By Bryan Thompson
Today little is known or remembered of the beautiful Gothic Congregational church of De Kalb Village. The church was known by many names including the "New" church, the "New Union" church, the "Moore's" church, the "Gothic" Church and "The Congregational Church" of De Kalb Village. The church was in existence for barely 25 years. The simple line drawing postcard, which is the only known surviving likeness of the building, still attracts attention today.
The church was built during 1878-79 by the Heuvelton construction firm of Alonzo Thorton and Edward Hulet. According to Thorton's diary, the plans for the church were drawn by Ed Hulet May1878. The Thorton /Hulet construction firm were involved in building many public buildings at the time. They built part of the Canton Town Hall, the Presbyterian Church in De Kalb Village, The Methodist Church in De Kalb Junction and were bidding on the Methodist Church in Richville and the Baptist Church in Gouverneur. Most importantly, they had just finished constructing the Presbyterian Church in Canton. A Gothic building, designed by the locally prominent Ogdensburg architect James P. Johnson. When comparing the drawing of the De Kalb Congregational Church with the Canton Presbyterian Church it is obvious that the De Kalb church design was largely copied from the Canton church they had just completed.
The postcard likeness of the building most likely dates from 1878 when funds were being raised for construction of the new union church. There was need for a new union church because the first union church was no longer available.
The first Union church of De Kalb Village was built in 1852. Its' construction costs were covered by Fredrick Depeyster and Susan Daubenny. The building was built on land that was supposed to be donated by William Averill, another proprietor. Mr. Averill never quite got around to issuing a deed and in 1866 he sold the church lot along with his remaining assets in the village to David C. Judson. Mr. Judson was represented in De Kalb by the local attorney E. P. Townsley. Mr. Townsley was a trustee of the local Presbyterian Church. When Mr. Townsley obtained title to the church in 1872 he donated it exclusively to the Presbyterians. This left the Methodists, Congregationalists and Universalists without a place to worship.
By 1878 the Presbyterians had raised sufficient funds to have the old Union Church remodeled adding an impressive, 50 foot steeple, and large bay window in the rear of the church. They hired Thorton and Hulett to do the work. By March 21, 1878 Thorton notes," Ed and I went to De Kalb to figure on the new church. By April 15th they had the contract to build the church for a total of $3500.
Things seem to have gone wrong almost from the start of the job. A few days later Thorton noted that Ed had failed to include the sheeting in the estimate for the new church at De Kalb and "It will be a close shave to get through even, and we may lose money." They began negotiating for an increase in the budget. It is never noted that they received one.
With two church jobs going on at once in De Kalb Village Thorton rented a house for his laborers and sent "Nett and Laurette" to act as housekeepers. On May ninth he notes, "We found the old Church about finished and the work started on the new Church." In numerous entries in the diary Thorton notes delivering hair for the mortar, raising the steeple on June 5th, purchasing clapboards from Proctor's in Ogdensburg, hiring two extra men for the crew and finally on June 21, "They have the Church all up and enclosed."
The hot weather of July seems to have soured the mood of the workers, a disturbance is mentioned over the board. July eighth Thorton notes," We discharged all of the men working there but two. They abused the girls about the cooking." By August a slater from Rochester was visiting Thorton to see about putting the roof on the new Church at De Kalb. A few days later he notes that he and Ed unloaded. 20 tons of slate for the De Kalb job.
Legend has it that the slate roof was the fatal flaw of the Church. Problems started almost immediately for Thorton on the roof. The Rochester slater started work on the roof on September 2, 1878, soon after plastering was begun on the inferior of the building. In November 1878, Thorton suddenly notes "I went to the 'Burg with the horse and buggy for felt for the De Kalb church. The slater from Ottawa is here to refinish. the roof job. I wish we were through with that job."
November 30, 1878 Thorton notes, "I went to De Kalb to see if I could get some money on the church job but came back without a cent. We have it all finished but the seats." December 28th they installed the pulpit and Dec. 30th the seats were placed in the church.
In January and February Thorton and Hulett tried unsuccessfully to collect money on the new De Kalb church account. Finally March 5, 1879 they met with the building committee. "They would not settle as they hold there is some work to do in the basement yet." March 14th Thorton filed a legal claim against the De Kalb Church for $901.65. By the 24th of March they must have been trying to sort things out because Ed was sent to De Kalb to see about the basement of the new Church.
In April relations had improved enough that Thorton notes attending a drama put on by the folks in De Kalb to benefit their new church. On May 6th Thorton notes attending a meeting until 2 AM in De Kalb where they agreed on a settlement for the Church. But on June 12, 1879 Thorton notes the De Kalb Church job one last time, "Went to see if I could finish getting pay for the church job but did not get any. Guess it will hang fire forever."
Alonzo Thorton was not the only person to regret involvement with the new Union Church at De Kalb. There was a lot of political wrangling going on within the groups involved with the new church. A Ladies Aid Society was organized by July 1878 and a Young Peoples Aid society was created that fall.
March 20, 1879 the Gouverneur Herald noted," Last Wednesday, Rev. R. C. Day organized the First Congregationalist Church in this village (De Kalb) with a membership of 15." The first services were finally held in the New Church on September 14, 1879 led by the Rev. Dr. Holbrook of Syracuse, a Congregationalist minister.
The Gouverneur Herald, September 29, 1879 stated" By a vote of the stockholders of the new church, the edifice is given to the Congregationalists. The Methodists and Universalists will occupy it a portion of the time. Professor Coan of Canton, Universalist, officiated morning and afternoon of yesterday."
The same paper notes that]. Gilson's honey was stolen by moonlight. "That was indeed a sweet honey-moon they had. "Jed" thinks they must have another church in De Kalb before all will be honest." Could this be a reference to the shady business with the new Union Church and who controlled it??
May 31, 1880 the Gouverneur Herald noted, "Another church is said to be on the taps, if they can find a level spot not already occupied by one." Several weeks later it is noted that, "The Methodists talk of building a church here; the lot is secured, a subscription is being circulated. "
The Methodists had obviously withdrawn from the Union and the Universalists soon followed suit.
Every good story isn't complete without a little romance so let us begin with the romance. Arguably the most prominent family in De Kalb Village at this time was the Moore family. Darius A. Moore started in the mercantile business in De Kalb by 1856. He soon entered politics, serving as Town Clerk 1858-1867, Town Supervisor 1867- 1876, In 1872-73 Moore served in the NYS Assembly. Starting in 1875 he represented St Lawrence County in the NYS Senate for many years.
Moore raised six children in De Kalb. His home is currently the James Brice residence. His second son, Ara James Moore, spent one year at a military academy and then returned to De Kalb to take over his father's store in October, 1878. At about the same time Ara successfully courted and married Minnie Day the daughter of the Congregationalist minister of Lisbon. Legend has it that she would not accept his hand until he promised that there would be a Congregationalist church built in De Kalb for her to worship in.
The Moore's are the only people mentioned by name in Alonzo Thorton's diary in connection with the new church at De Kalb. With D. A.'s experience in politics as well as his wealth they were able to hijack the new union church for the Congregationalists leaving the other denominations marginalized.
While the Methodists went on to have their own building the Universalists seem to have dwindled away over the next 25 years. Records in the Saint Lawrence University special collections show that the Universalists began meeting in De Kalb in the Spring of 1860 in School District number two on the Old Northern Road. Their ministers were Rev Eddy, Dr. Lee and Dr Weaver and others supplied by the St Lawrence University theological school. Some of those involved included the Brees, Acres, and Payne families. Newspaper accounts show they held grove meetings near Cooper's Falls into the 1890's.
At the September 30, 1879 meeting it was voted to incorporate as" The First Congregationalist Society of De Kalb. Moderators at the meeting were, Abner Brees and L. W. Wilson. Ara j. Moore was chosen clerk, a position he would hold for the entire life of the organization. The first trustees were: D. A. Moore, E. W. Stacy, Wm. Brees (Universalist resigned after one year), Wm. Hardy and Martin Perry. Others who served as trustees included: W. M. Stacy, George Streeter, Wm. Ferguson, Horace Petrie, Lucian Sprowls, and James W. Hayes. The board of trustees was supposed to meet once a year. They actually met in 1879, 1880, 1881,1883, 1888, 1893, and 1910. The only official business they ever conducted was incorporation, and dissolution and election of trustees. The one exception being April 1893 when they passed a resolution: "That all sheds shall be used for horses and vehicles only. "
The church was a popular place for public events. In 1881 they added a third furnace to the building. It was said to be the best-heated church in the township. Many groups held meetings in its basement. The I. O.G. T. had its lodge rooms there complete with organ. The George A. Rich post of the G. A.R. met there in the 1890's. The basement social rooms were described as follows in a 1894 newspaper account," The large pleasant rooms were well filled with guests, and all agree saying that it is the place for a good social." Temperance Rallies, Concerts, Public School programs and Decoration Day celebrations were all 4eld at the church. As many as 400 people were accommodated at some of the Decoration day celebrations.
As a functioning church the society was not quite as successful. They seem to have shared a minister with the South Hermon Congregational Church. There first minister was R. C. Day (father-in-law of A. J. Moore). Mr. Day's brother was a leader in the South Hermon Church this may be why the two congregations became associated. Mr. Day agreed to serve in De Kalb commencing in January 1880. By May 1880 it was reported, "Rev. R. C. Day is pastor of the Gothic Church and is very popular." By February 1881 he purchased a house. in the village. The church seemed to prosper under his leadership and even sponsored The Semi-annual meeting of the Black River St. Lawrence Association of Congregationalist Ministers and Churches in November 1880.
For what ever reason Reverend Day left by 1882 when it was announced in the neighborhood news, "The Congregationalists of this place have secured a pastor at last. The Reverend Wm. G. Wade of Dixmont, Maine for one year. Reverend Wade left De Kalb after one year for the De Peyster Congregational Church. It Was during Mr. Wade's tenure that the church finally received title to the land it was built on from D. A. Moore and John Burnham. At the same time they took out a mortgage for $350 with the American Congregational Union.
Reverend Day returned to the church in 1895. He served sporadically along with Rev. C. E. Green. In 1891 he organized joint Sunday school classes with the Methodists and church services were alternated that winter between the two churches. He seems to have served whenever the congregation could find no other minister. He was becoming quite elderly and was ready to retire. He returned to the Lisbon church in late1891.
In 1893 the congregation hired Rev. W. Y. Roberts to serve two years. Mr. Roberts was very active sponsoring revival services and many other activities to try to revitalize the church. By December 1894, Rev. Roberts had left D eKalb, Rev. Day had returned and services at the church were being conducted by a lay group know as the Christian Endeavor society. Many old members had died and others had moved away.
In 1896 Ara J. Moore sold the stock in his store and moved to Potsdam, where his parents and siblings were living. He ran unsuccessfully for the NYS Assembly. He returned to De Kalb after his unsuccessful attempt at politics. However by then the church had stopped holding regular services and eventually began to decay. In the winter of 1906-1907 part of the massive slate roof collapsed under a heavy snow load.
In October 1910 it had been more than ten years since services had been held in the ruined church. A.J. Moore, clerk, called together the two surviving trustees, James W. Hayes and H. M. Petrie who resolved to disband the church and sell its' assets to payoff the mortgage. March 4, 1911 the St Lawrence county Supreme Court agreed to the dissolution of the church.
A. J. Moore purchased the ruined church. On April 5, 1911 he and his son were fixing the shingle roof on one of the old church sheds to store the materials they intended to salvage from the building. Ara Moore fell from the shed roof receiving a concussion that led to his death the next day. Thus the church that the gallant groom promised his young bride eventually led to his own demise. The ruins of the church continued to stand after the accident until about1930.
Everts, L. H. History of St Lawrence County, New York. Philadelphia, PA 1878.
Moore, Ara J. Clerk. Records of First Congregational Society of De Kalb Village.
De Kalb Historical Association, 1879-1910.
Payne, D. c.. Letter to Rev. R. Eddy Universalist Files: Special Collections & Archives St Lawrence University, Canton, NY 1860.
Supreme Court. Notice of Dissolution of Religious SocietyCongregational Church File: Town of De Kalb Historical Association 1911.
Thorton, Alonzo. Alonzo Thorton Diary. St. Lawrence County Historical Association, Canton, N.Y. nd. Unknown.
De Kalb Scrapbook 1864-1912. Town of De Kalb Historical Association nd.