Celebrating the First 25 years of United Church of Greenwich.pdf

Through the Years: The History of the First Seventy-Five Years of the United Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, New York (1880-1955)

As a tree has roots in the soil of the ground from which it is nourished, so the United Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, New York, has its roots deep in the life of the people who have lived and worked in the community where the church was established on May 26, 1880. To there is set down here some of the facts of the heritage which has nourished this Congregation with its inspiration, lessons and rebukes.

The Village of Greenwich, or Union Village, as it was known, had been incorporated March 29, 1809. Before that date the community had been known as Whipple City in deference to Job Whipple who had arrived some time prior to that date "in the garb of the Society of Friends." He erected the second cotton mill in the US on the banks of the Battenkill. In 1810, Dr. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, traveled through the Village on his way to hear a Scotsman preach at Cambridge. He wrote: "on this road is a small village in the township of Greenwich. It is built around a collection of mills on the Battenkill. In this village is a decent Baptist Church and about thirty houses of an indifferent appearance." (Quoted in "The Story of Union Village" by Grant J. Tefft.)."

Our religious heritage has its roots in Scotland. Soon after the death of John Knox in 1572 the government of the churches in Scotland by an ecclesiastical hierarchy was replaced by Presbyterianism which provided for government by presbyters elected by each congregation. The efforts of Charles I in 1638 to enforce on the Scotch practices and discipline which they resented and charged were copied from the Church of England and the Church of Rome resulted in the Scotch signing the National Covenant and pledging “to adhere unto and defend the true religion.” Persecution and martyrdom followed, intensified by the stalwart self-sacrificing loyalty to high ideals and the right to choose their own clergy. In 1661 Presbyterial ordination was repudiated by the Ecclesiastical Courts making marriages by their ministers illegal.

In 1690 Presbyterianism was reestablished, but some thought there was compromise and withdrew and organized the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Then in 1733, led by four ministers who protested against the character of many of the ministers who had been forced on them by the Church of England in the settlement, a considerable group became Seceders and organized the Associated Presbyterian Synod. This group was further divided over the interpretation of the burgess oath into the so-called Burghers and Antiburghers.

During the persecutions many Scotch had gone to Ireland but by 1704 they were confronted with the Sacramental Test and the practice of “kissing the book” as required in Ireland when an oath is administered. From 170 to 1760 the harvests in Ireland failed and the groups of harassed Presbyterians found the shores of the American Colonies beckoning. With this wave came the Associated and Reformed groups, the antecedents of the present United Presbyterian Church.

The church congregations of Southern Washington County generally formed connections with the Presbyterian Church. However, in 1764 the Rev. Thomas Clark of the Burgher Synod of the Associate Church with a large part of his congregation of Ballibay, Ireland, came and settled in Salem, New York. By extending his efforts he laid much of the foundation for the present churches in the towns of Cambridge, White Creek, Jackson, Greenwich, Argyle, Hebron, and Hartford. In the same year there came from Pennsylvania to Cambridge two Covenanters 0 Rev. John Cuthbertson, a missionary, and Phineas Whiteside, a Ruling elder, whose sons built the Whiteside Church. In 1875 Rev. Thomas Beveridge organized churches in Coila, South Argyle and West Hebron.

As rigid adherence to convictions had created the divisions in Scotland resulting in the existence of Presbyterians, Covenanters, Reformed Presbyterians, and the Seceders of the Associate Presbyterians both Burgher and Antiburgher, so, when relieved of persecutions in this country their convictions led most of them to reunite. The question of the burgess oath dissolved as it had no validity away from Scotland; and in 1782 the Associate group and the Reformed group combined to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churhc of America. But some of the Reformed group held out and still exist as the Covenanter Church. Some of the Associate group also held out and prespered, chiefly from immigration, until May 26, 1858, when they united with the Associate Reformed group to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

The distinguishing feature of Presbyterianism is that the powers of government are vested in the body of believers and exercised through their chosen representatives called elders, and that the Church is a theocracy “under law to Christ, the supreme and only Head and Lawgiver.”

There were God-fearing people in Southern Washington County.  According to one record the first church congregation north of Albany in New York state had been organized in Salem in 1765.  This Presbyterian congregation eventually became the present United Presbyterian Church of that village, which celebrated their 200th anniversary in 1951.  During the next 115 years all the present churches in Greenwich were organized.  The Bottskill Baptist Church was organized in Greenwich in 1767.  This was the sixth Baptist church organized in New York state.  At that tim the total number of church communicants in Greenwich did not exceed 200.  In 1812 the Reformed Church was organized.  By 1837 the agitation against slavery had become intense, and there were enough persons in the village who had strong moral convictions regarding slavery, intemperance and war to combine and organize a Congregational Church.  However, many deaths reduced the membership and the congregation disbanded in 1877 or 1878 and their house of worship became the Opera House.  As early as 1804 there was a group of people in Greenwich paying "quarterage" for the support of the Cambridge Methodist circuit preacher.  This group formally organized as a Methodist Episcopal Society in 1833 and erected their first church building in 1838, which later became St. Joseph's Hall.  The first formal service of a group that eventually organized as St. Joseph's Roman Catholic church was held in 1869.  What had been a mission of the Episcopal Church of Schuylerville was organized in 1874 in Greenwich as a separate congregation under the name of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.....

The Nineteenth century was marked by periods of great religious fervor in the US and revival meetings were frequent in the populated areas of the country.  Washington County and Greenwich were no exceptions.  The widespread response to the appeals at these meetings was shown in Salem where an itinerant preacher spoke twice on a certain Sunday in 1824.  As a result 175 persons joined the Presbyterian church.  But when this movement settled down no one could recall the name of the man who had inspired the community, or where he ahd come from, or where he went.  In 1842 there was a series of revival meetings held int he Bottskill Baptist Church resulting in one hundred persons joining that Church.  The following year the Methodists also held a series of meetings that were crowded and resulted in twenty converts.  

In the year 1857 there was a population in Greenwich Village of 1,092 with the following church membership, not counting church members from outside the Village.   

Baptist.......... .......... .......... .190
Congregational.......... ........162
Methodist.......... .......... .......165
Reformed.......... .......... ...... 272
Roman Catholic.......... ......   38

Total church membership...827
No church affiliation.......... .265

Total Poplulation.......... ....1092.  

In the spring of 1867 as a result of a series of revival meetings conducted by an organization known as the Troy Praying Band it was reported in the People Journal, the earlier name of the Greenwich Journal, that one hundred persons were received on probation into the Methodist Church and thirty two were baptized into the Baptist Church.  According to the federal census of 1860, the population of the township of Greenwich was then 3,941 or 130 more than in 1950, and that of Easton was 3,083, nearly double its 1940 population.  

As is natural, many of the facts of the birth and early life of the United Presbyterian Church of Greenwich are lsot in the mists of the past.  The first evidences of organized effort to form a congretation of the United Presbyterian Church in Greenwich was a meeting of nine men in December 1879 in the house of mason Prentiss, 128 Main STreet, which later became the residence of Dr. Lewis R. Oatman and Mrs. Oatman, daughter of Rev. A. W. Morris.  Those present at that meeting were: Mason Prentiss, Henry F. Johnson, Samuel E. Huggins, Henry Moor, Jehiel Russell, William Liddell, Allen E. Johnson, James Johnson and Horace Petteys.  These men pledged and paid a total sum of $500, toward the cause.  It seems from such facts as are available that this meeting in December preceded a meeting of the Presbytery of Argyle at which there was appointed a committee consisting of Revs. R. J. Cunningham, Henry Gordon and A. W. Morris to look over the fields of Greenwich and West Cambridge to determine the desirability of organizing churches in those communities.  Rev. A. W. Morris, at the time he was appointed to this committee, was pastor of the South ARgyle United Presbyterian Church, but for many years to come it was his integrity and strength of character, his wisdom, his loyalty to the Church of Christ that probably more than that of any other person, helped to make the United Presbyterian Church of Greenwich a reality, to guide the infant Congregation and when trouble came to bring stability and direction to the work. 

In the issue of the People's Journal of March 26, 1880, there appeared the following item:

"Notice is hereby given that services in harmony with the Directory of Worship of the United Presbyterian Church will be held in the new Opera House in Greenwich commencing on Sabbath, March 28, at 11 o'clock A.M. and 7:30 P.M. Preaching on that day by Rev. R. J Cunningham of Shushan, and on each succeeding Sabbath at the same hours by other members of the Argyle Presbytery, until further notice is given or different arrangements are made.  By arrangement of Committee. Rev. A. W. Morris, Chairman."

In the next issue of the same paper, dated April 1, 1880, it was stated that services had been in fact held on March 28 in the Opera House.  This seems to have been the first service of the group that was to become the Congregation of this history. It was further stated in the same issue of the Journal that Mr. Morris would preach on the next Sabbath. ......

At a meeting of the Congregation on May 20th, 1881, Joseph J. Henderson had been elected Trustee for three years, J. W. Wallace elected Secretary and A. E. Johnson elected Treasurer. The first annual meeting of the Congregation was held May 24th, 1881.

The desire for their own place of worship came to a head at the same time Mr. Bigger was elected Moderator on November 7, 1881. On that date a committee was appointed of James E. McLean, Allen E. Johnson, Joseph J. Henderson and A.A. Moor with authority to get an option on a lot on which to erect a building. The People’s Journal of November 10, 1881 had an item: “We hear it reported that the united Presbyterians have obtained subscriptions enough to warrant their building a church.” On March 20, 1882, a contract was made with James H. Thompson for the purchase of the lot on Hill Street for the sum of $1200.

On February 6, 1882, a Building Committee was constituted composed of the Trustees, Treasurer and Elders. On November 30, 1882, each of these gentlemen pledged $100 toward building the Church. On August 20th the contract for the carpenter work was given to Mr. Almy on his bid of $3,385; W. H. Norton was given the painting job for $125; James Wallace selected and purchased the large stained glass window, and others arranged for the purchase of a heater, the pews and other items. Henry F. Johnson and Samuel Huggins hauled the lumber for the building from a mill in Vermont as a part of their contribution. The corner stone on the South west corner of the building was laid in the late Autumn of 1882 and the building was dedicated March 8, 1883, the total cost being $6,546.53. On the day of dedication there was an additional solicitation for subscriptions to cover this obligation.

The next few years were difficult….

To be continued….

From Through the Years: The History of the First Seventy-Five Years of the United Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, New York (1880-1955), written by Samuel Crozier, Jr., Mrs. Grant J Tefft, Mrs. Thomas Wilson, Mis Ida Whiteside, Mr. Harry T. Johnson, Mrs. Edward J. Skiff, Rev. Lester H. Page.

Celebrating the First 25 years of United Church of Greenwich.pdf (1971-1986)