pipe organ was donated in 1906. Electricity was installed in the church in 1924 for use in the buildings and for a motor to pump the pipe organ.
Family Names in Presbyterian Cemetery
The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded June 4, 1868 and met in the old Christian Chapel and in the Swan School House #5. In 1869 a lot in Garfield was given to the church by Nathaniel Reynolds for the building site and the building was dedicated debt free on April 4, 1871. Hosea Bennett of South Stephentown was the first member of the society. The executive committee was Doctor G.N. Dickinson, Elisha Clark and George Hudson. Around 1870 Mr. Hudson served three years and was succeeded by the Reverend E.A. Braman. The solo on the property and other lumber was used in the construction. The building was dedicated and siding was installed in 1877 on the rough exterior of the building; also the edifice was painted. Stephentown and West Lebanon formed a charge circuit, sharing the same pastor. In 1899 a parsonage was built in West Lebanon. The first woman preacher in Stephentown was Miss E.H. Delevan, who presided over the congregation in the 1890's. The ground was leveled and sheds were built in the back of the Garfield chruch in 1898. The congregation fitted the church with a metal roof, laid down a new carpet, painted the interior and shingled the sheds in 1903. In June 1940 the members agreed to hold summer services in their own church and joint services with the Presbyterian Church in the winter in order to conserve heat. At the quarterly conference in April 1941 the mehtodist Episcopal Church of Stephentown was formally incorporated. Deliberations on uniting with the Presbyterian Church continured and it was finally decided to hold all services with the Presbyterians, sharing a Methodist pastor. Through the Reverend Oscar Stetson's efforts, srticles of agreement were established which met the requirements of both the Albany Presbytery and the Troy Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was the last pastor to serve this church. In 1948 the two congregations voted to unite, forming the present Federated Chruch of Stephentown. The first pastor was Deacon George Hudson.
The church was organized november 11, 1829 and was originally called the Nassau-Stephentown Union Church. The meeting house was erected the same year. As the membership increased, the congregation realized the need for a larger building, so in 1880 it was rebuilt and enlarged. At that time, there were 191 members, with 70 in the Sabbath School and a 75-volume library. The church is located on the boundary between Stephentown and Nassau, which gave rise to its original name. When the church was first built the residents sat on their geographic sides of the church with the center aisle as the boundary line. Legend has it a new member was publicly chastised for sitting on the wrong side of the church. The church is justly proud of its NcNeely bell from the famous Troy foundry by that name. In the bell tower are the dates of funerals at which the bellringer tolled the age of the deceased."
The Struggles of a Young Church on Presbyterian Hill
By Rev. Ernest D. Smith
August 24, 1825 was a sad day of Presbyterian Hill in Stephentown, New York. this was the day that Andrew Hunter died, and probably there was never a more beloved man in this area of the country than Andrew Hunter. He was one of thirteen people responsible for that hill being called Presbyterian Hill, because he was one of the thirteen charter members of the Church by that name that used to be near the top of the hill. We will get back to Andrew in a moment, but first, let's look at Presbyterian Hill.
Most people living in the valleys of the Wyomanock and upper Kinderhook have been on Presbyterian Hill. Some wonder why a hill should have such a name since they can find no trace of a Presbyterian Church, but there used to be such a Church on the hill. Old records state that it was located one thousand feet due west of the Presbyterian Cemetery on the top of the hill. Having found the cemetery one day, I paced off the right number of feet and came to a corner where an old road used to cross the present road. If followed south, the old road would come out on West Hill in New Lebanon, and at that corner I found the cornerstones of an old building, almost square, but an old briar patch now filled in the spot. It was well that I looked it up that year because the next year the owner had plowed the area and the stones were forever lost. It was right on this spot that some interesting scenes took place many years ago, the ancient days being the years between 1788 when the church was built and 1835 when it was dismantled and relocated on the spot where the Federated Church in Stephentown stands today. This Tale deals with only those forty-seven years, the first years of the present Federated Church.
Andrew Hunter was a charter member and helped build the Church in 1788. In 1794 it was organized, and in 1799 Hunter was elected an Elder. Then one day word came to him that a Church member by the name of Jacob Cole was using profane language down in the Town. Andrew had to ask Cole to appear before the Church and give reasons for theis unchristian act.
Cole would not come. Hunter kept after him for over a year to clean up his language, but all to no avail, so he was suspended from membership in the Church. The ruling Presbytery, upon hearing of this action against Cole, did not want immediate excommunication, so the entire Church was asked to try to awaken in him a "true sense of this duty and his danger." Hunter found that it was not always easy to be a Presbyterian Elder nearly two hundred years ago.
Mrs. Jane Wylie wanted to leave the Presbyterians in 1805 and join the Baptists. Her problem was that she wanted to be baptized by total immersion. Andrew had to go to her and try to convince her of her error. Again in 1821, another woman wanted dismissal to join the Baptists so that she could be put completely under at a deep spot in the Kinderhook, and Hunter was asked by the Church to convince her of her error. We are not told how he made out with Jane Wylie, but with Esther Jolls, the second woman, he did not fare very well. She could not be convinced so her request was granted and she was recommended to the Baptist Church in Stephentown as a member of "good moral character." The Presbyterians did not do so badly because these were the only two they lost to the Baptists in 47 years.
The Presbyterians were a very strict people. They took their religion seriously and they loved their people. Therefore, when Mary HOward was absent from the Church for a few Sundays in 1810, the Elders wanted to know why. They found her family sick. Mary wasn't able to get back to Church until 1814, but during all that time Hunter and the Elders served her the Sacraments faithfully.
In another instance, Jeremiah Whitman got drunk in 1824 and was cited to appear before the Church, which he failed to do. Three months later, he was given a fair trial before the Church. They even appointed a Counsel for him in his absence. Whitman was found guilty of intoxication, profanity and Sabbath breaking and his membership was suspended. These people didn't fool around.
In the forty-seven years the Church was on Presbyterian Hill, there were four pastors: Aaron Jordan Booge from 1800-1804; John Younglove from 1806 to 1816; Moses Hunter from 1821 to 1825; and Edward Beach from 1828-1834. The record all seem to be lost concerning the Rev. Beach, and the Rev. Younglove never rocked anyone's boat. However, Moses Hunter said something at his installa tion that so ruffled Hosea Moffitt, a charter member, that he wouldn't attend Holy Communion any more and also kept fourteen others out. He tried and failed to have the pastor removed, so he stayed home for over a year, and every time he thought of the new pastor, he used "foul and unchristian language." This was too much for the Presbytery, so in 1822 they transferred him to the Dutch Reformed Church in Nassau who received him gladly.
The great Evangelist, Charles G. Finney, came to Presbyterian Hill in 1827 and stayed for two months. During that time, they had such a great revival that one hundred and thirteen new members were added to the church. Finney says in his autobiography that they could not do much until the influence of the first pastor was nullified. Finney said that after 1804, the Rev. Mr. Booge, Chaplain of the Revolution and later President Jackson's Chaplain, somehow had lost his faith and became an "open infidel." He came back to Stephentown and "remained among them, openly hostile to the Christian religion!" "The fact is," said Mr. Finney, "the town was in an awful state. The influence of Mr. Booge...had borne its legitmate fruit;...and there was but very little...religion left."
The Church people began to pray that God would remove all obstacles to the revival and "in the midst of the revival, this Mr. Booge died." This put an end to his opposition. Grace Booge, his wife, had already been put out of the Church in 1821 for being absent too many times. She requested to be transferred to the Congregational Church in New Lebanon and this request was granted.
When you ride over Presbyterian Hill next time, remember that this place was once the center of great religious happening. A rugged Christian faith was established here that resulted in miracles of changed lives by Divine Grace.