Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

St. Johnsville Bicentennial Celebration 1976
Published by St. Johnsville Village/Town Bicentennial Committee, Inc.

St. Johnsville Churches
(Additions to the original are in red.)

St. John's Reformed Church

The history of St. John's Reformed Church began with the building of a little church about a mile east of St. Johnsville sometime after 1725 by the Rev. Petrius Van Driessen with the help of Hendrick Klock and his friends. Little is known of this church until 1787 when it was incorporated as the "Reformed Calvinist Church of the Upper Part of Palatine in the County of Montgomery." The elected trustees were Colonel Jacob Klock, Peter Schuyler, Jacob Fehling (Failing) Christopher Fox, and Jacob G. Klock.

The next year, 1788, the congregation called its first full-time minister, John Henry Dysslin, who served the church until his death in 1812. It was during his ministry in 1804 that the building of the new church was completed at Zimmerman's Creek on land donated to the church by Jacob Zimmerman. The land deeded extended from Church Street to the creek, and from West Main Street to the hill, thus including what are now John, West Saltsman, Cottage, and William Streets.

The official title of the new church was chosen and it became the "Dutch Reformed Congregation of St. John's Church in Palatine Town, Montgomery County.

The building itself faced Church Street and was built of wood painted white in a colonial style with pillars in front. The church was supposed by the rental of pews and by pledges--of money, or wood, or wheat.

Dominie Dysslin married Anna Klock, granddaughter of Colonel Klock, and fathered five daughter and two sons. He died in 1812 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Klock's cemetery. In 1920 a tablet honoring his memory was placed on a boulder nearby.

A new minister was installed in 1816, the Rev. David Devoe. Near the close of his ministry in 1829, the local church was finally united with its parent denomination, the Dutch Reformed Church, which later became known as the Reformed Church in America.

(Note: The church was German Reformed until 1829 and spoke German. Dutch Reformed Churches did not use the word Saint in their names. The Reformed Church appeared in several countries: Switzerland, France, Germany, Netherlands. In 1754 (some place the date at 1800) an assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church declared itself independent of the Classis (i.e., governing body) of Amsterdam, and in 1792 a constitution was adopted. In 1829, the local church joined the denomination which was known as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in America. As time went on, the word Dutch became somewhat of a deterrent to the growth of the dennomination. The present name [Reformed Church in America] became official in 1867. The brick church was built in 1881, therefore; the word "Dutch" does not appear on the church cornerstone. The local church did not remove the word "Dutch", it never appeared on the present brick church.)

The third ministry was that of Abraham H. Meyers and lasted only a little over a year. The fourth ministry, that of Herman B. Stryker, was almost as brief, lasting tow years until 1834.

The Rev. James Murphy next succeeded and stayed until 1837. Rev. Meyer then returned to St. John's for the second time and stayed until 1844.

In 1845 the second pastor to be honored with the title Dominie arrived: Dominie Joseph Knieskern, whose pastorate lasted for twenty-seven years until 1872.

Edward Lodewick was next ordained. During his two-year ministry, the new spacious brick parsonage was constructed on West Main Street and the lands north of the church were sold in order to secure funds to build the manse.

The Rev. George J. Van Neste was next installed in 1875. Although he stayed for only three years, he was the first to urge the building of a new church. It fell to his successor, Rev. Albert Dodd Minor, to carry on the idea. In 1881 the demolition of the old white church began and the congregation held its services in St. Paul's Lutheran church (then called the Union Church) until the new brick church was ready in May 1881. Pastor Minor stayed at St. John's until 1888.

His successor was Rev. Philip Furbeck, who served four years, followed by Charles W. Kinney, who served seven years until 1899.

In the 20th century the pastors have been as follows:

In 1937 the new tower chimes were installed and dedicated. And in 1951 the new church hall was erected.

In this bicentennial year of 1976 St. John's Reformed Church is very much an active and going part of the community named after it and looks forward with hope and confidence.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church

St. Paul's Lutheran Church of St. Johnsville is no longer an ethnic congregation, but is composed of peoples of various national origins who hold to the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible as God's inspired word. St. Paul's is directly related to the Palatine Church which was founded by the Rev. Nicholas Sommer in 1749. The Palatine Church, which still stands on Route 5, was founded by Lutherans from the middle Rhine Valley of Germany. They had fled from religious persecution in Europe to start a new life in this, the new world. The Palatines, as they were called, settled in this area of the Mohawk Valley, and many started new farms and businesses in the St. Johnsville area.

The first English language services in the Lutheran Church were held in the Lutheran Church at Minden, now known as Fordsbush. During the first pastorate at Fordsbush the Rev. N. Van Alstine organized a Lutheran congregation in St. Johnsville on April 26, 1840, with 42 members. This new church met in a school house in West St. Johnsville. The use of a school house for religious purposes was then, and remained for long afterward, a common practice.

The present church building was built in 1849 as a Union church. Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Universalists shared the building. The building was erected by the St. Johnsville Union Society which was formed on January 13, 1849, and was dedicated on February 7, 1850. According to an indenture signed January 7, 1850 between Azel Hough and the trustees of the society, the lot upon which the building stands was deeded over to the Union Society for the sole purpose of a Church or a meeting house for public use, and if the building thereon was not used for that purpose, the lot would revert back to Azel Hough or his heirs. Any person who subscribed one dollar to erect the church building was considered to be a member of the society, and anyone who paid a dollar more to meet the expenses of the church was considered to be a member for one year. Stone for the foundation of the building came from a quarry on the Adam I. Klock farm. The site of the church cost $100.00.

The church was without a Lutheran minister from 1870 to 1895. At the Synodical meeting in 1896 the Rev. Dr. Byron F. Fake was commissioned to visit St. Johnsville and revive the congregation. The society was reorganized in 1896 and services were again held.

The church building on Main Street was occupied by the various denominations until 1901. Then on October 5, 1901, St. Paul's Lutheran Church was incorporated. Dr. Fake served three congregations: St. Johnsville, Minden, and Indian Castle. He suggested that St. Johnsville obtain its own pastor, and the Rev. W. F. Wittaker was installed as pastor in 1899. The congregations of St. Johnsville and Crum Creek were united as one charge in 1900. The Earnest Workers were formed at this time.

The Rev. Harsh of West Sand Lake became pastor of the combined charge in 1903 and during his pastorate new pews were installed in the St. Johnsville Church and the interior was modernized.

The Rev. Frank Jones served as pastor from 1904 to 1907. During his pastorate the parsonage at the corner of East Liberty and Mechanic Streets was purchased and additional repairs were made to the interior of the St. Johnsville church building. In 1904 the kitchen and fellowship room were added to St. Paul's building.

The Rev. C. G. Empie served as pastor from 1907 to 1913, and then Dr. Fake was recalled in 1913. The building was rededicated on November 29, 1914, when new memorial windows were presented to the church. A capacity audience attended the Lutheran Dedication Service and ceremonial consecration. The large circle window was presented by the auxiliary societies in honor of Dr. Fake. In 1914 also the inside stairway was added to the fellowship room.

The present parsonage at 5 Monroe Street and the present organ were acquired during the pastorate of Rev. Butterer. Robert Roland build the organ.

During the pastorate of the Rev. Herman Briele, the Luther League (now the Youth Fellowship), the junior choir, and the Lutheran Church Women were all organized, and the fellowship room above the parsonage garage and the church kitchen were built.

When Henry Johnson was the pastor, the sign board on the church lawn was installed, new hymnals and a mimeograph machine were purchased, and the parsonage was remodeled.

During the pastorate of Richard D. Clark, the front steps of the church have been rebuilt and new railings installed. New pews were purchased and the interior of the church was redecorated. The stained glass windows were repaired and restored.

In addition to the memorial funds, and endowment fund was started. The parsonage steps, walk and railings were redone, and the parsonage repainted.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church has always been mission-minded and has supported vigorously the domestic and foreign missions of the church.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church Pastors

St. Johnsville United Methodist Church

The settlers of the Mohawk Valley and the bordering hills were early visited by Methodist circuit riders. These ministers appeared on the Herkimer circuit, which included our area, as early as 1791. After some years this territory was a part of the East Canada Creek circuit, and finally, on July 2, 1853, of the St. Johnsville circuit.

Existent Herkimer records list services by the circuit rider at "Fort Plane" in 1794 and at Indian Castle in 1796. By 1801, the records show services at Little Falls, and by 1814 at Palatine Church.

The impetus for Methodism here grew from a settlement in southern Oppenheim and northern St. Johnsville, a settlement known by the preachers as Storms' Neighborhood. The Storms family was personally and vitally interested in establishing Methodism, and are known to have housed and fed as many as forty members on the occasion of a quarterly meeting.

As early as 1800 there were Methodists in the Crum Creek region. Their interest increased until they built a church building, which was dedicated on January 1, 1852. The first trustees were John Storms, Jr., Peter Zimmerman, Chauncey Hyde, Hyram Ingersoll, and Silas Goodale. This church was used until 1890, when it was sold to the Grange. It is still used as a Grange Hall.

The parsonage which housed the ministers of the St. Johnsville circuit was located on the east side of North Division Street, in St. Johnsville. The building was sold in 1879 and the proceeds given to the Board of Trustees of the St. Johnsville Methodist Episcopal Church to help defray the cost of the newly built church edifice which was to be dedicated later in the year.

The records of the Montgomery County Court show that on July 30, 1833, the male members of the religious society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Johnsville met in the school house and elected five trustees to "take charge of the estate and property belonging to said society." The trustees elected were David Lasher, John Failing, Jr., Henry Walrath, John Dysslin, and Joseph G. Klock. The certificate of incorporation on file lists the name as "Trustees of the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of St. Johnsville in the town of Oppenheim", since St. Johnsville did not become a township until 1838.

Since the first settlers in this locality were of German extraction, they had already firmly established themselves and their church at the time when Methodism was in its infancy. For this reason, the Methodists and other small religious groups (Lutherans and Universalists) banded together and formed the Union Church Corporation. Cooperatively they built the Union Church Building in 1849 (now St. Paul's Lutheran Church). On the first Board of Trustees for this Union Church Corporation, Leonard Winegar represented the Methodists. Other Methodist names appearing on the Union church records are Allen, Booth, Churchill, Crouse, Ellison, Fry, Fisher, Higbe, Klock, Mosier, Rogers, Van Slyke, Sheffield, and Dysslin.

During these years the Methodist Society was served by circuit preachers, assisted by local preachers and class leaders from among the lay members. The first appointed pastor of the St. Johnsville charge, Rev. Ralph L. Fraser, was employed for $385.00, but gratefully received on $332.00 as his salary. Two local preachers assisted him, Samuel Northup, a deacon and Jacob Snell. Other on the Official Board were the stewards: Leonard Winegar, recording steward, Joel Dempster, John Storms, Henry Yauney, John Mann, John McLauchlin, and Peter Zimmerman. Class leaders were George Sheffield, John Storms, John Vedder, William Kegg, Samuel Barker, William bolster, and Daniel Clemmons.

At the annual conference of 1879 the Rev. Francis Kingsley Pierce was sent to St. Johnsville with the special objective of building a new church. The society purchased as its site the Lewis Snell brick mansion with its spacious grounds in the heart of the village. With bricks obtained (at $4.50 per thousand) from the Esterbrooke brickyard just north of present Monroe Street, the church society was able to lay the cornerstone November 11, 1879 and complete the building for dedication on December 16, 1880.

When the church was first constructed, there were two rows of supporting posts in the sanctuary, and only a pit for the wood-burning furnace in the cellar. Among the most impressive changes and improvements through the years are the removal of the posts (whose duty was taken over by trusses) and the paneled ceiling, both of which were done by Frank Belding, a master builder and member of the church. Other changes include the excavation and construction of the vestry and kitchen, the installation of memorial windows, the building and installation of a new pipe organ in 1952 by Robert Rowland, the northerly addition for the Southerland Memorial Room, furnace space, stairs, back exit, and toilet facilities. A new hot water oil heated system was installed and the church renovated during the late sixties.

St.. Johnsville Methodist Pastors

Grace Congregational United Church of Christ

Six families, including the pastor-to-be and his wife, gathered together on February 7, 1875, and organized a church of the Christian denomination.

The pastor was the Rev. Charles Peake, and the church was the Christian Church of St. Johnsville

Rev. Peake began his ministry here in April 1874, holding services in the Union Church (now St. Paul's Lutheran) for over a year until the new building at the corner of Center and Monroe Streets was completed. The dedication took place on September 29, 1875.

The name "Grace" was added at the time of dedication to distinguish this Christian church from other Christian churches in the village.

Sunday Church School is an important arm of the church, and the present school continues its ministry in line with the group formed with the founding of the church a century ago.

The current Women's Fellowship traces its records to the original Ladies Aid Society established in 1882.

The Monroe Street parsonage has housed the church's clergymen since it was built by the church in 1895.

Other milestones in our progress through the years include the installation of the church's first pipe organ in 1902, the laying of a new hardwood floor in the auditorium in 1915, and improvements in the vestry and kitchen in 1927.

In recent years two major projects occupied the attention of the congregation. The old organ was replaced, except for the original pipes, and with a completely new instrument built by Mr. Robert Rowland, a native of St. Johnsville. Dedicated on May 5, 1974, this fine custom-built and hand crafted organ enriches the worship services and all programs held in the sanctuary.

While the organ building was in progress all stained glass windows were removed to a stained glass studio in Albany and restored to their original condition. When they were replaced Lexan storm protection was installed on the outside.

The sanctuary itself was redecorated throughout during this period.

The evolution of our church name is explained in the changes and mergers of religious denominations of which we are a part.

A merger of the Christian and the Congregational denominations was effected at Seattle, Washington, June 25, 1931. We then became "Grace Congregational Christian Church."

The present name, "Grace Congregational United Church of Christ," identifies our affiliation with the denomination formed in 1957 when the Congregational Christian church merged with two other previously merged groups, the Evangelical and Reformed church, to make up the United Church of Christ.

Ecumenical in spirit, Grace Church promotes religious liberty among its members while strengthening loyalty to Christ and to the church at large. Maintaining ministries for your and old alike, this community of faith stands ready, committed, and well equipped to carry out its Christian mandates of witness and service at home and around the world. It offers both opportunities for fellowship and challenges for sacrificial service.

We look forward with an open heart and mind expecting pleasant surprises from the God of eternity who lives and acts in time.

Pastors

 

St. Patrick's Church

In 1887 Bishop Francis McNierney, Bishop of Albany, felt that there was a need to establish a parish in the vicinity of St. Johnsville. As a result on July 11, 1887, he founded a parish there and dedicated it to the patronage of St. Patrick. Included in the parish was the settlement at Fort Plain and the people of Middle Sprite to the north.

For its first pastor, he appointed Rev. Mathew Kevin Merns, whom he had ordained tot he priesthood at St. Joseph's Seminary in Troy on May 19, 1883.

Plans were soon laid for erecting a church. It was built on part of what was a brick quarry. The central high school is now on part of the land that had been purchased for the church. From scant reports of early history, we learn that mass for a time was offered on the second floor of what is now the Central Hotel. Others recall that some of the services were held in the Lutheran Church, the oldest in the community.

The first parish house was located on the other side of the street, property once used by the Rhines family. Father Merns reported that the first wedding in the parish took place in the church on November 14, 1888. There were no confirmations during his tenure.

The first confirmations took place on October 25, 1893 with 78 confirmees. Names in the parish family in those early days reflected the Irish ethnic background: Nagle, Reddy, Dineen, Seghers, O'Keefe, Garrity, Fitzpatrick, O'Connor, Walrath, Hillegas and O'Bryan.

Father Merns reported that the first year's total of all contributions was $13.40. From the other two missions he received an additional $15.68. Of course, in those days, gifts of food were common to supplement the dearth of funds.

Soon Fort Plain became a parish of its own and the people of Middle Sprite went to churches closer to their area.

At the start of the 1900's a change was noted in the parish. Groups of Italian Catholics began moving into the village, and in the 1910 period, with the building of a second set of tracks by the New York Central and increased traffic on the Canal, the parish took on a new look. Later other ethnic groups became part of the parish as well: Polish, German, Slovak, Ukrainian and Lithuanian.

As the years passed the number of parishioners grew and it was decided that a drive would be made to enlarge the church. As a result in 1955 the church was enlarged and a parish hall was built. The hall was fully equipped to serve the parish as a social center and catechetic center. Reverend Walter T. Burns was the pastor during the years these additions were made. Father Burns served the parish from 1955-1961.

In 1961, Reverend Thomas Quinn became pastor at St. Patrick's. It was during his pastorate that the results of Vatican II began to be implemented. An altar facing the congregation was added. The mass was celebrated in English rather than Latin. Father Quinn served the parish from 1961-1970.

In 1969, Rev. William P. Furlan was appointed administrator of the parish because Father Quinn was in ill health. Then in 1970 Father Furlan became pastor of the parish until 1973. During his pastorate many physical changes took place. The sanctuary was completely redesigned, eliminating the main and side altars. The tabernacle was placed on the left side and the baptismal font on the right. Much of the parish house was modernized as well. Lectors were added who participated in the liturgy. Women were serving as lectors as well as the men.

Another innovation added to parish function was the establishment of a Parish Council, a group of about eighteen parishioners who met to discuss the parish needs and ways to accomplish them. The Council was composed of a cross section of the parish, youth as well as adult.

Rev. Almerico DiCerbo became pastor in 1973. During 1975 the parish house received new aluminum siding.

In this bicentennial year of 1976, St. Patrick's Parish goes forward, implementing many Vatican II recommendations with a particular emphasis on renewal and ecumenism.

Pastors of St. Patrick's

<Building currently used by Bethesda Fellowship. According to statistics, the greatest influx of immigrants to the United States was during the years 1905 to 1914, the period before World War I. Some of these newcomers landed in New York State and eventually in St. Johnsville, which in those years was a prosperous little village.

A group of Ukrainians came here in the years 1908-1910, mostly young men and women, only a small number of married couples. They found employment in the textile mills and the piano factory. They had difficulty in finding a place to live; the result was that some of the houses were overcrowded.

They missed their church because none of them understood the English or Latin of the existing churches (Eastern rite Catholics do not use Latin in their churches). A priest from Troy, New York, the Reverend R. Dwulid, came to St. Johnsville and helped to organize a church. During 1911-1912 services were held in the Opera House basement on Center Street. In 1914 the Opera House burned down. Before the fire, an undertaker by the name of Shafer, whose place of business was on Bridge Street, had lent the church a carpet, a table, some chairs, and other things, which were all destroyed in the fire. He wondered who was going to pay for those items. To this date, no one knows whether he received payment for his lost properties or not.

Unable to find another place to hold services,t he Ukrainians gave up their local church. In 1915 the Saint Michael Brotherhood Beneficial Society was organized. It met once a month, paid dues, discussed current matters, held dances for benefits, had a life insurance program. Membership gradually dwindled over the years until in 1937 a new organization was formed called the Ukrainian Progressive Club. This club was active with meetings, dinners, dances, picnics, and made many donations to worthy causes. World War II interfered with the club's activities, for many young people were in the Army. After the war, for lack of interest,the club ended its existence and everything the club owned reverted back to the St. Michael Brotherhood Society.

In 1948 President Truman and Congress passed a law to admit 205,000 war victims to the United States. Many of these refugees came to places where they had relatives or friends.

In 1949 a small group with a priest among them came to St. Johnsville. Being religious people, they missed their church. The main topic of conversation among them was the possibility of having their own place of worship. The priest, Father George Hnatyshak, approached the Rev. Michael Scully, priest of St. Patrick's Church and presented his credentials. Father Scully offered to let the Ukrainians use St. Patrick's for Sunday masses at 7:00 A.M. The offer was gratefully accepted and services were held regularly for some months.

In the meantime the Ukrainians continued to look for a place of their own. Michael Rapacz, a local businessman, told them they could use free of charge the Ukrainian Hall built on the former Englebardt estate at the foot of South Division Street, provided they took care of the building and arranged it so that it would look like a place of worship.

The offer was accepted with great enthusiasm, and with the help of former immigrants who donated time and money, the church became a reality. In the fall of 1949, the church was ready for use. The first high mass was celebrated just before the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so the church was named after her on December 9, 1949. In 1950, the church received its charter, and in 1975 noted its 25th anniversary with appropriate services. During its twenty-five years,the church has four times been visited by archbishops and bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Hierarchy. Trustees of the church in 1976 are Michael Rapacz, Volodymir Martyniuk, and Myron Martyniuk.

The future of the church is not very promising, for many reasons: the unfavorable economic condition of our town, the passing away of the the old parishioners, the acute shortage of clergy, and the loss of church members due to interfaith marriages.

Pastors

The church was closed in 1982 because of lack of members and it merged with St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church in Little Falls. (Information from Mathew Rapacz)

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