THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF HUDSON

 

HUDSON,

  COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK

By Captain Franklin Ellis136

1878

     The commencement of the existing records of this church is in the year 1790.  There is no doubt that a Presbyterian organization existed in Hudson some time before this, but we find nothing showing its numbers, the date of its formation, or the place where its members met for divine worship.

     On the 23d of February, in the year above named, a meeting was held for consultation in reference to the building of a Presbyterian house of worship in Hudson.  This meeting is supposed to have convened in the then unfinished city hall, upon the site of the present church.  The moderator and the secretary of this meeting were respectively Captain Thomas Frothingham and Elisha Jenkins.  A committee was appointed to make a draft of a building suitable for a place of worship, and to procure subscriptions to a fund for it erection.  Three days later, at an adjourned meeting, this committee reported a plan with details, and an estimated of cost, which was 865, equal to $2162.50.  The subscriptions had been generous.  Among those who gave the largest sums were Marshall Jenkins, 100; Nathaniel Green, 40; Russell Kellogg, 20; Samuel Nichols, 17, John Hathaway, 16; Elisha Jenkins, 12; and these were followed by others who gave smaller sums, or who, in the lack of silver or gold, freely gave such as they had,--timber, bricks, team-work, or personal labor.  Looking back to that day across the intervening years, it seems as if each emulated his neighbor, and that all were glad of the opportunity to contribute toward the building of a house to be dedicated to the God of their fathers.

     At the adjourned meeting above mentioned, Marshall Jenkins, Captain Thomas Frothingham, Nathaniel Greene, Russell Kellogg, and Samuel Nichols were made trustees to receive the deed of the lot which had been donated by the generous and public-spirited proprietors, on Second street between Partition and Allen, and they were also constituted a building committee to erect thereupon the church edifice.  Under them, Cornelius Tobey was appointed as an expert to make contracts with the different workmen and artificers.

     The church, a plain but solid and commodious brick building, large enough to seat five hundred worshippers, was commenced at once, but was not completed until the autumn of 1792; the congregation, in the mean time, continuing to meet in the city building.  In this church--the first erected in the city of Hudson--the first sale of pews realized the sum of 1635, almost double the amount of the committee's estimate of the total cost of the church.  In speaking of this old church, the Rev. George C. Yeisley, in his discourse delivered July 16, 1876, said, "It was surmounted by a steeple of no inconsiderable height.  Those who had the vigor to climb to where its open windows invited the summer breezes, were rewarded by a magnificent view of river and mountain.  No edifices cut off the view from its porches to the Hudson, and the hills sloping from its commanding site to the waters of the river were covered with the brightest verdure.  The bell that hung in its belfry was for a long time the only bell that called the inhabitants of the city to their morning labors, and announced the coming of the welcome hour of rest.*. . . .The weather-vane that surmounts the tower, and the broad stone that has been made the threshold of our present church edifice, are the only remains of the structure in which for nearly half a century the fathers of this congregation worshiped God. . . .Yet while the old church on Second street has thus passed away from sight, with so many of the good and worthy that refreshed their souls within its courts, its plain walls and plainer interior its green blinds and high-backed pews, its elevated pulpit, with the huge sounding-board hanging over it, threatening to extinguish the preacher beneath,--all these still hold a place, I am sure, among the cherished memories of many.  There may they remain, even after the hour that summons them to worship Him who is a spirit, in a city and temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

     Until the spring of 1793 the church was served by irregular supplies, but at that time Marshall Jenkins and Ambrose Spencer, on behalf of the congregation, entered into a correspondence with Rev. John Rogers, D. D., of the Wall Street church, in New York, with a view to secure a pastor for the church in Hudson.  This resulted in a call being extended to the Rev. Mr. Thompson, a young Scotch clergyman, then preaching in Wilmington, Del., and who in November of that year was installed as the first pastor of this church, with a promised salary of one hundred and seventy-five pounds a year.  On account of ill health, however, he was compelled to resign in 1794, when he was succeeded by Rev. Bildad Barney, who continued as the acceptable pastor of the church until his death, in September, 1796.  From this time the pulpit was variously supplied until April 15, 1797, when Rev. Ezra Sampson, a resident of Hudson, accepted an invitation to preach for one year, at the end of which time he resigned.  During an interval of more than four years succeeding his resignation preaching was supplied by several different clergymen, among whom was Rev. Chauncey Lee, who preached her for more than a year.  In 1802, Dec. 5, Rev. Reuben Sears was engaged for the term of six months, at the end of which time he was unanimously elected pastor, and settled with a salary of five hundred dollars per annum.  His successor was the Rev. John Chester (afterwards D. D.), who was ordained at Hudson on the 21st of November, 1810, and on the same day installed pastor of this church, in which relation he continued for about five years, and was dismissed Oct. 15, 1815, at his own request, to accept a call to a church in Albany.  The pulpit remained vacant until Jan. 8, 1816, when Rev. Benjamin F. Stanton was installed pastor.  Mr. Stanton's pastorate constituted a marked period in the early history of this church.  His sermons were regarded the most eloquent that were delivered from the pulpit of the old church, and produced most powerful effects on the large audiences that crowded the edifice to hear them.  During his pastorate David Auchenvole, David Mellen, and James Van Deusen were ordained ruling elders, and William O. King deacon.

     On the 20th day of April, 1824, Mr. Stanton asked the presbytery of Columbia for a dissolution of his pastoral relations on account of his continued ill health.  His request was reluctantly acquiesced in by the commissioners appointed by the church, Rufus Reed, John Raynor, and David Auchenvole.

     On the 7th of September following the Rev. William Chester, brother of Rev. John Chester, was installed pastor, and served the church acceptably for eight years.  During his pastorate John Raynor, James Van Deusen, William O. King, Warren Rockwell, Rufus Reed, and Campbell Bushnell were duly elected elders, and Barnabus Waterman and Frederick J. Barnard deacons.  They were all ordained by the pastor, Nov. 27, 1825.  Mr. Chester resigned on account of continued ill health in 1832.

     On the 22d of November, 1832, the congregation appointed Warren Rockwell and Edward C. Thurston a committee to offer the then vacant pulpit to the Rev. Jared B. Waterbury, D.D., who had recently resigned a charge in Portsmouth, N. H.  After preaching here most acceptably for several Sabbaths, he was duly installed pastor of the church February 20, 1833, and continued in the position with unrivaled success for nearly fourteen years, during the first part of which pastorate their present house of worship on Warren street was erected.  The congregation had become the largest in the city, and one of the most prominent in the valley of the Hudson.  The old church on Second street had become too small, and the erection of a new edifice had been for some time in contemplation.  In 1835 three lots (the old court-house site) at the corner of Warren and Fourth streets were purchased at $4000, and the present imposing stone church was erected upon them.  It was dedicated May 24, 1837, in the presence of an immense auditory, the services being conducted by the pastor, the Rev. John N. Lewis, of Brooklyn, and other clergymen.  The cost of the church was $21,500; the building committee in charge of the work being composed of Elisha Jenkins, Rufus Reed, Samuel Anable, Alexander C. Mitchell, Jeremiah Bame, and Campbell Bushnell.  The old church building was offered at public sale, bought in by the trustees, and by them sold to Rev. William Chester, a former pastor.

     During Dr. Waterbury's pastorate Barnabus Waterman, Lawrence L. Van Dyke, Nathan Chamberlin, Israel Platt, Cary Murdock, Charles Paul, John Gaul, Jr., and Josiah W. Fairfield were elected elders, and Jesse Williams, Peter Van Deusen, David Dalzell, William E. Parkman, and Philip K. Burger deacons.  This pastorate closed in 1846, and was succeeded by that of Rev. Henry Darling, now the pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian church of Albany, who was ordained to the ministry Dec. 30, 1846, and on the same day was installed pastor of this church, in which relation he continued until April 4, 1853, during which period Nathan chamberlain, Peter Van Deusen, and Farnum White were elected elders, and William E. Parkman, Aaron B. Scott, and Sidney Seymour deacons.

     The successor of Dr. Darling was Rev. William S. Leavitt, whose pastorate extended from the date of his installation, Nov. 22, 1853, to the spring of 1867, when he resigned to accept a charge in Northampton, Mass.

   The next pastor, Re. David R. Frazer, was installed Feb. 5, 1868, and dismissed May 23, 1872, to accept a call to the First Presbyterian church of Buffalo.  He was succeeded by Rev. Milton Waldo, D. D., installed Dec. 12, 1872, and dismissed at his request, April 27, 1875.  During the last-mentioned pastorates Abraham S. Peet, Aaron B. Scott, Sidney Seymour, Franklin H. Webb, Samuel R. Rainey, and Richard Graves, Jr., were elected elders, and Samuel Edwards and Samuel R. Rainey deacons.  The present pastor, Rev. George C Yeisley, was installed Dec. 30, 1875.

     In 1876, the house of worship was enlarged and improved at a cost exceeding $25,000.  The membership of the church as now reported on its roll is four hundred and twenty-five.  The present officers of the church are Pastor, George C. Yeisley; Elders, John Gaul, Jr., J. W. Fairfield, S. Seymour, A. B. Scott, A. S. Peets, Samuel R. Rainey, R. Graves, Jr.; Trustees, Lucius Moore, George B. Fairfield, Jason Johnson, J. H. Townsend, H. B. Miller.

     The Sabbath-school was organized in 1825.  The number of scholars now attending is over three hundred and fifty.  Superintendents, Samuel R. Rainey, A. S. Peets, and Miss Kate B. Gaul.

 

*This bell was at that time a matter of no little pride to the citizens of Hudson.  It was the first bell in the city, and might be termed the official bell, being run by authority.  On the 23d of March, 1795, it was resolved by the council--"that James Frazer be and he is hereby appointed bellman of the city, and that he be paid for that service 16 per year by the Chamberlain.  And that the bell be rung at sunrise in the morning, at 12 o'clock at noon, and at 9 o'clock in the evening, and to continue ringing not less than five minutes at any one time on working days; and on Sundays at 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning, 1 and 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and 9 o'clock at night."  Nathan Folger and Peter Hall were successors of Frazer as bell-ringers.

     The city clock was also placed in the tower of this church.  In 1801 (August 8) the council resolved "that Mr. Pratt and Reuben Folger be a committee to procure a suitable clock, with three dials, to be placed in the steeple of the Presbyterian meeting-house, and that they be authorized to procure a sum not exceeding $200 on loan for that purpose, to be applied with the sum already subscribed and now in the Bank for that purpose."  That committee reported, Oct. 9, 1802, that they had placed the clock in the steeple, agreeably to directions.  The cost of clock and dials was $465.28.