Cherry Valley, Otsego, NY
Post-Revolutionary Churches, Part III
Rev. Jesse Townsend preached in the summer of 1810; but at the close of that season was to begin the first extended pastorate of this period of the old church. It was that of Rev. Eli F. Cooley LL.D., a well-educated, prudent, and able man, who had graduated at Princeton in 1806, and having concluded the required three years of theological study, came as a licentiate of the presbytery of New Brunswick, and began to preach in October, having been called in August. An earnest effort was made to secure his services, and $600 having been raised on his salary, he determined upon a permanent settlement, and was installed by the presbytery of Oneida in February following.
The fourteen members had, in the six years till he came, risen to thirty-seven, but when he retired, in 1820, the list had swelled to two hundred and twenty-six, the best evidence both of the prosperity of the place, and the efficiency of his labors. But, notwithstanding, he was compelled to resign in March, 1820, on account of the inadequate support. He died; at an advanced age, in 1860.
Among the more prominent men whose names are associated with the church at this period and the years succeeding were, as trustees, Lester Holt, Levi Beardsley, James Brackett, Isaac Seelye, and Jabex Hammond, most of whom were lawyers of great ability. The last mentioned was an author of considerable merit. His "Political History of the State of New York," and "Life and Times of Silas Wright," are works of standard authority, and extremely valuable contributions to historical literature. He was a member of congress in 1815-18. Mr. Beardsley was a prominent citizen and a lawyer of wide reputation.
Dr. Joseph White, and Alvan Stewart were widely known And universally respected, the former (who, though an Episcopalian, co-operated with the church for some time) as a physician of remarkable capacity, whose practice embraced an area of very great extent, the latter as a radical reformer and man of original genius and great wit, who became one of the earliest apostles of the temperance cause and in abolition of slavery. As elders, besides Joshua Tucker, Elijah Belcher, and Jason Wright, who begin the list, the most efficient were Ozius Waldo, Samuel Huntington, James O. Moore, and David H. Little. Mr. Little, as elder from 1832 to 1870, when he removed to Rochester, was identified with the religious concerns of this region till his death, in 1873. James Otis Moore, an elder from 1821, was eminent in the law, and exerted a wide influence in public affairs. His portrait and that of his wife, two remarkable pictures, the work of the great inventor of the telegraph, in his early artist days, adorn the walls of the family mansion. Portraits of Dr. and Mrs.White, by the same hand, are in the possession of their descendants, Mrs. A. B. Cox. Perhaps the most zealous and certainly the most successful among the long list of ministers this church has had was Rev. John Truair, who was called in July, 1820, he having with Mr. Cooley, Mr. Oliver, and others, formed the presbytery of Otsego in 1819, when the old Oneida presbytery was divided. He was of English birth, a man educated, talented, and full of vim; of excessive activity, of great persuasive powers as a speaker, and so successful in bringing souls to Christ as to merit comparison with preachers of the type of Mr. Moody. His pastorate, though of less than two years, was a time of extraordinary growth. Forty-six persons were at once added to the church in the fall of the year he came, and one hundred and twenty the next. Traces of his activity are seen in the frequency, with which he assembled his efficient session, thirty-eight sittings being held in the year, and three-quarters while he was pastor; and sometimes as many as six in a single month. He was sized with great zeal to save the godless seamen of New York; and his vehemence is exhibited in the fervid and urgent reasoning of along letter he recorded, when beseeching permission to withdraw in order to undertake a work among that unpromising class, to which he has received an earnest summons, and for which his rugged eloquence no doubt eminently fitted him. The value the church placed on this extraordinary man is seen in their granting him six months' leave of absence, owing to ill health, with continued pay, and supplying his pulpit. Rev. Charles James Cook being secured for this purpose. His request was most reluctantly consented to. He had the restless, untiring spirit of an evangelist and successful harvest of souls, for which the seed had been planted by faithful predecessors. The pastoral relation was dissolved March 24, 1822, and on the following Sunday he celebrated his last communion with the people who prized him so well, eight more having been added to the church, making one hundred and seventy-four in all, swelling the list to four hundred, certainly a strong church for that day.
Before Mr. Cooley left, a serious effort had been made to erect a new church by the appointment of a committee, among whom were Mr. Morse and Oliver Judd, the latter the head of an ingenious family who came from Connecticut, and established themselves in the manufacture of iron, and all of whom being musical, long sustained the efficiency of the service of song.
Edwin Judd, who might have been called, like Aristides, the just, bore the character of a Nestor of the village, and sang in the choir for forty years, scarcely missing a Sunday. Mr. Truair imparted fresh energy to the building movement, but his departure delayed the plan for a few years longer, the church, however, was not to sink again into inactivity, for scarce a month had passed when Rev. Charles Fitch, a Princetonian licentiate, was called, and Aug. 22, 1822, he was ordained. The old church was now too ruinous for use; a proposal to repair it was negatived, and a fresh committee instructed to devise ways and draft a plan for another, the services being held meanwhile in the Lancasterian school-house. An inkling of the usages of life at that period is seen in the records that a certain apprentice was suspended from the church for running away from his master to parts unknown; and entries of the period fill long pages with the painful and sometimes ludicrous accounts of regular trials in case of discipline. The conditions of religious life seem to have improved since then, and perhaps there has been some accession of discreetness to the church. Mr. Fitch was not well sustained, and applied for a dismissal November, 1824, leaving the spring following. Rev, James B. Ambler succeeded, as stated supply, from may, 1825, till July, 1827. The efforts in regard to a new building were crowned with success in that tear, and the WHITE FRAME CHURCH reared its handsome steeple to a height of about a hundred feet in the air. It was in the classic style then so universally in vogue; apparently modeled after one of the numerous churches of Sir Christopher Wren, and became in its turn the model of many churches in this part of the country, in front was a portico with four elegant Tuscan pillars, above which rose the steeple, story on story, to the summit, which was adorned with a tinned dome, and gilt ball and vane, the latter being the same that surmounts the present spire. The gallery occupied three sides, the pulpit being between the entrances, with choir and small organ above it. The old meeting-house was sold and the proceeds devoted to fencing the venerated and historic burial-ground, the new church having been built upon the site now occupied, a short distance further up the street. The church was painted in that dazzling white so invariably chosen for the structures of the American villages of the period; whether to delude the beholder into the idea that he was gazing on classic forms in marble, or because white being, as philosophers tell us, the "sum" of all the hues of the rainbow united, it was thought impossible to go wrong with it. It at all events seemed to be considered as the beau ideal for an element of harmony with the intense green of the window-blinds and the surrounding verdure. But it was a very pretty church, as was, and still is, the village itself embosomed in lovely maples (thanks to an old fellow named Gregg, who set them out at a shilling apiece) and set round about with hills, whose tops were crowned with nodding forests, with its little irregular square, on which were the taverns, the bank, and the stores, and to which converged the four or five highways that came in from among the fragrant fields in as many different directions, and with its three or four churches, its pleasant houses, and green, shady lawns. The demands of business had led to the establishment of the Central bank as early as 1816, being then the only bank in this region, and in 1829 Mr. Horatio J. Olcott came here as its cashier, since which period his name has been a part of the history of this church, and a power in the financial concerns of the region, being a most serviceable supporter for the former in various capacities, especially as th efficient treasurer, and becoming an elder in 1875. Many of those who had been prepared for life in the academy reaped success in various fields, and as its importance as a place of enterprise declined some of them gradually returned to enjoy a more leisurely life, and the old village assumed the air of a place of prosperous and quiet retirement. The sulphur waters of Sharon and Richfield, on either hand, began to attract numbers of people every summer in search of health or of purer air, who loved to drive out to Cherry Valley to enjoy it charming and extensive prospects, and those of them that were privileged share the social cheer of its delightful homes. (The History of Otsego, NY, by Duane Hamilton Hurd, 1878)
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Transcribed by Holice B. Young
Copyright Debbie Axtman and Holice B. Young
December 23, 1999