Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hamden or Delancey - Where did the old Bovina Church go?

Historians can be wrong. They try very hard to have all of their facts in a row, but sometimes mistakes happen. It's very possible that the recent history I wrote for the Bovina U.P. Church has an error. The error revolves around what happened to the old Associate Presbyterian Church of Bovina building when the congregation moved into its new structure in 1849. My history states that it was moved to Hamden and that the building still exists behind the Hamden Presbyterian Church, used as its community center. But it is more likely that it was moved to Delancey to become the Delancey United Presbyterian Church. That building burned down in 1896, to be replaced by the current structure.

At the time I was working on the history, I had some confusion and debate about whether the Bovina building went to Hamden or Delancey. Part of this confusion is the confusion people sometimes have about these two locations, which are both hamlets in the Town of Hamden. I ultimately assumed the building went to the hamlet of Hamden for several reasons:

-The community center for the Hamden Presbyterian Church does appear to fit the footprint of the old Bovina church.

-The autobiography of Bovina Pastor Reverend John Graham, who was instrumental in establishing the Associate Presbyterian congregation in the Town of Hamden, specifically said the building for that congregation was NEAR Delancey, not in it. If it was the Delancey church, why didn't he say Delancey?

-The congregation Graham established was called the Associate Presbyterian Church of Hamden - so I assumed that meant the hamlet, not the whole township.

Well, I should have done a bit more digging. I think part of me simply wanted to be able to say that something of the original Bovina church still existed - so I may have ignored information that I shouldn't have. A phone conversation with local historian Dorothy Kubik has forced me to review my sources. She is pursuing this mystery after seeing references in the local newspapers about the Bovina church moving to Hamden. She is pretty convinced that it was Delancey, not Hamden, and had several facts to back up her case. So checking some of those and other sources I had, here's what I found:

-A history of the Delancey U.P. Church by Louise Little, available on the Delaware County Genealogy website (, states that the congregation's original building burned in 1896. That would explain why the current structure does not at all resemble the description of the old Bovina church. This history also mentions the role of Reverend Graham in establishing the congregation - another important clue.

-Munsell's 1880 history of Delaware County says that the Delancey United Presbyterian Church was created in 1849 as the Associate Presbyterian Church of Lansingville (the former name for Delancey). This church was created by combining the Associate Presbyterian congregations of Hamden and Delhi, both of which had just been created a few months before with the help of Reverend Graham. It was the Hamden Associate congregation he established that he said used the timbers of the old Bovina church.

-Munsell's history goes on to explain that the Hamden Presbyterian church was created in 1855. This would be two years after Graham had resigned as pastor in Bovina due to ill health, and about three years after the Bovina church timbers were said to have been moved over the snow to build a new church. The fact that the Hamden Church was never known as the Associate or United Presbyterian Church but simply as the Hamden Presbyterian Church is another telling fact in favor of Delancey.

-The 1886 Manual for the Bovina UP Church, which includes a history of the congregation, has in a footnote that the old church's frame was moved to Delancey to serve as the Delancey U.P. Church.

-Checking maps confirmed that the Delancey U.P. Church's location fits more closely with Graham's description that places it on the east side of the river. The Hamden church, by contrast, is on the west side.

Dorothy and I are going to try and find old newspapers from 1896 to see if the report of the fire that destroyed the Delancey church provides any further information as to whether or not the old Bovina church timbers were used in its construction. Unfortunately, the one source we don't have are original records from the 1840s and 50s from Hamden, Delancey or Bovina that specifically state when and to where the old Bovina church timbers went. This certainly has added to the on-going confusion.

This cannot excuse the fact, however, that I very likely got the wrong end of the stick on this one. There was plenty of evidence in existence to indicate it was Delancey and not Hamden that got the old Bovina church timbers. I hate to admit I was wrong, but I want the history I present to be accurate. Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Forget the Murder Most Foul and Unnatural

I've been rather quiet on this blog since wrapping up the celebration of the Bovina UP Church Bicentennial, taking a breather. One activity since the celebration has been to review the database of all the members of the church - I've already added about 60 names that were missing.

But now I'm gearing up for my talk at the Bovina Public Library this Saturday (October 24) at 10 am on what appears to be Bovina's first (and from everything I know right now, only) murder. I continue to review the testimony recorded during the coroner's inquest into the death of John McDonald and continue to find it rather confusing. The handwriting is a challenge and I cannot figure out the sequence of the testimony from neighbors and family members - there are no page numbers and the sheets were not attached in any discernable order.

Nonetheless, I have enough information to fashion together a story of a family whose squabbles led to accusations of parricide. So come and find out about this murder most foul and unnatural.

PS - When I searched Google images under the phrase 'murder most foul and unnatural' to find an appropriate image for a handout for the presentation, one of the pictures that came up was of me! It came up from my previous blog entry about this presentation. Oh dear....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Doing My Quasimodo Act

Got your interest? I'm just back from a visit to the attic and base of the belfry of the Bovina U.P. Church, thanks to the help of church trustee Mark Schneider. The attic was a bit of a challenge to walk around, but I was able to walk along the floor beams while holding on to the roof rafters. Mark had brought up a couple of portable lights to make that chore easier. I think I now have figured out where the 1859 addition to the church was made (towards the back).

We then climbed into the bottom of the belfry. Unfortunately, the bell tower itself is only accessible from the outside, but seeing the base was still interesting. We found a bit of graffiti, but not enough to figure out what it said. I'm hoping playing with the pictures on the computer will bring things out. We noted that there have been several repairs over the years to the belfry - we found plywood in some spots. We also saw what the original roof looked like.

Back in the attic Mark found this 24 x 36 wooden box that turned out to have four panels of stained glass. I wanted to try to remove one or two of the panels in the attic but Mark was concerned about attempting that in a space without a real floor. He managed to get the whole thing down the ladder so we could have a closer look in a space with a full floor and better lighting. It appears to be two sets of glass, two panels each. One set was intact but the other had one broken piece. We didn't attempt to take the other half of that panel out of the box. I have some contacts who can give us a better idea of how best to care for these. It is likely that these panels once graced the choir loft, where plain glass now resides. I suspect the main reason for the change was that simply they needed more light in the loft.

The one casualty of my visit was my camera. I had just got into the attic and heard something fall. The camera fell about 20 feet. Mark retrieved it and amazingly, I was still able to take photographs - as long as I held the battery cover tight. I was disappointed about damaging the camera but if it had totally failed I would have been really bummed out being in that attic without the ability to take pictures.

A big thank you to Mark for arranging this little adventure - and for single handedly getting that glass down from the attic. It was all greatly appreciated. And thanks to my neighbor Luke Dougherty for supplying the ladder.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial - Sunday

It's after 3 pm and I'm at Russell's catching up on the blog. Today was the 10 am Bicentennial service at the Bovina U.P. Church. There still is some debate on the crowd, but likely at least 200 came for the service.

I started thinking about the centennial celebration in 1909 and though I didn't have the program handy, I was pretty sure that the role of women then was minimal. A check later of the old program showed that for the actual service, all the main parts were by men, though there were women in the choir and the pastor's wife, Mrs. H. B. Speer did a solo.

Today's service saw as the main celebrants Lay Pastor Judi Gage, former pastor Rev. Karen Green, former elder Enid Carter, and the Rev. Cheryl Ann Elfond, who is the Interim Executive Presbyter of the Susquehanna Valley Synod. The soloists were all women too. But the service did not lack men - former Bovina pastors Grunstra and Hammer participated.

I'll be thinking about posting some pictures on my Flickr and Facebook pages to summarize the event, but everyone was highly pleased with how well the weekend went. It was fun catching up with folks. And I got a couple of great leads for pictures and some more information about the first Bovina pastor, Robert Laing, from a relation of his. Some interesting stuff I'll share on the blog at some point. But I'm ready to go home and take a nap!

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial Saturday wrap-up

A final entry from yesterday – the history program commemorating the Bovina U.P. Church’s Bicentennial was held last night. We had a respectable crowd. The competition of a major wedding and the fact that it was cold last night didn’t make the crowd overwhelming, but it was decent. Two more former pastors of the Bovina Church showed up for this event. Maynard Grunstra and his wife Betty came and I was pleased how quickly I recognized him after not seeing him in 40 years. But before I could say hello to him, I got a big hello from somebody else and when I said ‘And you are?’ it turned out to be Grunstra’s successor as pastor, Bob Hammer. Given that I knew him probably the best of all our pastors and that he was easily recognizable, I was ever so slightly embarrassed.

I got very kind reviews for my presentation “The Reluctant Reverend Graham and other Stories of Bovina Pastors.” One feature of the presentation not planned was learning how to soldier on as one young attendee rather loudly expressed his displeasure at something – probably me, but who knows? Ministers are very familiar with doing that. Bob Hammer said I did fine dealing with it, but it did throw me a bit. As I’ve mentioned before, I will be putting at least parts of the talk on my blog. One part of my presentation was about Mason W. Pressly, and I’ve already blogged about him.

My cousin Colleen Burns Heavey then presented a very lovely 17 minute slide show, with music and pictures about the Bovina church over the years. That was all followed in the great tradition of the church, a dessert reception with a variety of homemade goodies. Then home to bed after a long day reminiscing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial so far...

I'm actually writing this in the 'upper rooms' of the Bovina U.P. Church, where everything right now is quiet. The events of this morning and afternoon went off well, in spite of the continuing cloudiness for the outdoor events (of course, it's sunny now). The bell ringing went off mostly as planned, but we were minus one bell. We were chagrined to discover the bell of the old fire house didn't function. We did get Carver Farrell to ring the bell from the old school and after a few rings, that was my cue to start ringing the town's largest bell, the one in the church. I took a video of my ringing and I really had to put my whole body into it, but I managed just under a minute and a half and it sounded respectable. Note: While Carver was ringing the school bell, the rope broke, so Bovina is down to one functioning bell!

A brief ceremony was held to unveil the historic marker that was just put up yesterday (see my previous blog posting). Pastor Judi Gage and 80 year member Agnes Burns did the unveiling. We had good press coverage (there was an article in today's Oneonta Daily Star: We had photographers from the Catskill Mountain News and the Delaware County Times. Attending this ceremony were past pastors John Kloepfer and Karen Green.

The ceremony was followed at noon by a service, history talk and picnic at the site of the original church, about a half mile from the current building. So of course, it was about the coldest and windiest part of the day. None-the-less, 40 hardy souls, including Agnes Burns, came for the brief service, a brief talk by yours truly, and some reminiscences by Rev. Kloepfer. I'll provide some information about the original site in a day or so. We visited some of the old graves, including that of Bovina's first pastor, Rev. Robert Laing.

I spent the afternoon in the church parlors with a computer and scanner to scan any pictures people might care to bring. My cousin Helen Tyrell brought pictures from Bovina's 175th Brithday celebrations. We also had a number of people look at the list I created of all 2100+ members. I am discovering that the list is not completely accurate, so it's been a chance to start a project I hope to carry out this winter of creating a definitive list.

Ok, I need to head to my house to freshen up and get ready for my biggest part of this - the history program tonight at 7 pm.

Bicentennial Weekend is Here!

I may be posting a series of these throughout the day. Or I may not. Depends on what I'm doing and the status of my internet connection. I'm in Russells but will be going to the church shortly to set up a computer and scanner. Things start with the ringing of all three bells in the hamlet - I'm ringing the church bell. Yesterday, clerk of the Session and I put up the historical marker which will be officially unveiled just after the bell ringing. Here's a sneak peak at the sign. Putting it up was a piece of cake...because I only had to stick it on over the post. I imagine setting the post was a bit more involved.

Well, off to the church to get rolling on things.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bovina United Presbyterian Church Bicentennial

Next weekend (October 10 and 11) will be the celebration of the bicentennial of the oldest institution in the Town of Bovina, the United Presbyterian Church. Founded in October 1809, with Alexander Bullions from Washington County preaching the first sermon, it was five years before the congregation had a regular minister, Robert Laing. It was another year before it got a permanent home at what is now the intersection of County Route 6 and Reinertsen Hill Road. Though the first church built by the congregation proved to be too small, sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter, they used it for 34 years before moving into a larger structure located in the hamlet of Bovina Center itself. Expanded 10 years later in 1859, it was renovated in 1889 to basically its current appearance.

In the 200 years of the congregation, there have been 21 pastors, 108 elders and over 2100 members. Bovina's ministers have had varied backgrounds. The first two were Scottish born. A number of them came from the mid-west, including Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Missouri. One minister was born in the Phillipines, another in Belfast. Ohio born James B. Lee was Bovina's third and longest tenured pastor, serving in the post for 32 years, from 1856-1888.

For next weekend's celebrations, we're heard that four of Bovina's former pastors are expected attend at least some of the events - Maynard Grunstra (1962-67), Bob Hammer (1968-75), John Kloepfer (1976-84) and Bovina's first female pastor, Reverend Karen Patricia Green (1985-1993).

A number of long-time members will be honored at the Sunday bicentennial service. The two longest served are Agnes Burns and Celia Coulter, who both joined the church on October 13, 1929, 80 years ago. Helen Blair Thomson has the distinction of having the longest membership ever in Bovina's church. Dying at the age of 107 in 1997, she had been a member for 0ver 93 years.

Next Saturday, I'll be doing a brief talk at the site of the original church, where a picnic lunch will be held. That evening, I'll be doing my main presentation - "The Reluctant Reverend Graham and other stories of Bovina pastors." I'll be posting these on my blog after their 'premiere.' During the luncheon after the service on Sunday, I'll give a brief history of the church. It's going to be a busy but fun weekend reveling in Bovina's past. Hope to see some of you there.