Sunday, April 21, 2013

Where Was That Meeting House?

Yesterday, Mayor William Hallenbeck, perhaps as a consequence of misreading a handwritten historic document, stated in his proclamation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the city clock that the original Presbyterian meeting house was located on Pattison Street--a street that does not now and never did exist in Hudson. Today, Joe Gentile, writing for the Register-Star, offers another account of the location of the church's earliest place of worship: "In 1785, Hudson's Puritan founders established their Presbyterian congregation inside a schoolhouse on what later became Columbia Street. Its members then bought the city's former city hall at the corner of Fourth and Warren streets in 1835, modifying its edifice with locally-quarried blue limestone." 

Franklin Ellis's History of Columbia County, published in 1878, generally considered to be an authoritative source, says this about the early history of the First Presbyterian Church and the location of the first church building:
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 [i.e., Warren and Fourth streets]. . . .
At the adjourned meeting above mentioned, Marshall Jenkins, Captain Thomas Frothingham, Nathanial 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. . . . 
The church, a plain but solid and commodious brick building, large enough to seat five hundred worshipers, 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. . . ."
By 1835, Ellis reports, "The congregation had become the largest in the city, and one of the most prominent in the valley of the Hudson." The church building at Partition and Second streets was no longer adequate to accommodate the congregation, and a new church building was constructed at the corner of Warren and Fourth streets. Reported by Ellis to have cost $21,500, the new church building was dedicated on May 24, 1837. The account in Ellis continues: "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."

Gossips does not know what use Chester made of the building, nor is it known exactly when the building was demolished, although it can be inferred from Yeisley's comments that it was long gone in 1876. For a time in the early 20th century, the lot on which the old church stood was owned and maintained as a formal garden by Mrs. Isaac Newton Collier, who lived in the grand Greek Revival mansion on the other side of Second Street. Today, a vaguely Art Deco style factory building, now virtually unused, occupies the site where the first church built in Hudson once stood. 

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