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130 Years of Methodism in De Kalb
Watertown Daily Times, 1942

Depicted By Rev. Roger F. Williams At Recent Old Home Sunday Services
Reprinted from The Watertown Daily Times Friday, August 21, 1942


De Kalb Junction-The historical sketch of the Methodist Society development, from the formation of the first Methodist Class in 1812, in the day of Circuit Riders, or traveling missionaries, down through 130 years, as so interestingly presented in the “Old Home Sunday” Service, of the Methodist Church, by Rev. Roger T. Williams, pastor of the Alexandria Bay Methodist Church, follows.

Rev. Mr. Williams interspersed his address with comments of conditions, people, and other facts not confined to the church history. He called attention to the original founding of the Town of De Kalb by about 30 families from Cooperstown, under the leadership of William Cooper, (father of J. Fennimore Cooper) who made their first stop at what is now Cooper’s Falls in 1803. Methodism in the Town of De Kalb, for 130 year:

The first Methodist Episcopal Class within the bounds of the De Kalb circuit was organized) n the winter of 1811-1812 by Rev. Isaac Puffer, who was serving as the first pastor of the St. Lawrence Circuit which was an appointment read off for the first time at the session of the Genesee conference in 1811. This class consisted of John Smith and his wife Emily Hotchkiss Smith; Matthew Grover and wife; Harvey Adams and wife, who were both strong Presbyterians, but by the indefatigable labors of that master workman, were converted to God, and Methodism.

The class did not increase in membership until 1816 when Seth and Elias Alexander were powerfully wrought upon by the Holy Spirit, converted to God and joined this class which met in the neighborhood of East De Kalb.

Soon after the Presbyterian Society of De Kalb was formed in 1817, a revival sent from God broke forth. Of the 70 converted to Presbyterianism at this time, between 40 and 50 were converted to Methodism in 1827 when a powerful work was wrought. Since that time there has been many seasons of refreshing when precious souls have been saved.

After the class so increased in membership, (their house of worship, which was the schoolhouse at Dewey’s Corner, now East De Kalb) the members began to think about a house of worship of their own.

When De Kalb became a separate circuit in 1838, Rev. Reuben Reynolds was sent to East De Kalb as the pastor. He perceived that the need of the Society was a church. The new pastor called a special meeting to make plans for the building of a church edifice and to plan for the incorporation under the laws of the State of New York.

This meeting for taking into consideration the expediency of building a meetinghouse to be used by the Methodist Episcopal Society at Dewey’s corners was called sometime in December 1838 at the Dewey School house in De Kalb. Seth Alexander was chosen Moderator of the meeting and Dwight Spencer was clerk. After due deliberation the following resolutions were made:
“Resolved to build a house the ensuing summer to be located near the above mentioned place and to be of the following dimensions, 36’ x 48’ with a gallery and class room.”

“Resolved that a subscription paper be circulated for the purpose of raising funds to build the said house. ”


At the same time Seth Alexander, John Smith, Dwight Spencer, Obadiah K. Rundell, Rev. Reuben Reynolds were appointed the building committee. William Cooper was engaged to build the house of worship for $1,330 on land given by Obadiah K. Rundell or Seth Alexander. (Ed. note Actually given by James and Eliza Farr.)


The meeting for the incorporation of the Methodist Episcopal Society, to be known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church in the Town of De Kalb, was held February 25, 1839 in the Schoolhouse. According to law. Rev. Reuben Reynolds and Dwight Spencer were chosen to preside at the meeting when the following Trustees were elected. First Class Dwight Spencer, Obadiah K. Rundell, Second Class, Elijah Pooler, Thomas Spafford. Third Class, Seth Alexander, Orin C. Spencer, John D. Smith.


The following male members and friends of the Society constituted the voters at the meeting of Incorporation: Seth Alexander, Phineas Barker, Francis Mattison, John Smith, George Pooler, James S. Carloss, Orin C. Spencer. William C. Spencer, Albert Holt, EJijah Pooler, John McCray, Richard Tyner, Obadiah K. Rundell, Dwight Spencer, Emory Alexander.

In this new edifice at East De Kalb, the first service held was on the occasion of the funeral of Olive Spencer Alexander, wife of Seth Alexander who died September 17, 1839. This service was held before the church was finished, so boards were laid on the dirt bottom to make a respectable floor.


The parsonage on the circuit stood between the John Smith residence and the James M. Smith hotel. It was a sad calamity when it was destroyed by fire, Tuesday, July 9, 1872. Mrs. Fulford put her bread in the oven and built a very hot fire and went calling. When she returned their parsonage home was in ashes. Scarcely a thing was rescued. The loss to the Fulfords was between $1,200 and $1,400. He wrote at the time “my earthly all” which consisted of his household effects and $700 in U. S. Bonds. After the parsonage was burned the matter of providing a residence for the pastor was left to Caroline Alexander the home of the preacher was generally a part of her house.


The main point on the De Kalb circuit was East De Kalb where the class was led by Seth Alexander from 1827 to his death in 1874 when William Ackley became the class leader and served until the services in the East De Kalb church were discontinued. Herbert W. Howard was the last pastor to hold regular services there and the last service in the old church was the funeral of Martha Spaulding Burnett who died Sept. 18, 1893. She was a Presbyterian, but a worshiper of God. After the church of her choice was disbanded and as long as health permitted she harnessed and drove her own horse to meeting. Always on hand as one of the faithful few, whether in the rains of summer, or the snows of winter. The Burnett’s were the main constituency of the choir, at a later date Florence Putnam Spencer was the organist. Here the Sunday School was ably superintended by Phineas Barker. His wife, Mary Ann Pooler Barker was the teacher of the infant class. The next class was taught by Caroline Alexander. Until the breaking up of the worship at East De Kalb, Ervin W. Hellegas and Joseph Rasey served as Superintendents.


Other points on the circuit which had classes that were in a flourishing condition at time were De Kalb Village, Coopers Falls, Risley Neighborhood; Kents Corners in the late fifties and early sixties. Richville at various times and for the last time, April 1870 to April 1877, when the class became a separate society. At Richville, Charles Colton and George W. Best were class leaders during these eight years. Maple Ridge was added in 1870, Nicholas Bover, the leader. This went with Richville. It was received from Gouverneur and transferred back May 1874 and was supplied by Wm. Hunt of Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary. During the pastorate of Rev. O. F. Nichols, Mason Schoolhouse neighborhood was gloriously revived end a class of 18 was formed with Seth Holden as leader. Many of these never came into the church in full connection. If they did they became a part of Richville or De Kalb Village classes. Also the De Kalb Junction class for several years was a small part of the circuit. At the session of Black River Conference in 1852 there was a shortage of preachers and from that time until conference of 1857 De Kalb Circuit was supplied by the pastors of Hermon or Gouverneur. This is the only time since the circuit was separated that it was subordinate to another quarterly conference.


The De Kalb Junction class on the De Kalb Junction circuit was founded about 1865. This class met in the waiting room of the railroad station and in the Red Schoolhouse. Andrew J. Merithew led the class until 1875. From 1875 until 1882 Solomon Lamson was leader. Andrew Merithew again became class leader and served from 1882 until 1885 when Solomon Lamson again became leader and served until his death Nov. 1890. From that time there was more than one class In the De Kalb Junction church. Ellis F. Lewis, Noyes L. Fredenburg, Joseph Rasey and David White were leaders.


The society grew, and it was seen that it would be necessary to have, a Church edifice. Obadiah K. Rundell gave the land on which this edifice was to stand. This land stood vacant enclosed with a rail fence, until the Society could collect funds to carry forward the project. At a meeting held Oct. 24, 1870 of which T. M. Wells was Secretary, a board of Trustees consisting of James Tyner, David Page, Reuben Gardner, Thomas M. Wells, Edward McClellan was elected. This Society was incorporated as the Second Methodist Episcopal Society of De Kalb, witnessed and sealed under the laws of the State of New York Feb. 1, 1871 by Thomas M. Wells, Secretary and Edward McClellan. December 19, 1878 it was written “The prospect is now fair for a church at De Kalb Junction on the De Kalb charge. From $1,100 to $1,400 has been obtained and a building lot secured. The brethren expect to commence operation at the beginning of spring and with the blessing of God, hope to rear a Methodist Church edifice in this place. ”


During this year 1879 the church edifice was built. The stone for it was taken from the Hellegas Quarry. The East De Kalb Class furnished about $200 in money and all the stone and timbers, which were gotten out by the members and the Pastor, Rev. Asa L. Smith, who went into it with heart and soul doing everything in the name of God to honor and glorify Him. The completion of the edifice was due in a large measure to the untiring labors of the Pastor. He went into the forest, and. quarrying and with his own hands helped to put the building together.


Nov. 20, 1879 Asa L. Smith wrote “The new Methodist Episcopal Church will be dedicated to the service of Almighty God on Tuesday at 10:30 o’clock a. m. Nov. 25, 1879, Providence permitting”. The church was dedicated and the principal address was given by Rev. A. J. Cowles. Afterwards Chancellor of Syracuse University, Rev. A. L. Smith spent his three years on the charge, so he left before the edifice was paid for. When Rev. John A. Cosgrove came in April 1880 there was a debt of $1,070 against the Society. On April 13, 1881 the debt was reduced to $150 and on October 25, 1881 the church property was free from encumbrance and on that day the last note was burned In the presence of the Board of Trustees. Also the same year $102 was raised for repairs. Much credit was due J. A. Cosgrove in guiding the affairs of the circuit to free the church from debt. During this same pastorate in his first year 15 joined the church after nine weeks of revival effort put forth by the Pastor.


On June 11, 1882 at a society meeting $204.50 was raised on the apportionment for De Kalb circuit towards the Gardner Baker Professorship in Syracuse University. The winter of 1882-3 was so severe that it was Impossible for the Pastor to conduct special services and meet all appointments. At the coming of J. A. Cosgrove Jerusalem Corners’ Class became a part of the De Kalb Circuit and De Kalb Village Class was transferred to Richville. From Its organization De Kalb Village Class was always a part of the De Kalb circuit except from April 1880 to April 1, 1883, when it was a part of the Richville charge.


From what can be found in the records James Gilson was class leader until about 1870 when John E. Whipple became Class leader until he withdrew in 1879 under censure. He was followed by Seth Holden who led the class until his death. Since then class meeting has been very irregular. At one time Joseph Newman was leader.


Rev. Asa 1. Smith reported as follows concerning the De Kalb Village Society at the 4th Quarterly Conference April 2, 1880, “I have secured a lot of land for a church at De Kalb Village: have secured the stone for a foundation and have them on the ground: have hewed out 1,100 feet of timber for the church frame and got it ready to put on the ground: have raised on subscription for building the church nearly $600 with a promise of $200 more on condition that I build the church or see that it is built. I have organized a Board of trustees and a building committee has been appointed:” A. 1. Smith was truly a servant of God who could accomplish things In His name. He had to leave before the edifice was built but never the less it was done and dedicated in the fall of 1880.


The Jerusalem Corners Class was always an appointment on the Canton station from the time of the organization of the class. In 1880 it became a part of the De Kalb Circuit: Its members worshiped in the schoolhouse until they were small in number and the day of schoolhouse appointments was practically over. From about 1862 to 1872 Luther Shumway was class leader. James Beard was class leader until June 5, 1882 when James Randall succeeded him and after his death, Thomas J. Robinson was class leader. Mrs. Louisa (Rice) Powell was Sunday School Superintendent.


After the circuit came to be composed of three appointments, De Kalb Junction, De Kalb Village and Jerusalem Corners, which was in a few years to merge into the De Kalb Junction Class, a joint meeting of the Trustees of the charge was held at East De Kalb May 8, 1883. Andrew Merithew was chosen chairman of the meeting and Ervin W. Hellegas, Secretary. The main question to be decided was the building of a parsonage. There was considerable discussion and loud talk, which amounted to nothing, it was decided by a small vote to build a parsonage at De Kalb Junction. The committee chosen to solicit subscriptions was Andrew J. Merithew, Stanley F. Danforth, John B. Spencer, and Charles Barker. The building committee consisted of Andrew J. Merithew, Rev. Stanley Danforth, Charles Barber, and Wallace C. Spencer.


George E. Gibbons took the contract to build the parsonage, which then completed was valued at $1,100. The largest gift towards the building was probably $50 from George E. and Carrie Gibbons. (Mrs. Gibbons still resides in the village). The parsonage was built in the summer of 1883 and was first occupied by the pastor, Rev. S. F, Danforth and his family, Sept. 8, 1883. It was not freed from debt until a few years later.


After Rev. Stanley F. Danforth served the’ circuit came Rev. Chamberlayne Phelps who was always praising God, no matter where he was. The greatest achievement during his pastorate was the conversion of many precious souls during the four weeks special services, which closed Friday evening April 1, 1887. The Rev. John D. Belknap, of the Wyoming Conference, who rendered very efficient service, assisted the pastor in his efforts. Out of these services came 79 who were received on probation, 55 who were baptized. Of these a large proportion were heads of families and several were well advanced in years. There were 115 at the altar probably 100, conversions. Of these 13 joined the Presbyterian Church. April 5, 1888 it was written “Rev. Chamberlayne Phelps is closing a prosperous three years pastorate. Important repairs and improvements have been made in the church property adding to its convenience. One of the sweetest toned bells in the conference has been placed in the belfry. Ten horse sheds have been built. The pastor is now engaged getting subscriptions to square up an unprovided debt of nearly $400 on the parsonage, making in all (650 on repairs and debts in 3 years. If he succeeds in this, (and of course he will) he will leave the society free from debt. About 30 members have been added to the church in full connection, and as many more on probation. The church is united and prosperous. The last quarterly conference passed unanimously a resolution of their appreciation of Rev. Chamberlayne Phelps’ services.


Rev. Mr. Williams noted that the Ladies’ Aid Society had worked shoulder to shoulder with the men and had added many dollars to all funds through their Ice cream socials, regular suppers, their annual New England Dinners and Holiday Bazaars, and these social, friendly gatherings undoubtedly contributed greatly to the sustained interest in the church and drew many into the circle of its influence, so that they too became members of it.


The record of Pastors on the De Kalb Charge since Rev. Adma G. Markham first preached in De Kalb Jet. Follows: Black River conference-Ogdensburg District:

1866-Adma G. Markham:
1867 Othniel Holmes:
1868-69 Soranus C. Corbin:
1870-7172, Daniel Fulford
Northern New York Conference
Ogdensburg District:
1873 George S. Hastings:
1874 Orlando F. Nichols:
Watertown District:
1875-76 Orlando F. Nichols,
1877-78-79 Asa I. Smith,
1880-81-82 John A. Cosgrove,
1883-84 Stanley F. Danforth,
1885-86-87 Chamberlayne Phelps,
1888-89-90 Herbert W. Howard,
1891-92-93 James P. Dunham,
1894-98 Raymond H. Ferguson,
1899-190001 Wilson F. Ball,
1902-3 Reuben Sherman
St. Lawrence District
1904 Reuben Sherman and Chester B. Austin supply,
1905-‘06-‘07 Robert McLaren,
1908-09-10 George A. Wilkenson,
1911-12 Alexander Scott,
1913-14 William H. Summers,
1915 to 1920 Silas C. Carley,
1921 to 25 Elmer O. Webster,
1926-27 Frederick M. Harvey,
1928 to 1934 George Dando,
35-36 Carlton M. Frasier,
1937 to 40 Frank J. Brown,
1941-42 Lewis McConnell.

Of these ministers who served this charge, those now living are Robert McLaren, Retired member of New York Conference, Ashland, Green Co. N. Y., Rev. E. O. Webster. Trenton, N. Y., Rev. George Dando Ogdensburg, N. Y., Rev. Carlton M. Frasier, Fort Covington. N. Y., Rev. Frank J. Brown, Norfolk, N. Y.

The following are those who served the First Methodist Episcopal Society of De Kalb as Trustees. Their term of service is given when known. Where there is a blank, they either served until death or the property was disposed of.

Dwight Spencer, February-1839 February 1849.
Obadiah K. Rundell, February-1839 February 1849.
Orrin C. Spencer, February- 1839 February 1855.
Thomas Spafford. February-1839 February 1844.
Seth Alexander, February-1839 February 1863.
Elijah Pooler, February 1839 February
John D. Smith, February 1839 February 1860.
William C. Spencer, February 1842 February 1860.
William C. Spencer, February 1863 February 1885.
Phineas Barker, February 1844 February 1870.
Loren Green, February 1849 February 1885.
Albert Holt, February 1849 February 1855.
Andrew Westcott, February 1855 February 1861.
John B. Spencer, February 1860 February 1863.
John B. Spencer, February 1869 February
Edwin B. Brooks, February l860 February 1869.
Clarke Frasier, February 1863February 1866.
Henry H. Downing, Februaryl861February 1885.
Collins Spencer, February 1865February 1868.
Erwin W. Hellegas, February l866February
Christopher C. Spencer, Februaryl 868- February
Calvin L. Haven, February 1870 Feburary 1886.
James Patterson, February 1885 February 1894.
Joseph A. Rasey, February 1885 February
Newman J. Alexander, February 1886-February-
Georgia Ackley, February 1886 February 1894.
John A. Green, February 1888- February 1894.
Herman L. Patterson, February 1894-February
Florence M. Spencer, February 1894-February
Edwin C. Green, February 1885 February 1888.
William C. Spencer served the longest on this Board of Trustees, being a member for 40 years.

The Board of Trustees of the Second Methodist Episcopal Society with years of service:
James Tyner, October 1870 to 1871-1872 to 1899.
David Page, October 1870 to 1899.
Reuben Gardner, October 1870 to 1872.
Thomas M, Wells, October 1870 to 1873.
Edward McClellan, October 1870 to 1873.
James Bennett, October 1871 to 1874.
Jonathan Bennett, October 1873 to October 1876.
Andrew J. Merithew, October 1873 to November 1895.
Solomon Lamson, October 1874 to October 1882.
James B. Chancy, October 1876 to October 1880.
Ansel J. Penney, October 1880 to December 1881
Howard Risley, December 1881 to November 1895.
Truman B. Skeels, October 1882 to November 1895.
Isaac Locklin, December 1889 to October 1899.
Noyes L. Fredenburg, December 1889 to December 1907.
Clinton C. Risley, November 1895 to October 1899.
John D. Smith, November 1895 to October 1899.
Truman Stacy, December 1907 to January 1920.
Truman Stacy, November 1895 to October 1899.
David White, October 1899 to January 1909.
George A. Bishop, October 1899 to December 1907.
Robert C. Hayes, December 1907 to January 1920.
Leslie C. Rice, January 1909 to January 1918.
Hermon L. Patterson, January 1918 January
Alfred R. William, January 1920 to December 1923.
Albert Hosmer, January 1920 to December 1923.

Rev. Mrs. Williams also told how the members of the early Methodist Class contributed to the first Methodist Church built In the county at Brick Chapel, five miles South of Canton In 1819. Seth and Elias Alexander and John Smith, each gave $10.00 in cash. Eseck Whipple gave $5.00 in cash, Harry Smith gave $10.00 in cattle. Harry Smith gave 3 bushels of wheat.

He also mentioned that the first missionaries In De Kalb District were Universalists and Presbyterians and the first Church incorporated in De Kalb at East De Kalb in 1817 was Presbyterian.

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