by Bryan Thompson
On the last Sabbath day of August 1817 (the 30th) a devout group of 10 Presbyterians met for the first time in the Town of De Kalb to "organize into a church and the Lord's supper was for the first time administered." This first communion service was administered by the Rev. James Johnson of the Massachusetts Missionary Society (The Massachusetts Missionary Society was an organization set up to establish churches on the frontier run jointly by the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists.) Rev. Mr. Johnson was preaching in Russell at the time and was convinced by Seth Pomeroy to visit the town.
Seth Pomeroy had only recently arrived in the village as agent for the Cooper family's interests here. His family were ardent Presbyterians and had been involved in organizing the Cooperstown Presbyterian church. Seth Pomeroy's devotion to the church may have been his own undoing. The Cooper family dismissed him soon after claiming he was "to much for the Yankees and not enough for their interests." Mr. Pomeroy remained a faithful member of the church. He held offices of one kind or another continuously from its inception to 1845.
Although the Presbyterians were not the first religious group to meet in the town they were the first to legally incorporate.
This is not surprising given the Scotch- Irish ancestry of many of the early settlers and their reputation for somber, meticulous attention to details. At a meeting held, as duly published, on December 7, 1818 the First Presbyterian Church and Society of the Town of De Kalb was incorporated. This meeting, held at the East School House, was chaired by Isaac Burnham esquire and Captain James Farr. Seth Pomeroy, Joshua, Dewey, Isaac Burnham esquire, Elisha Griffin, Isaac Stacy Jr. and Jonathan Haskins were elected trustees. Elisha Griffin declined to serve and was replaced at a special meeting held December 24, 1818 by Gideon Townsley.
This act of incorporation was concurrent with the departure of the first minister the Reverend Mr. Johnson. He was soon replaced by the Reverend Thomas Kennan who was to preach on every other Sabbath.
Money seems to have been a constant problem for the fledgling church. In March 1825, the trustees voted to use the groups entire share of the gospel and school lots fund to repay D. Turner who had paid for "Rev. Keenan's preaching for the first three years he was with us". At this time the group had no set meeting place of their own. They usually met at the East or Dewey schoolhouse but in winter they also met at members homes. On one occasion, January 4, 1822, they met at the Cooper Hotel in De Kalb village.
On February the 26th, 1821 the Trustees voted to set down a list of all adult male members of the congregation. They were as follows: Thomas Tanner, James Burnett, John W. Cleghorn, Wm. Cleghorn, Seth Pomeroy, Norman Stacy, Peletiah Stacy, Isaac Stacy jnr., Isaac Tanner, Thomas B. Benedict, Henery Stacy, Gideon Townsley, Isaac Stacy esquire, William Cleghorn, Silas Preston, Chaney Rice, Joshua Dewey, John Williams, Philemon Stewart, Chester Dewey, Joseph Tanner, N.D. Booker, Rensselaer Williams.
Various accounts disagree about when the Presbyterians actually built their own stone church at East De Kalb. It was probably about 1841. On June 14th of this year James Farr jr. sold the association two acres of land adjacent to the school house at East De Kalb for $20. It is interesting to note the groups own records (held by SLCHA) make no mention of building this church nor do they make any reference to the building at all until January 2, 1844 at a meeting held at the Methodist Meeting House at Dewey's Corners when they adjourned their meeting to be reconvened on the first Tuesday in January 1844 at the Presbyterian Meeting House.
All subsequent meetings were held at the Presbyterian church at East De Kalb. In May 1846 the Presbyterian society in conjunction with the Methodists were deeded a lot of land at East De Kalb to maintain as a cemetery. Among the various preachers who ministered to this first association were: Rev. Thomas Keenan 1817-9, Rev. Constant Southwarth 1823, Rev. Lemuel Hall 1826, Rev. Mr. Taylor 1830, Rev. Loving Brewster 1831 (shared with the Richvllle Congregational Church), Rev Asa Brainard 1834, Rev. Mr. Manley 1835, Rev. James Taylor 1836, Rev Fredrick E. Cannon 1837, Rev Hiram S. Johnson 1840, Rev. Justin B. Taylor (ordained at De Kalb Aug. 4, 1840) 1843-1847 Rev. Asa Brainard 1850-1851.
The society continued to meet regularly through 1847. The records at this point lapse in the first meeting book until a meeting held on March 5, 1857 when a full slate of 5 new trustees were elected. The society met for a final time on June 7, 1865 at the "Stone Church" at East De Kalb. This is the last recorded use of the church at East De Kalb. By the time Everett's History of St. Lawrence County was written (1878) the building was described as long abandoned. In 1886 Miles Farr purchased the old stone church and used the stone to build the foundation for his new barn. (See photo below)
During this period of gradual decline (attributed by Curtis to "the death of the more prominent members and others moved west") the Presbyterians and Methodists jointly built a Union church in De Kalb village. This church which is now known as the old Grange Hall was erected in 1853 at a cost of $1500 on the lands of E. P. Townsley. The church was officially dedicated September 7, 1854 by the Methodist minister Rev. Wentworth. For a time they also shared the church with the local Freewill Baptist congregation. After a time there was dissension between the two groups and the union dissolved about 1866. This marks the end of the First Presbyterian Church and Society in the Town of De Kalb.
Photo: Old De Kalb Grange Hall circa 1957
formerly the De Kalb Village Presbyterian Church.
On March 24, 1869 a meeting was held at the Presbyterian Meeting House in the Village of De Kalb to form a religious corporation, The Presbyterian Church of the Town of De Kalb. The meeting was presided over by John Gilroy and Benjamin Anderson. At this meeting Elias Page Townsley, Marvin Holt and Gideon L. Townsley were elected Trustees.
On May 31, 1870 E. P. Townsley deeded the old Union Church/ Presbyterian Meeting House to the newly formed corporation. At this point thechurch was extensively enlarged and remodeled in the style of the Gothic Revival with an impressive steeple. This work was completed in 1879 by Mr. Thorton. In1872 the church was purported to have a seating capacity of 300 persons.
Among the ministers to serve this congregation were: Rev Stephen Johnson 1854, Rev. James R. Hale 1856, Rev. Gorham Cross1861, 1867, 1873, 1875, Rev. H. S. Redfield 1866, Rev. Robert T. Conant 1871, Rev. E. Wood 1874, Rev. W. A. Beacher1878, Rev. James Rodger 1881, Rev. James Hillman 1883, Rev. Wm Best 1888, Rev Herrin 1889, and Rev. George F. Walker (in conjunction with De Kalb Junction) 1890-1917.
The Presbyterian Church at De Kalb never had a very large congregation (33 members 1872) and seemed to have always struggled financially. In 1879 they borrowed $500 for building repairs from the Erection Committee of the Presbyterian Church of the USA. In 1921 they still owed the full amount.
The last regular services were held by Rev. Walker at the De Kalb Church in 1918. By 1921 the last Trustees: Andrew J. Hitchcock, Horace M. Petrie, Frank Wells and LeRoy S. Hastings applied to the NYS Supreme Court to have the corporation declared extinct. An auction was held on February 1st 1922 and the building was sold for $350 to the Pure Milk Dairymen's League Cooperative Association of De Kalb. Within six months the building passed to the De Kalb Grange who held it for many years.
The Presbyterian Society of De Kalb Junction was incorporated February 24, 1879 at a meeting held at the school house in De Kalb Junction. The meeting was presided over by James Butler and Henry Leach. The following were elected first trustees: James Taylor, Miles Farr, Nathan Rundell, Henry Leach, Frank Green, and James Hayes.
Francis and Mary Green donated a lot of land (at the curve on Green St.) for the erection of a church edifice June 23, 1879. Construction of the high Victorian Neo-Gothic style church was completed in 1880 at a cost of $2000.
Joseph Mott donated an adjoining house and lot between the church and AJ Penney's (now Naomi Rice's) lot in May 1891. Economic times appear to have been hard for this group as well, they sold this presumed parsonage in 1899. The church instead kept a room for their minister at the Hurley House Hotel.
Two ministers who served this church were: Rev. George F. Walker and Rev. Allen Bowering. Rev. Bowering held the last regular services at the church about 1931. In October 1938 the surviving church trustees and members sued for dissolution of the corporation. These people were: George F. Green, E.E. Risley, J.H. Purdey, T.L. Lobdell, Gertrude Puffer, W.G. Puffer, Teresa Van Delinder, Harriet Farr, Grace Walrath, Ira D. Walrath, Maud Kentfield, Luther Wainwright, Hattie Elsie, R. Everett Piercy, Mrs. R.E. Piercy, Mrs. J.H. Piercy, Laura Green, Jessie Baxter.
Within a short time the church was sold and torn down. Materials were used to construct another church in Ogdensburg. Thus ended the 121 year history of the Presbyterian Church in the Town of De Kalb.
Handbill advertisement for the Auction of the De Kalb Village Presbyterian Church, 1922.
Click to enlarge the handbill.
Child, Hamilton (1873) Gazetteer and BusinessDirectory of St Lawrence County. NY for 1873-74 Syracuse, The Journal Office.
County Clerk (nd.) County Court Records' Box 1259 St Lawrence County Clerks Office.
County Clerk (nd.) Deed Books Liber 38A p469 44B p 653 , 88 A p 25 6 110B p 72, 135B p 815 111A p537 153B p 900 199C p1576 313 p 270, 398 p 80, 127C p 1286, 135C p 1442 St. Lawrence County Clerks Office.
County Clerk (nd.) Religious Incorporations RD 1 p 11 RD2 p 358 RD2 p 269 St. Lawrence CountyClerks Office.
County Clerk (nd.) Supreme Court Order Book 45 p 543 Book 46 p 21 St. Lawrence County Clerks Office.
Curtis, Gates ed. (1894) Our County and It 's People A Memorial Record of St. Lawrence county. From The earliest Period To The Present Syracuse: D. Mason & Co..
Everts, L.H. (1878) A History of St. Lawrence County New York Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co..
Hough. Franklin (1853) A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York.
SLCHA(18l8-1885) The Meeting Book of the First Presbyterian church and Society in the Town of De Kalb 1818-1865 Bound Volumes #2 De Kalb SLCHA.
Taylor, Alan (1996) William Cooper’s Town New York, Alfred A. Knopf.