Thursday, October 7, 2010

Brief History of Bovina Churches

As I continue to get settled full time in Bovina, I wanted to be sure to keep entries up with this blog. In checking to see what I had already written, I found this article I wrote last year for the Bovina UP Church Community newsletter that was never posted to the blog. So here it is now.

The oldest institution in the Town of Bovina, the United Presbyterian Church, started life as the Associate Presbyterian Church of Delhi. The families of Isaac Atkin, Walter Doig, John Elliott and William McGibbon submitted a request to the Presbytery for a pastor on February 5, 1807. That fall the Reverend Alexander Bullions from Cambridge, NY was appointed to preach at what is now Delhi for two Sundays. The congregation was officially organized in 1809 but it did not have a regular pastor until 1814, when Robert Laing accepted the call. In 1815, the name of the congregation became the Associate Presbyterian Church of the Little Delaware and after the creation of the Town of Bovina in 1820, it became the Associate Presbyterian Church of Bovina.

The first regular church building for the congregation was built at what is now Reinertsen Hill road. The cemetery for the church still exists. The open area of the cemetery with no tombstones is the likely site of the church. In 1849, the congregation built a larger church in the hamlet of Bovina Center, then called Brushland. It was expanded in 1859 to hold between 600 and 700 people. That same year, it gained its final name change, when the Associate Presbyterians nationwide joined with another Presbyterian group to become the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

The Associate Presbyterians were not the only denomination in Bovina for very long. Another Presbyterian group and the Methodists were established not many years later. The Reformed Presbyterian, also known as the Covenanter Church, was created informally around 1814. Also known as the Cameronians, they held that Christians ought not to take any part in a government that was not conducted on religious principles. Because the United States Constitution had no mention of God, the Covenanters never voted or held elective office, though they were law-abiding citizens. In 1825, the congregation built a meeting house near the Butt End - the graveyard of the church still exists. The congregation built a new church in Bovina Center in the 1860s, where the playground and firehouse now exist.

The congregation was never as large as the United Presbyterian congregation. In 1865, the membership was at 40, with about 90 people regularly attending services. The numbers dropped as the new century dawned. The congregation was relatively inactive by the early 1920s, though services were still taking place on occasion and the church still had a membership roll. In September 1942, a meeting was held at Fred Henderson’s at which the congregation of 18 met and voted to sell the church property. The land and buildings were sold to J. Russell Boggs in October 1943. The church building was torn down that same month. Cecil Russell was the only one of the elders from the Reformed Presbyterian Church who officially joined the United Presbyterian Church, later becoming an elder of that church, too.

In the early days, Bovina’s two Presbyterian churches reflected some of the bitter divisions in the Church of Scotland. These bodies had separate organizations and maintained a rigidly distinct system of worship. In June 1837, the Associated Presbyterian Church session reported a “complaint was given in against Walter Doig, William Forrest, William Murray, and John Dunn for having gone to hear the Reformed Presbyterians.” In later years, these differences were put aside and the two congregations became more cooperative.

When Bovina’s two Presbyterian congregations had their differences, they also had differences with the Methodists. Methodism in Bovina was of long standing, though for many years, there was no organized congregation. They met in any available dwelling, schoolhouse or barn. The main name in Bovina Methodism in its early years was Alexander Brush, Bovina’s early settler. For years services were held in his house. He was blind, so his wife would read to him a passage of Scripture, from which he would then preach.

The Methodists finally built a church in 1849 on land given to them by Brush for that purpose. The building, located across from where the community hall is now, cost $1,397.50 to build. The trustees at the time of the building’s completion were James Seacord, Thomas W. Dennis, Sylvenus Bramley, Alphonso Lee and Edward McKenzie. The dedication took place August 22nd, 1849, though not without incident. The pastor of the Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church, Reverend John Graham, received a notice about the dedication and made his feelings known in no uncertain terms from his pulpit. He condemned the consecrating of churches as “heathenish and popish in its origin.” In his autobiography, he proudly noted that “some diseases need strong medicine at the beginning to prevent them spreading and injuring the whole system; and which, if used in time, prevents much trouble and perplexity afterward.”

The Andes and Bovina Methodist congregations comprised one charge until April 1871 when they were divided, each with its own pastor. In 1865, membership was at 50; by 1875 it was 63, with usual attendance of about 100. A parsonage, now the home of Chuck McIntosh, was purchased for $2,000 in 1871 and in 1877 the church was repaired and beautified on the inside, with a capacity to seat three hundred. As the new century dawned, however, the membership numbers for the Bovina Methodist church fell and in 1916, the church began sharing its pastor with the Andes congregation again. The last trustees of the church, John Blair, Charles Hafele and David C. Worden, sold the church building and parsonage in November 1921. William Archibald bought the church intending to tear it down and build a house, but it remained standing for almost five years. Jack Hilson remembered roller-skating in the church building and Celia Coulter recalls her sister Ruth having played basketball there. The church finally was torn down in April of 1926.

The last church created in Bovina was St. James, the Episcopal Church located at Lake Delaware by the Gerry estate. It started with Mabel Gerry holding a series of missionary meetings in the area in 1913. In the spring of 1914, a small house in "The Hook" was leased and prepared for use as a house of worship. In the early 1920s, Miss Angelica Gerry secured the services of the Boston church architect, Ralph Adams Cram, to design the present Saint James' Church. Work was begun in the spring of 1922, with the laying of the cornerstone on Saint James' Day, July 25th, 1922. On Christmas Day, 1923, the first service was held in the new Church building. It was consecrated the following year. The spire was added at the instigation of Miss Gerry. St. James is the only other active congregation in the Town of Bovina today.

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