A History of the Old Richville Baptist Church
By Georgiana Wranesh
From the Tribune Press, November, 1965
Beside the cemetery and half way down the hill, as one enters Richville from the South on Old US Route 11, stands the Richville Baptist Church, a reminder of the character and spirit of the people of the village over a century ago. This large, white frame Greek revival building with its wide steps leading up to the two plain front doors was built solidly on a high stone foundation. Among its outstanding features are the beautiful stained glass windows, which were added around 1910. Although the pointed steeple and the carriage sheds at the rear have been removed, the church today looks much like the old photographs published with this article.
Much of the following material was obtained from a little booklet on the first seventy-six years of the history of the church. Helena White wrote it in 1910.
The story begins on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1834 when the Baptist Church of Gouverneur voted letters of recommendation and dismissal to sixteen members at their own request, for the purpose of organizing a Baptist church at Richville.
The original sixteen members were: Cynthia Rich, wife of Salmon Rich, founder of the village, Nathan Barker, Sally Barker, Hannah H, Phelps, Ephraim Johnson, Deacon Russell Johnson, Phoebe Eddy Johnson, Eli Cole, Simon Mellen, Mary Mellen, Stella Hedden, Nancy Smith, Lucy Borland, Mary Ann Godard, Mary Walker, and Hannah Turner.
The Baptist Church circa 1900
A council was called on June 4, composed of delegates from neighboring churches, and these sixteen people were constituted into a church body under the name of the Richville Baptist Church.
Johnson was elected the first church clerk with Nathan Barker as the first deacon.
At Parishville in September, the church was formally welcomed into the St. Lawrence Baptist Association. The first church letter read at the time contains this statement: ” Union prevails: a desire to act her part in the sacramental host in this day of conflict with the powers of evil. ”
The first religious services were held in the home of Salmon Rich and in the stone schoolhouse (Lime Kiln Rd.) with preaching only occasionally. The first pastor, Rev. Allen Gurnsey, wasn’t called until two years later in 1836.
The church standing today was built in 1856. and is the second one built. The first church building was small’ being only 42 by 36 feet’ and it stood on the present site. S. C. VanDuzee of Gouverneur was the contractor. The first church as dedicated in the fall of 1837 and was used for 18 years. In 1855 it was torn down and replaced by the current structure. In 1876 about $2500 was spent on improvements.
In the same year, the Sunday school was organized with Captain Samuel Phelps as first superintendent. The Women’s Circle was organized in 1878 under the direction of Miss Matilda Barker and Mrs. Levett. Every year the Circle contributed towards the pastor’s salary besides paying for improvements on the church property. One of the gifts of the mission was an organ.
In 1889 the young people organized an Endeavor Society. Another interesting fact is that the largest church membership was around 100, but by 1910 it had declined to 50. In the first 76 years of the Richville Baptist Church, 21 pastors were called and in that time 507 members had been united with the church, 202 men and 305 women.
Then in 1927, the Baptist church was without a pastor. This was due to the sudden death of Rev. Mr. Gates. At the same time, the Congregational minister had resigned and the Methodist group had a new pastor, the Rev Mr. Frank J. Bennetts was the first pastor of the United Church serving from1927 to 1935. Services were held in the winter month in the Congregational church and in the summer at the Baptist Church until the last few years (early 1960’s?). Now all the services are held at the former Congregational church.
So ends the history of the Baptist church as a separate church in Richville.