This is the third of a series of entries from the script used on April 21, 1955, when citizens of Bovina presented a pageant of the town's history - "Bovina Center, My Home Town." Though I'm not 100% sure, it appears the script was written by Vera Storie and her brother Fletcher Davidson. The items in brackets refer to the tableau of local citizens acting out parts of the story. [Sections I and II are in the May 21 blog entry, sections III and IV are in the June 21 blog entry.]
V. The Churches
The settlers of the town of Bovina, mostly from Scotland, were an extremely religious people; so as soon as they had provided themselves with homes and schools, they then became concerned with the affairs of the soul. In the days there was not a family in Bovina without a Bible; every family had family workshop in the home; and although there were not churches, they also surmounted this need by using, until 1815, barns, schools, taverns, and private dwellings as places of worship. The first sermon preached in Bovina was preached by Dr. Bullion in 1795 in the bar room of the Red House, a hotel kept by Thomas Landon at Landon’s Lake, today known as Lake Delaware. Dr. Bullion stood behind the bar, using the counter for his pulpit desk, and preached the word of God. Often amusing incidents occurred during the services in these crude places of worship, but even these did not dampen the religious fervor of these early settlers. Once when they were meeting in the barn of the former Frank Coulter farm, a hen flew off her nest with an unusually loud sort of cackling to the merriment of the children and the less sedate members. The minister stopped preaching and told someone to get her; whereupon a 240-pound Scotchman grabbed her and sat on her. Needless to say she gave but one squawk, and then worship continued as though noting had happened.
In 1809 the United Presbyterian Society, consisting of eleven members, was organized by Dr. Bullion at a meeting held at the J.G. Ormiston place, now occupied by Howard Conklin. Here Dr. Bullion baptized the first three children baptized in town. At first they had traveling preachers; then they called their first pastor, Rev. Laing, who received a salary of $250. a year to preach to a congregation of about 36 members. In 1815 the United Presbyterians started to build the first church in town on the south side of the old graveyard at the end of Reinertsen’s road. The building 36 feet by 30 feet was completed in 1824 except for some method of heating. For the nine years during the construction of the church Rev. Laing held services in this building with neither stove, pulpit, nor pews. He used a carpenter’s work-bench for a pulpit, and the congregation used blocks and benches for pews. In the winter when it was cold, the women brought food stoves with coals in them to keep the feet warm. Here the gospel was preached, and the psalms were sung with as much sincerity as though the church had been a towering cathedral [*7-Church and song “Old Hundred.”] In 1823 Rev. Laing died and was buried in the old churchyard cemetery a few feet from where he had preached. Rev. Graham, who preached for 21 years in Bovina, succeeded Rev. Laing; and a manse was built for him on the Robert F. Thomson farm on Coulter Brook [where Jeff and Jill Craver now live], which was the old Associate Presbyterian Farm. In about 1803 a fulling mill was also built on this farm by Rev. Richie to help to defray his expenses. The present church in Bovina Center was built in 1849, and 10 years later it was enlarged by adding galleries. Since then it has been remodeled several times. The parsonage during Dr. Lee’s pastorate was the present MacKenzie home [now the home of Amy Burns]; and then in 1906 the present parsonage was purchased.
Even though these early settlers were stern and serious people, there was also a fun-loving spirit to be found in them. One Sunday in the early days a Mr. Smith went to church; and falling asleep, he leaned against the door at the end of his pew. The main sitting behind him, wanting to see some fun, reached around and turn the button, allowing the door to open and Mr. Smith to fall in the aisle. Feeling chagrined, Mr. Smith pretended he had fainted and allowed himself to be carried from the building. What he said when once outside I am told, was not very becoming to the Sabbath day. Dr. James Lee, who was the next pastor for the 23 years from 1856 to 1879 [Lee actually was pastor for 32 years, until 1888], did much to building up the church and increased the membership from 162 to 339. In later years he returned to Bovina to spend his last days in this community in which he had spent so many of his working years. During his pastorate in Bovina he served as a Civil War chaplain. In later years two other Bovina pastors, Rev. McClellan and Rev. McMaster, left Bovina to serve as chaplains in the Armed Forces. Two pastors who followed Dr. Lee and are still well remembered and loved by many were Rev. Samson and Rev. Speer, both of whom spent several years preaching in Bovina. During Rev. Speer’s stay the Presbyterian Church celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The Covenanters or Reformed Presbyterian Society was informally organized in 1814, and in 1825 they erected a stone church, 34 feet by 24 feet, with a gallery by the old cemetery near the Butt End Schoolhouse. Later in 1861 they built a new church in Bovina Center next to the Milton Hastings home [now the home of Tim and Donna Bray]. Two of their early ministers who many remember and revere were Rev. Robb and Rev. Slater. In 1943 as their membership decreased, their church was dismantled; and the members joined in worship with other denominations.
Although the Methodist Church, which stood where Emily Archibald’s home now stands, was not dedicated till 1849, the Methodists were the pioneers of the preaching in town. Many years before thee was a church, there was a Methodist Society, which worshiped in schoolhouses, barns and private dwellings. Before they built their church, they were disliked by the Presbyterians. On one occasion the schoolhouse in Brushland was locked so that they could not hold services there. The Maynard School was also locked against them. One woman turned them out of her barn because she had heard the Methodists were great smokers, and she was afraid they would burn it up. After Alexander Brush’s death in 1840, the Methodist started building a church on the site given them by Mr. Brush; and in 1849 it was dedicated. The incident caused no little stir among those who thought Methodism was a fearful disease and should be dealt with as such. Andes and Bovina comprised one charge until 1871 when Bovina was set off by itself. In 1925 after their membership had dwindled to only a few members, they decided to disband and take down their church. It is a rather interesting fact that both the Methodist and Reformed Churches, when torn down, were taken to Howard Conklin’s farm to be built up again as barns.
The settlers, children and all, in the early days always attended services on Sunday, carrying their lunches with them so that they could attend both of the long services, the one in the forenoon and the one in the afternoon. Rain or shine, they would walk, each Sunday, to church. Their thrift is well illustrated by the fact that the children would patter along in bare feet until within a short distance of the church, their shoes slung over their shoulders in order to keep them clean and to save the shoe leather. Then they would discreetly stop and put on their shoes. Shoes were expensive and hard to obtain in those days [*8-Family on way to church.], a fact that made the settlers appreciate them. In later years, in the horse and buggy days, on a Sunday morning one would see from all directions on every highway the wagons or sleights of the settlers making their ways over the narrow, rough, winding dirt roads, sometimes deep with mud, sometimes deep with snow, carrying mother, father, children, and all to church. Such as the love of God in the hearts of these our pious, God-fearing ancestors.