History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Our Fathers"
Historic Churches Bus Tour, August 2, 2003
Compiled by Joyce Berry
The old Palatine Church stands on Route Five between St. Johnsville and Nelliston on the north side of the Mohawk River at a place once known as "Fox's Mills" on the Caroga Creek. It stands on a raised knoll where the Caroga Creek cannot touch it during the spring when the creek overflows its banks. Built of selected limestone in 1770 by our early pioneers, it would seem as though they had built into the edifice something of the sturdy character of the men who founded this country. This year will mark the stone building's 233 anniversary.
Under the Domine Ehle, a simple log structure was built in 1729. During a period of peace and prosperity in the valley, the stone church was built at a cost of $3,500, through donations; principally from Peter Wagner; William Jr., Johannes, Henry, Christian and David Nellis; Andrew Reber and Johannes Hess. Instead of a church bell, a steel triangle two inches square and three feet on each side called the people to church. The sound carried for miles up and down the valley.
The small hamlet by the name of Palatine Church, situated about two and one half miles north and west of the village of Fort Plain on the north side of the Mohawk River, is the oldest settlement between Utica and Schenectady and for a long time after the Revolutionary War it was the main business place between those two sections. The Revolution brought almost total destruction to the place, just the church and the tavern remained. Fox's Mills was mentioned in the book "Drums Along the Mohawk" as the place where Lana was from and where she and Gil were married.
Rufus A. Grider, writing for the Utica Saturday Globe in August, 1895 on the occasion of the 125th anniversary tells why the old church was not destroyed during the Revolution, The incident was obtained by Mr. Grider in an interview with the late Peter F. Nellis in 1886. Says the writer, "The old church in Palatine was not destroyed by John Johnson's army during the raid October 19th, 1780, when few buildings escaped burning. It stands on the border of the road over which the invading army moved. For generations it had been an unsolved question why it escaped burning when everything else that could be destroyed met that fate. About ten years ago visitors from Canada named Nellis came to visit relatives of that name living near St. Johnsville. From them it was learned that when the raiders reached this church, a party of Indians stopped. One of them fastened a fagot to an arrow and was setting about lighting it to fire upon the shingled roof of the church when a British officer interfered saying, "Before we left Canada, I promised my friend Nellis that his church should not be burnt. He was one of the chief contributors towards building it, and hopes to return to his farm again when the war is over". The Indians passed on and the church was saved.
The Nellis family was planning to return to the area after the war. However, the war did not go the way it was thought and the Nellis lands from this branch of the family were confiscated and sold. It is important to remember many of the Nellis family served bravely and with distinction in the Tryon County Militia. Truly, this war brought neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother.
On the grounds of the church, the army of General Van Rensselaer encamped on the night of October 19, 1780, when in pursuit of Sir John Johnson and his army. This was a terrible time for the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys, because so many crops and buildings were burned by Sir John Johnson as he raided the valleys.
Many denominations used the church over time, mostly of the Lutheran and Reformed faith, and it has long since ceased to house an active congregation. The building was renovated as were most old buildings, but it has been restored to its original design with an elevated pulpit and its sounding board thanks to the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. Lewis M. Fowler. The church was sturdily built and has withstood many years and storms. There is an occasional summer service in the church and it is used for weddings. On any pleasant summer day, the traveler might see some cows grazing in front of the church, very unconcerned about their historical surroundings.
The old weather cock still stands on the steeple, watching all the travelers as they pass. Nothing surprised this old bird and ever he faced the wind squarely. Could he have been capable of observation he must have notice at first this procession wended westward. The barges on the river, the wagons and vehicles ever pressed westward. Later the same route of travel was noticed on the canal and the railroad. Many horses, wagons, now cars and trucks still travel past this silent observer. His bronze and senseless ears, could they have heard, would have been familiar to the war hoop of the painted savage, the guttural shouts of the Dutch teamsters, the songs of the whip-poor-wills, the whistle of the Bob White and many song birds long since extinct in this region. The wild deer and black bear have roamed within his ken and the red fox sported unscarred by man. From the war whoop to the gentle purr of the modern motor is a far off cry and yet, this venerable old bird has heard them all, seen them all and the end is not yet.
A booklet written by Lou D. MacWethy, St. Johnsville, N.Y., in August 10, 1927 was used for reference. MacWethy was publisher of the Enterprise and News for many years. His granddaughter, Margaret Davis has given permission to use his writings.
STONE ARABIA REFORMED CHURCH
This year marks the stone building's 215th year, the church was organized 271 years ago.
<-(Photo from Historic American Buildings Survey, about 1936.)
Stone Arabia is sphinx-like in the origin of its name. The name is variously spelled and misspelled in the church and other records through the nearly three hundred years since the men of the German Palatinate first settled in the valley. One hundred and twenty-seven names are among the first settlers to whom the land was parceled. At this time on the road on the north side of the Mohawk ended at Cayadutta Creek not far from Fonda, access beyond being only by Indian paths. In 1726 a new road was undertaken, to be built as far as Utica.
The Palatine Germans were a devout people, so no doubt even before a building or formal organization the Palatines worshiped. Their God was of utmost importance to them. They were divided about equally between Reformed and Lutheran faiths. There was a great suspicion and distrust for Catholics.
The land upon which the original Stone Arabia Church was built and which stood where the present Lutheran church is now erected, was purchased by William Coppernoll of Schenectady, the contract being dated January 7, 1729, the deed to be given by April 9, 1731. The deed, however was dated May 19, 1732. It consisted of 50 acres for which 100 pounds was to be paid, the other parties to the transaction being Andrew Find, Warner Diegert, Johannes Schnell and "all the rest of the proprietors and owners of the Stone Raby patent."
In the following year (1733) the people, Germans Lutherans and German Calvinists, began to build a frame church, on the site of the building now occupied by the church. The foundation had been laid when a controversy arose as to the name by which the church should be known in the future. The Lutherans withdrew from the project and returned to the old log church, while the Reformed people continued to build. Johnannes Schnell and Johannes Krembs were the contractors, having given bonds for 400 pounds to finish the building according to the plans. Five years were spent in building, but no record is given of the cost or size of the edifice, nor any view exists of the church except on an old powder horn.
Under date of February 17, 1745, Rev. Peter Nicolas Sommer in his Journal writes that he had held a service of communion for the Lutherans of Stone Arabia in the barn of Wilhelm Nellis. This shows that the old log structure had already been abandoned, but as yet no Lutheran church had been erected to take its place. Ten years later the Lutherans and the Reformed people divided equally the 50 acres of Glebe. The release given by the Lutheran church to the Reformed church is dated "Twenty-seventh day of March in the seventeenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Second over Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., and in the year of our Lord Christ, one thousand seven hundred and forty-four." It is signed by Jacob Schnell, Kirk Loux, Wm. Brouer, Laverinus Deigert, Peter Suits, Hendreick Loux, Nicholas Horning, William Coppernoll, Peter Diegert, Harris Schnell, Andreas Find and Johannes Krems.
The first minister among the Palatine Germans in America was the Rev. Joshua Kocherthal, a Lutheran pastor who came over with the first Palatine emigration in 1709, under the favor and support of Queen Anne. For ten years he worked among his people, who had settled near Newburgh on the Hudson. His death occurred in 1719. In 1709 Kocherthal visited England and on his return in 1710, the Rev. John Frederick Haeger accompanied him, organizing on his arrival in New York City an Episcopal church. The missionary society of the Church of England paid him a salary of fifty pounds annually.
The third minister to serve the Palatines was the Rev. John Jacob Ehle. The oldest record book of the Lutheran church of Stone Arabia bears on its cover the statement that the original church here was organized by Ehle in 1711, but this is an error, both because Ehle did not come to America until October, 1722, and because the Palatines did not come into this section from Schoharie in any considerable numbers until about the same year. Most of the original settlers had come by 1710. The Rev. Ehle as his predecessor, Haeger, was an Episcopalian, having been ordained by the bishop of London, in August, 1722. He was a Palatine and educated at Heidelberg. At first his work was among the German settlements on the Hudson, though he supplied Kinderhook frequently, at which place he married Johanna Van Slyck in June 1723. From 1742 until the time of his death in 1777 at the age of 92, his entire ministry was spent in the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys.
The Rev. Michael Weiss (Weitzins) was the first ordained Reformed minister to labor among the Palatines of the Schoharie and the Mohawk valleys. No mention is made in the existing records at Stone Arabia of the service either of the Revs. Ehle or Weiss, but we know the former often preached there and Weiss frequently supplied this pulpit during his pastorate at German Flatts.
The Rev. Johannes Schuyler had four pastorates, two of which were at different periods in Schoharie, involving some thirty years or more, the first for a score of years following 1735. During this first pastorate he supplied Stone Arabia and German Flatts, where his name is to be found on the earliest subscription list toward the completion of the partly built church. By some he is thought to have been the man who organized the Stone Arabia church. The first consistory record is dated October 24, 1743, yet members were admitted into the church and so recorded as early as 1737. Ten members joined in 1739 and seven in 1740. There is a baptism in 1739 of Henry Richard Loux, the son of Adam Loux. The church early in its history was an Independent Reformed church, probably from the beginning the Lutherans having their own organization. There is a record showing that at first consistory gatherings were largely verbal meetings with no records.
Rev. Schuyler was the first Dutch minister to be ordained in this country. Rev. Schuyler married Annatje Veeder of Schenectady in 1743, and had six children. His sixth son, Philip was the builder of the Stone Arabia church in 1788. Philip was also engaged on the Inland Lock Navigation Co., under Gen. Schuyler, to whom he was distantly related. His only daughter, Margaret, became the wife of Andrew Van Wie of Florida (Montgomery county). A sister of Rev. Schuyler, Elisabeth, was the wife of Gosen M. Van Alstyne, who built the old stone house, the first in the present village of Canajoharie.
The "Rev. Johannes Aemilius Wernig" is the way this successor of Schuyler spells his name in the record. Under date of July 14, 1751, the church of "Stein Rabien," testified to the Classis of Amsterdam (Holland), of the good character and correct standing of their pastor. The letter is in German and is signed by 32 names as follows: Peter Lutz, Johannes Schnell, Henrich Fehling, Johannes Jost Snell, Severinus Deigert, Wilhelm Wermuth, Henrich Lauchs, Casper Kock (Cook), Peter Kremps, Gottfried Helmer, Friederich Bellinger, Jr., George Koppernoll, Henry Herkel, Jacob Krauz, Adam Lauchs, Friederich Getmann, Conrad Futs, Johann Henrich Klock, Wilhelm Lauchs. Johannes Kremps, Wilhelm Koppernoll, Leonhardt Helmer, Robert Gerder, Adam Wabel, Johannes Fehling, Johannes Snell, Jr., Dietrich Lauche, Johannes Henrich Riemenschneider.
The church decided to call Wernig, they seemed to have investigated his Heidelberg record, for they admit he is a licentiate, but his examination for the ministry was not sustained. Therefore Classis voted that Wernig must come to Holland to be examined before they can approve the call of the Stone Arabia church. This was the action of July 17, 1752. On September 14, 1752, Wernig writes from Stone Arabia a long letter to his friend, the Rev. John Ritzema of New York city. It is full of scathing rebuke for the disturbers in the field, and replete with fine sarcasm for some of the preachers who Wernig claims "serve the flock only for the wool that is in it." He wants to be examined by the New York City Reformed ministers, which request was refused September 17, 1753, and says he can't go to Holland among other reason, because he has married a wife, and hasn't any money, and on his first voyage over he came near dying of sea sickness ( Eccles. Histy. N. Y., V 3162, 3285). After leaving Stone Arabia he also served Canajoharie and Schoharie) all trace of him is lost. Rev. Sommers of the Lutheran church married Mr. Wernig to Anna Maria Schnell on July 2, 1751.
Under date of May 31, 1755, the Coetus (predecessor of the Reformed Church General Synod in America) asked permission to ordain and install John Mauritius Goetschius over the church of Stone Arabia which they say is a "German Reformed church north of Albany. . . for sometime past imposed upon and tossed about and injured by German (ministerial) tramps. It is far distant and has little strength; but it longs for the Gospel ministry. . . if not helped now in this way. . . it is liable to become totally scattered." But the Classis of Amsterdam under date of April 5, 1756, writes that it will not permit Mauritius Goetschius to be installed at Stone Arabia to which he had been called. Mr. Goetschius was a physician, and was licensed in 1754 and was at Schoharie in 1757-1760, and doubtless supplied Stone Arabia during these same years or a part of the time. He was ordained at Schoharie on December 14, 1757. He practiced medicine all his life. He was one of the original trustees of Queens College.
The Rev. Abram Rosencrantz occasionally served Stone Arabia during the years 1756-1758, and a second time from 1760 thro 1770. Rosencrantz was one of the original patentees of the tract know as "Stally's Patent," in the town of Little Falls. He was a graduate of one of the German universities and at the time the foremost divine west of Schenectady. His first work was at German Flatts and Canajohaire in the old "Sand Hill" church, where he labored from 1752 to 1758. A brother in the ministry was working among the German families scattered along the route from Schoharie to Utica, but died (1752) just before Abram came to America. In 1760 he came to the Mohawk Valley, preaching in Stone Arabia, Canajohaire and German Flatts. Rosencrantz married Anna M. Herkimer, a sister of the general. He died on Fall Hill, in 1796 and was buried beside his brother under the pulpit of the old stone church at German Flatts (Fort Herkimer). While pastor at Stone Arabia Rosencrantz received 70 pounds annually as his salary, Canajohaire and German Flatts also paying a similar amount (in all $525).
In the period including the war of the Revolution there seems to be no record of any settled pastor or regular supply, the Rev. John Daniel Gros and the Rev. Rosencrantz occasionally serving the church according to the church records. The Rev. John Daniel Gros, once a New York city pastor, also for a while professor at Columbia College, was an unusually well learned man for the time. He was an ardent patriot and served as chaplain in three different regiments. The last few years of his life (1802-1812) were spent in the vicinity of Fort Plain on a farm, and he lies buried at Freysbush. There are no records of baptisms or marriages, or even of consistory after 1771 through 1776.
The Battle of Stone Arabia, occurred near the church (October 19, 1780). The Johnsons, Butlers and the Brants were ravaging the country with the help of the Indians. The 1779 raid was a cruel one but the 1780 devastation was inhumanly brutal. Sir John Johnson with Captains Thomas and Brant came from Montreal by way of Oswego with their hired Indians and after devastating Schoharie reached Fort Hunter on October 17, 1780, and proceeded west, destroying every building they came upon. From Keder's Rift (Sprakers), 150 men attacked Fort Paris, the stockaded store of Isaac Paris (tortured to death by the Indians at Oriskany in 1777) and burned the Reformed and Lutheran churches along with houses in the nearby area. The Reformed Church which was burned was erected in 1738. In the cemetery behind the Stone Church is a monument erected in 1836 to the memory of Col. John Brown who lost his life in the Battle of Stone Arabia. Here too rest the remains of those killed in the Battle of Stone Arabia, though their graves are unmarked.
The Lutherans rebuilt their church which is the present structure in 1792 with Rev. Dr. Philip T. Gross preaching the dedication sermon. The Reformed congregation erected a stone church in 1788 (completed in 1789, dedicated 1790). Philip Schuyler was the builder, the sixth son of the first recorded pastor of the church at a cost of $3,378. The people had no other place of worship during the eight years it took to build the new church except a temporary frame structure. The consistory at the time was John Zielly, Jacob Eacker, Arnout Vedder and Johannes Koch, elders, and Frederick Gettman, Adam Loucks, Casper Cook, and Michael Ehle, deacons.
This old stone church, and the one at German Flatts (Fort Herkimer) whose foundations were laid almost half a century before it, are among the most remarkable and rarest ecclesiastical buildings to be found in the United States. The same simple but substantial lines of craftsmanship that the builders wrought into these stone Houses of God abide to this day.
Here the story of the church will stop, though there is a long succession of pastors and much more history. Even though Stone Arabia was off the beaten path a great deal happened there.
The resource for this article was from The History of Montgomery Classis,
R.C.A. by W.N.P. Dailey,
Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916
The Stone Arabia Reformed Church has ceased to have an active congregation and is maintained by an historical group under the name of The Stone Church. We are thankful this group is preserving our heritage and maintaining this historic building.
KLOCK'S CHURCH AND GRAVEYARD
One of the successors to Dommes Megapolensis and Schaats as minister at Albany's First Reformed Church was the Rev. Petrius Van Driessen. He preached there for more than twenty years, from 1712 to 1738. He journeyed frequently through the land of the Mohawks and won many converts and much appreciation. In 1722 he petitioned the King's council at Albany for a license to build a mission church in the Mohawk Country. A few years later in 1725, Hermanus Wendell sold a tract of land, part of the Harrison Patent, to Hendrick Klock and Christian Hauss, "excepting an acre of land." Upon that same square acre, east of St. Johnsville, a rude log church was built which we know as "Klock's Church." We do not know when the log church was built. Thus we see how the Dutch Reformed preachers prepared the way for their German brothers. Many years afterward in 1829, St. John's turned to the Dutch Reformed Church and made it its denominational home.
Hendrick Klock had the means to pay a great sum of money for a large portion of the Harrison Patent. He bought lot No. 11, upon which the so-called Fort Klock was built by his son Johannes in 1750, and half of lot No. 13, which contained the reserved square. Upon this lot he built his home, later inherited by his son, Colonel Jacob Klock. Upon this lot also he was buried in the year 1760 at the age of 92 in the little cemetery beside 'Klock's Church.'
For some time the church was undoubtedly used as a school house. A teacher named Henry Hayes gave the children rudimentary instruction, which in the case of some of them, proved to be excellent training. George Bauder, of Stone Arabia, told the historian Jeptha Simms that he studied there in the church and that he also attended a service there with his bride sometime before the Revolution. The high standards of the school are seen readily in the correspondence of Colonel Klock. Despite his Palatine background he used the English language easily. He wrote as a well educated man and was not at all the ignorant dolt described so inaccurately in Drums Along the Mohawk.
The very next year after its incorporation Klock's Church found itself sufficiently strong to call a full-time minister and the congregation chose a vigorous young man of Faith who had been led in a striking manner to make the ministry his life's work. Born of noble birth in the town of Burgdorf, Canton Berne, Switzerland (the land that cradled and nourished the Reformation), John Henry Dysslin (who was born 12/18/1752) left his homeland for the brighter promises of America. His voyage was interrupted by severe storms, however; he was shipwrecked, and in the mortal danger of the seas he vowed to dedicate himself to God's services should his life be spared. He was saved by a passing ship which landed in New York harbor. He thereupon returned to Switzerland, was educated for the ministry, set out once again for America, and was called, ultimately, to Klock's Church where he served from July 13, 1788, until his death in the Fall of 1812.
On his first Sunday at Klock's Church he baptized John Frederick, the son of Christopher and Catherine Hess Fox, the first of the approximately 683 baptisms he performed. Domine Dysslin served with great devotion and energy, ministering to the countryside roundabout, and in addition to his regular pastoral duties he preached frequently at the Mannheim Church at Snell's Bush and also at the Church at Indian Castle.
The outstanding achievement of his ministry was the erection of the new Church at Zimmerman's Creek in 1804. The first step in the erection of the new church was taken in 1792 when Jacob Zimmerman, a soldier of the Revolutionary War, and owner of a grist mill on the creek, offered a large grant of land adjacent to his mill for the use of the congregation of the then aging Klock's Church. This land included within its bounds what is now John Street, West Street, Saltsman, Cottage, and William Streets and was bounded on the east by Church Street, on the south by West Main, on the west by the creek, and on the north by the hills in the village of St. Johnsville. The trustees of Klock's Church accepted Jacob Zimmerman's offer and gave him a note to the amount of $49.52 dated March 5, 1792. John I. Bellinger thereupon purchased the note as his contribution toward the new church.
The congregation continued to worship at Klock's Church, however, for some years before action was taken. About 1802 John I. Bellinger was elected treasurer and he took the lead in promoting the enterprise. Work was started, the new building was ready by January 2nd, 1804, for its first Congregational Meeting, at which Conrad Hellicoss, Andrew Zabriskie, John I. Bellinger, Jacob Zimmerman, Adam A. Walrath, and Henry Beekman were elected trustees. This church in time became known as St. John's Reformed Church.
We know also that Domine Dysslin made himself completely at home by marrying Anna, Colonel Klock's granddaughter; that he lived in the old Klock homestead, adjacent to the old church, and that the home was happy with the advent of five daughters and two sons. He was well regarded by the people and was considered by a missionary traveling through the Valley as "A Swiss, and a good character, and a man of learning."
And we know also that at his death in 1812 he was laid to rest in Klock's churchyard on the hill overlooking the valley. Tradition persists that his body rests at the site where once the pulpit of Klock's Church stood. No signs remain, no mound or stone; but in 1920 a tablet honoring his memory was placed on a large boulder near by.
The information for this article came from St. John's Reformed Church, revised edition printed October 1970 by the Enterprise and News, St. Johnsville.
Here is what Jeptha Simms has to say in his book, Frontiersmen of New York 1833 Volume I, Page 285.
The First Church at St. Johnsville.-- In this connection I should mention the fact that a German Reformed church was erected at St. Johnsville, then known as "Zimmerman's," in 1770. This structure was built of wood, was of good size, and stood not far from its burying ground, yet to be seen about a mile eastward of the village. It was finished with a sounding board, as were nearly all churches at that period. When erected it was intended also to benefit the Indians in the neighborhood, having seats for them and the slaves of the white citizens.
Please note: the old graveyard and site of the log church is on private property, owned by Dick Smith, who has given permission to Fort Klock to stop at this site on the historic churches bus tour August 2, 2003.
ST. JOHN'S REFORMED CHURCH, Second and Third Buildings
St. Johnsville was doubtless settled as soon as Stone Arabia of which it was originally a part, that is in 1725. For a long time the place was called "Timmerman's or Failings" after the first settlers. The story of the log church was covered in a previous article under the title of Klock's Church and Graveyard.
The date of the organization of the church has always been placed as 1770, but a church was here as early as 1756 (N.Y. Doc. Hist.) Some are inclined to give the date as 1750, while there is no reason to think that the Germans who settled here in 1725 did any different from those who settled at the same time at Stone Arabia or German Flatts who organized the church as soon as they settled.
St. John's church was within the limits of the Palatine (Stone Arabia) district of Montgomery county, a part of which in 1838 became the town of St. Johnsville. The Francis Harrison patent of 12,000 acres was obtained of the Indians in 1722, and a year later the entire tract was partitioned off, the first church having been built on Lot No. 13, owned by George C. and Jacob Klock (Bk. Deeds 48, 213).
The earliest written record extant of the church is in the form of a receipt bearing date of January 4, 1805. Jacob G. Klock who gave this receipt was the son of George Klock the elder, owner of lot 16 in the Harrison patent, through which Klock's Creek flowed. Letters of administration of this George Klock were granted October 19, 1795 to his two sons, Jacob G. and George G. Klock. What is known as "Klock's Church," probably erected in 1786 in the Klock private burying ground, was the work of George Klock (the son of George Klock, the elder) and Col. Jacob Klock. It was built after an Indian raid of 1780, the church being incorporated March 13, 1787, the title being, "The Reformed Calvinist Church." This was probably the second log church, but the early history of St. John's is very uncertain. The burying ground of this so-called "Klock's Church" occupied the central portion of the eight acre lot shown on the map dated 1842. The first settled pastor at St. Johnsville was Rev. John Henry Dysslin. He was mentioned in the previous article about the log church.
The land where new Federalist style church was going to be built was originally owned by Jacob Zimmerman (written also Timmerman), and as far back as 1792 payments were made on it. The work had not progressed on the new church in the village until 1803, at which time John L. Bellinger became treasurer. In 1804, the seats were sold, among the buyers being W. I. Walrath, Andrew Zabriskie, Wm. Shaver, Fredk. Bellinger, Jacob J. Failing, Fredk. Getman, Peter Storms, Conrad Hellecoos, John Euker, Henry Beekman, Catharine Windecker, John C. House, Peter Kels, and John Kring.
Klock's Church was torn down in 1818. St. John's Church in St. Johnsville is one mile west of Klock's church site and was on the present day Church Street. In some old records, you will read about a place called "St. John's Church". The area around the church used this name for many years and the only road north from the settlement was Church Street.
The new white wooden church was completed June 1, 1804, during the pastorate of John Dysslin (who was also the pastor at Canajoharie Castle (Indian Castle). The first parsonage stood near the center of the glebe lot, the house one which Mrs. Dysslin had inherited from Col. Jacob Klock. (SEE PARSONAGE PHOTO) Originally there was a glebe land of seven acres connected with the present property, the burial grounds of the church being the westerly end of this glebe and extending on both sides of Timmerman's creek. The old church carriage house and parsonage still stand. References to this church land at Fonda are plentiful.
Many of the old records for the church are in Rev. Dysslin's handwriting and can be found on http://stjohnsville.com The good reverend had his own way of protesting events. If you look at the original record, every so often a birth entry would be written upside down. This was his way of pointing out the birth of the baby was not at the proper time.
After Mr. Dysslin's death in 1812, the church was supplied for a while by Rev. John J. Wack who was then at Stone Arabia. Rev. David DeVoe came to St. John's in 1816 and remained until 1830.
Prior to February 11, 1829, St. John's church was an independent German Reformed body, though served by a member of the Classis of Montgomery, which Classis had installed Mr. DeVoe over the churches of St. John's of Oppenheim and of St. Paul's at Manheim.
A succession of ministers followed Rev. DeVoe; Rev. Abraham H. Myers, Rev. Herman B. Stryker, Rev. James Murphey, and Rev. A. H. Myers returned for a second pastorate. Rev. Joseph Knieskern came next in May, 1845, and remained until September, 1872. Mr. Knieskern also supplied Manheim and Indian Castle. This meant he preached at St. John's in St. Johnsville, crossed the river to preach at Indian Castle and then crossed the river once more to preach at Manheim (now known as Snell's Bush Church).
Three churches were continuous and collegiate with St. John's at St. Johnsville, the pastors of the latter preaching statedly at Youker's Bush, Canajoharie Castle ("Indian Castle"), and "Snell's Bush (Manheim). Of Youker's Bush it is sufficient to say that it was organized by DeVoe in 1821, and from 1830 to 1887 was collegiate with St. Johnsville. (The term collegiate means the Consistory was made up of people from all three churches, one Consistory but governing three churches.) The building was erected in 1830 and stood about a mile and a half east of Crum Creek, and half a mile north of the county line. The spot is two and a half miles north of Upper St. Johnsville. In 1857 a new church was built, a mile and a half east from the first Youker's Bush church, and is about three miles north by east of St. Johnsville, and was controlled by the Dutch Reformed church. About the year 1887 the Reformed services ceased, and later the Grace Christian Church of St. Johnsville assumed direction of the services.
<- St. John's Reformed Church about 1900.
The white Federalist style church had been moved in the 1840s to face West Main Street and been updated, but time was taking its toll on the graceful building. A handsome brick parsonage was built next to the church and the congregation decided it was time to build a new edifice instead of making costly repairs to the wooden building. In 1880, the old white wooden church was torn down to make way for a new brick church. During the year's interim when there was no church building, the congregation met in the Union Church which now houses St. Paul's Lutheran Church on West Main Street. When the building was completed, the congregation moved to their new home and still worships there today.
The resource for this article was from The History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A. by W.N.P. Dailey, Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916; and St. John's Reformed Church, revised edition printed October 1970 by the Enterprise and News, St. Johnsville.
GRACE CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHIRST OF ST. JOHNSVILLE
Grace Christian Church was first organized in February 1874. Several years previous to this Mr. and Mrs. Martin Williams moved to St. Johnsville from Charleston Four Corners where they had attended the Christian Church of Rural Grove. At first they attended the Reformed Church here.
Early in 1874 a dear friend of Mr. Williams, Reverend Charles A. Peake, came to visit them and during this visit Reverend Loadwick, pastor of the Reformed Church, asked him to fill that pulpit on Sunday. Several people of the Christian faith heard Reverend Peake that Sunday and were so impressed with his personality and preaching that they asked him to remain here in St. Johnsville. After some discussion six families, including the pastor and his wife, made an agreement to give five hundred dollars each toward the organization of a Christian Church. These pledges were made by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bellinger, Mr. and Mrs. Amos Klock, Mr. Henry Sanders, and Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Knickerbocker. So in April 1874 Reverend Peake took up his work here, holding services in the Union Church (now Saint Paul's Lutheran) until their church was ready.
Reverend Peake donated his services for his five hundred dollars. Stephen Knickerbocker gave the lot on which the church stands for his five hundred dollars. All other subscriptions were in cash, and it is to be noted that the work of the Grace Church women had its beginning here - "the women of the church worked diligently and hard to enlarge this fund" -forming mite societies, making Shaker bonnets from tea matting, piecing quilts and having ice cream socials. Using Mrs. Peake's sewing machine, the women made a large "unbleached factory" tent and ice cream sales were held in this on the corner of Main and Kingsbury Avenues where the little brick building, which later housed Dr. Vedder's office, now stands.
The plans for the church were drawn up by Mr. Gordon Hough (grandfather of Gilbert Hough and great grandfather of Wallace Powell). Mr. Nelson Kane acted as architect, directing all the inside work and doing much of it personally. The church was built during the summer of 1875 by John H. Kneeskern and sons, Lester and Alvin, at a cost of eight thousand dollars.
The excavating was done without pay by farmers who came with their teams, and they drew lumber and bricks as well. The beams, rafters and brackets were all turned at Kneeskern Mill. The colored glass was donated by individuals and other churches. Men who were interested in the church worked evenings and holidays and it was by this enthusiastic, cooperative effort that the church was completed in such a short time. It was ready for dedication on September 29, 1875.
Reverend Warren Hathaway of Blooming Grove, New York, preached the morning dedicatory service and the Reverend Martin Summerbell preached the evening portion. The name Grace was added to distinguish it from other Christian Churches. It is interesting to note that the names of the building committee, the cost of the church and the names of the thirteen charter members were all cast into the bell which hangs in the tower of the church.
Mr. Williams, whose idea started Grace Church, was founder of the Clark Machine Company which made the Williams Grain Thresher, one of the finest machines of its kind made.
Reverend and Mrs. Peake lived first in the house on the south corner of North Division and Cross Streets. Later they moved to twenty-seven Center Street where they remained until his resignation in 1880. Reverend Peake met a tragic and untimely death. Upon leaving Saint Johnsville he was journeying to his new pastorate in Rhode Island. His ship was wrecked and he was drowned in Long Island Sound. A memorial service was held for him here where he had been so dearly loved.
His successor was Reverend Scott M. Cook. In 1882 the Ladies Aid was organized with Mrs. Cook as first president. In 1884 a brick parsonage was built to the south of the church at the cost of $5278.47. In 1887 it passed out of our hands, due to inability to keep up payments. This is the present Joseph Green residence. From then on a house on the corner of Center and Cross Streets was the parsonage until the present one was built by Z. R. Klock, father of Helen Glenar. The exact date doesn't appear in the records but on April 29, 1895, there was a meeting to discuss the building and in April 1896 Mr. Klock noted at an official meeting that thirty-four dollars was still owed to him.
Grace Church, as it is known locally, has remained a vital church in the community and still is to this day. It has been blessed with a dedicated congregation and a steady supply of good ministers; sometimes for periods of time it relied on supply pastors but it has endured and grown over the one hundred twenty seven years of its history. Grace Church will be helping host the luncheon for the Historic Churches Bus Tour on August 2 for the Fort Klock Historic Restoration.
Source of article: Anita A. Smith who wrote the history of the church for its 125th anniversary
INDIAN CASTLE CHURCH
<Sketch by Benjamin Lossing, 1838)
Area around Indian Castle Church
The area around the spot we know as Indian Castle was called Canoharee by the Native Americans. Castle is their village or settlement. King Hendrick, the Great Sachem of the Mohawks owned this land and later Joseph Brandt. Around the church are two cemeteries, one still in use and the other to the west is thought to contain Native Americans and early settlers and is overgrown and pretty much forgotten. This ground is sacred to the Red Man and the former leaders of the Red Man are still revered and remembered by annual ceremonies.
This church was built at the request of the Mohawk Indians in 1769. On June 17, 1770, more than 232 years ago, Sir William Johnson, the builder, presented it to the Mohawks and it was received by Joseph Brant, the famous Mohawk chief. It is believed to be the only surviving colonial Anglican mission church in America.
In 1769 Sir William Johnson erected of wood, a small church at his own expense of nearly $1,150 at the Canajoharie or Upper Castle, 50 by 32 feet, mainly for the benefit of the Indians. The Indians were always fond of bells, and at their earnest solicitation this church was furnished with one. It also had a gilded ball on the steeple above its weathercock. Its pulpit was occasionally supplied by the Episcopal clergymen of Queen Anne's chapel or some other; but for the want of a clergyman of its own, it could have accomplished but little, when, a few years later, the Indians in a body removed to Canada.
The church is a marker beside the pathway of history and one of the few survivors of a bloody revolution which swept nearly every landmark from the surface of this valley. To emphasize this point, there were 308 recorded battles fought in the American Revolutionary War and 92 of these were in New York State and most of them in Montgomery County (Tryon County). Everything west of Albany up to the Indian Territory was Tryon County.
Indian Castle Church has long kept watch over the Mohawk Valley travelers and over the years, seen much. It housed various church organizations over the years and eventually about 80 years ago, ceased to house a congregation. Eventually it became a tourist attraction.
This old church still had one more huge hurdle to jump in its continuing history. A fire. On November 30, 1979, an arsonist set Indian Castle Church on fire, damaging it extensively but valiant efforts of three fire departments were successful in saving the outer walls and the belfry.
Firemen and others first at the scene reported there was the odor of gasoline, and cans later were found which may have been used to carry the fluid. State Police were notified, and members of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation have begun a probe. The fire was discovered about 9:30 P.M. by Charles Welden, who resides nearby on Dillenbeck Road, a short distance south of Route 5-S from the church, and a call was placed to the St. Johnsville Volunteer Fire Department, which provides fire protection for that area of the Town of Danube.
Mr. Leo Singer (for 50 years Mr. Singer was caretaker) and Mr. Welden then ran to the church and unlocked the door, but found the flames so intense that they quickly closed the door again to prevent the draft from fanning the fire. It appeared that the window on the west or right side of the church closest to the front had been broken, and the gasoline or other inflammable substance had been thrown into the interior. The fire was most intense in that area.
St. Johnsville called for assistance from the Little Falls and Fort Plain Fire Departments, through Mutual Aid, and both responded with men and equipment. At considerable risk to themselves, several firemen donned air packs and carried hose lines into the church in an effort to smother the flames.
The St. Johnsville department set up its "portable pond" in the yard of the church, and this was refilled by the other departments and water was hauled from Nowandaga Creek. The point at which the water could be pumped from the stream is about a quarter mile by road from the church. Fear was expressed that the fire would so weaken the front portion of the church that the heavy steeple would fall, but this did not occur. At various times the flames broke through the exterior clapboards on the front, back and both sides of the church, and even from portions of the belfry. Firemen quickly clambered up ladders, ripped off boards, and poured water into the hot spots. When the flames threatened to break through the roof, and firemen found it difficult to combat them effectively from the ground or from ladders, the aerial truck from Little Falls was taken to the scene and enabled the men to save the roof from collapsing and extinguish the flames in the belfry. The Little Falls and Fort Plain men and equipment returned to their stations after midnight, while St. Johnsville left a truck and men at the scene throughout the night. Those who saw the fire were surprised-and gratified-to discover that even the framework of the 210 year old house of worship remained standing.
A metal ceiling over the main portion of the worship area is credited with confining the flames and preventing them from reaching the huge, hidden roof beams. Removal of this dropped ceiling had been considered in order to expose the beauty of the old beams, but it probably is fortunate this had not been done. All of the furnishings in the church were antiques, some of them believed to be the original. All were destroyed together with the chandeliers, Bibles, and many pictures. There was no fire insurance on the building. With no power or heating units used, and no open flame-not even candles-ever permitted in the edifice, it was felt that the danger of a fire was remote.
The other missing piece of history was made known January 2000, at a St. Johnsville Village Board meeting. Fire Chief Jamie Carter said, "The best save the St. Johnsville Fire Department ever made was Indian Castle Church. My father (Jacque Carter) forgot he was supposed to take the longer way around, that the bridge on the shortest route was not safe for the heavy truck. Too late he realized his mistake but decided it would waste too much time to turn around and he used the bridge anyway. The bridge held, the truck arrived on the scene precious minutes earlier than if the longer route had been taken. I am still in awe over Indian Castle Church being saved."
The old Mindenville bridge has since been closed because it is unsafe and a few years ago the wooden flooring was set on fire. In its hayday, it was not a sound structure and it is amazing it held the big fire truck.
Since the fire, the exterior was painted and the roof has been replaced, the foundation and sill repaired, the furnishings replaced and at last; twenty years after the fire the work of restoration has been completed. South Columbia Church was torn down during the restoration and the siding and some of the floor boards were used to repair the church. It has been twenty years of dedication by the neighborhood volunteers; dinners, fund raisers and hard work by the to restore the church to its present state.
In the present day, the church is used for weddings, tourists groups and some summer services. The door of this church is almost always unlocked, anybody can come in at any time. The structure is now listed on the National Registry for Historic Locations. A guest book inside the church boasts of visitors from all over the valley and state. It remains seasonally open to the public until dark. During the winter, including the holiday season, the church is illuminated by flood lights and can be seen as far away as the Thruway.
The Twenty-Third Psalm
by Isabel Crawford (Used with permission)
The Great father above a Shepherd Chief is. I am His and in Him I want not. He throws out to us a rope and the name of the rope is Love and He draws me to where the grass is green and the water not dangerous and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down, but He lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. His name is Wonderful.
Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a Valley. It is dark there, but I will be afraid not, for it is in between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me and the hunger that I have in my heart all through this life will be satisfied.
Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards He gives me a staff to lean upon. He spreads a table before me with all kinds of foods. He puts His hand upon my head and all the "tired" is gone. My cup He fills till it runs over. What I tell is true. I lie not. These roads that are "away ahead" will stay with me through this life and after; and after wards I will go to live in the Big Teepee and sit down with the Shepherd Chief forever.
OLD FORT HERKIMER CHURCH
Gaunt and gray, impressive in its simplicity, appealing in its loneliness, the sturdiness of Fort Herkimer is a monument to early settlers. It is one of the oldest houses of God in New York.
The exact date of the beginning of Fort Herkimer Church is unknown, but the site was donated in 1730. The first church building, erected in 1725 was probably built of logs, but about 1737 the present building was begun. Halted in the building by the French and Indian War and by the impoverished condition of its parishioners, it was not completed until 1767. This date accompanied by the initials J. H. E., are cut in stone set in the north wall over the original doorway. The letters stand for John Jost Herkimer, the builder, the letter "E" being the initial letter of the German word "erbaut" (built). John Jost Herkimer was one of the men who went around collecting money from the residents of the countryside to complete the building of the church. During the early days of the valley, the Herkimer family was second in influence and importance to the Johnson family.
Originally the churches walls were eight feet less than their present height and one can easily see the old line in the outside wall. During the French and Indian War the construction of the church edifice had progressed enough to allow it to be used as a place of refuge after being palisaded (fortified). The church played an important part in this war. After Oswego was captured it was the extreme British outpost. This was before Fort Stanwix was built in 1758. The neighborhood was raided in 1757, the brunt of the attack falling on the north shore. The next year the south side of the Valley was attacked. This was during the French and Indian War.
Fort Herkimer played a great part in all the military expeditions that traveled through the Mohawk Valley to the conquest of Niagara, Frontenac, Oswego and the planned conquest of Canada by Gen. Amherst's army of 1,000 marching through the valley in 1760. John Jost Herkimer was merchant and trader as well as farmer. He lived at his home a short distance west of the church for over fifty years (when he wasn't away fighting) and raised a family of thirteen children, (including one son who became famous at Oriskany, General Nicholas Herkimer) along with his corn and peas. He died in 1775 with impending war rumbling in his ears.
The English used the area as a secondary line of defense and as a storehouse from which to reinforce and supply Fort Oswego, which was their western outpost. It became the scene of great activity. Sir William Johnson was here in 1756, and again in 1772, in company with Governor Tryon to review the Provincial Militia.
In the church is an excellent example of an elevated pulpit flanked by a flight of stairs on either side. Over the pulpit hangs a massive sounding board, beautiful in the simplicity of its lines and ornamentation. One can visualize in it the good Domine Rosenkrantz (he of the "creaking knees") preaching to his congregation as described in the novel Drums Along the Mohawk. In fact many of the scenes of that novel are laid in and about the church building and surrounding area. The pews of the church are quaint, stiff and severely plain with no padded cushion and each is entered through its own door.
Lieutenant Colonel John Brown was stationed here for thirteen months beginning April 1, 1776. Four years later he was killed at the Battle of Stone Arabia, October 19, 1780. Here also General Benedict Arnold, (1777) the only officer in Schuyler's command who would dare the journey, tarried for a few days on his way to the relief of Fort Stanwix near the Oriskany Battle Field. It was to German Flatts, the renegade Tory, Walter Butler came after Oriskany, trying to influence the settlers against independence. He was apprehended, convicted as a spy, and sentenced to death. Colonel Marinus Willett commanded here for a time and General Washington stopped here in 1783 on an inspection trip through the Mohawk Valley.
The first known minister at this church was the Reverend Johannes Schuyler, followed in 1733 by Reverend George Michael Weiss, the first "permanent" pastor in 1746. Abraham Rosenkrantz served as pastor from 1752 until his death in 1796. He was beloved by all his parishioners and in fact by all the settlers of the Valley for he preached not only at Fort Herkimer Church but at Canajoharie, Stone Arabia and at Schoharie. In the raid of 1757 he was saved through the insistence of friendly Indians, who, after warning the inhabitants, forced the minister to cross the river to safety. He married a sister of General Herkimer. He was buried, at his own request, under the pulpit he had so faithfully filled and here he still lies. His was one of the largest funerals ever held here.
In the year 1802 the Rev. John P. Spinner assumed the pastorate of German Flatts and continued forty-six years. He was the father of F. E. Spinner who was the treasurer of the United States under Lincoln, a statue of whom is in the Herkimer Park.
The road on the south side of the river was the way westward, the terrain on the north side of the river was more difficult and a road wasn't built until the early 1800s. All enterprises on the south side prospered, including the old church, which boasted some four hundred members at its peak. Gradually the church went into a decline when the focus of the population evolved to the north site of the Mohawk River. This church has not had an active congregation for many years though during the time it had an active congregation, it was part of the Reformed Dutch Church in American which later became the Reformed Church in America.
History of The OLD FORT HERKIMER CHURCH, German Flatts Reformed Church, 1723
By W. N. P. Dailey, D. D.
Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country, Updated by John J. Vrooman, 1951
MANHEIM REFORMED CHURCH or SNELL'S BUSH CHURCH
Manheim is nearly the central point of New York state. It has been a tradition the town was named by Dr. Wm. Petry out of his personal associations in a town of the same name in Baden, Germany. Manheim was set off as a town from Palatine on March 3, 1797, and on April 7, 1817, it was annexed to Herkimer county. Originally Sir Wm. Johnson owned all the land, the same granted to him a few years before his death by King George, some forty thousand acres in all, called the Royal Grant. The oldest patent of land in the town was given to Rev. Petrus Van Driesen who for a quarter century was pastor in the First Dutch Church of Albany. The grant was made in 1737 and contained twenty-five hundred acres. With him, Rev. John Jacob Ehle conducted a mission among the Indians, Originally the town of Manheim was in what was known as the Stone Arabia district, created in 1772, but in the following year the same was changed to Palatine district. In March, 1778, the Indians and Tories invaded the settlement and caused general devastation, some scalps were taken besides quite a number of prisoners. Among the families who suffered were those of Cobus Mabee, Conrad, Joseph, Abram and Jacob Klock, Mabus Forbush, Robhold Ough, Adam and Rudolph Furrie, Henry Shafer, John and Michael Keyser, Calvin Barnes.
With the settlement of the town of Manheim in 1770 the people who were mostly German, formed the first church organization, and since they had to depend on the Stone Arabia Reformed church for preaching, the organization followed that denomination. Among the influential men of that day were Jacob Markell (later a congressman), Michael Myers, Andrew Finck, Dr. Wm. Petry, John M. Petry, and others. Most of the inhabitants used the language which was called Mohawk Dutch.
Before the Revolution there were four Snell brothers, Jacob, Joseph, Peter, and Suffrenus, who gave seven acres of land for the church and twelve acres for the school. So many Snells lived in the vicinity that the place was popularly known and is to this day, as "Snell's Bush." The first church was burned during the Revolution. The second church, erected soon after the war, served the congregation until 1850, when it was taken down with part of its timber used in the construction of the new edifice. On January 8, 1850, at a meeting of the congregation it was voted to build a new "St. Paul's Reformed Protestant Dutch church" to be sixty by forty feet, and the following committee was appointed to build it: John Markel, Peter P. Snell, and Jacob Yoran. The consistory at this time consisted of elders, Peter A. Timmerman and Jacob Yoran; deacons, John Garlock and Levi Timmerman. The "slips" (pews) were sold on February 3, 1851, for $4,464, and among the purchasers were eighteen Snells and ten Timmermans. Peter P. Snell's family was so large that he bought two pews for $221, while Adam A. Feeter paid $141 for a single pew, and Jehoram Snell $136 for a pew.
The first pastor at Manheim was the Rev. John H. Dysslin of St. John's Reformed Church, who began preaching there in 1788 and supplied the pulpit for nearly a quarter of a century. The tradition of seeking pastors from St. John's Reformed Church continued off and on for about 100 years; this was a good solution for the Manheim Church which was unable to afford the expenses of a pastor of its own. At various times it used a pastor from the Stone Arabia Reformed Church and at one time it shared a pastor with Indian Castle Church. In the later years it used seminary students during the summer.
Among the families in the church were: Ayres, Altenburgh, Baum, Beardsley, Bloodough, Cook, Couch, Dockstader, Feeter, Fink, Garlock, Getman, House, Hart, Ingham, Johnson, Klock, Kilts, Loucks, Lipe, Markel, Nestle, Owens, Powell, Petree, Pettibone, Richtmyre, Rasbach, Snell, Shults, Shaver, Scott, Timmerman, Turney, Tacka, Vedder, Van Allen, Van Valkenburgh, Woolaver, Walrath, and Yoran.
The church cemetery has been cleared and beautified and may be seen for many miles, on the high land surrounding the church. The principal burials are the Snells, Timmermans, Yourans, Feeters, Garlocks and Markells. The oldest stone in the yard marks the burial spot of Peter Snell who was born in 1731 and died in 1804.
As the Herkimer County cheese market slipped away and families migrated into towns and even further west, the Snell's Bush Church congregation decreased. Finally in 1938 the remaining membership of 8 voted 7 to 1 to tear down the church and disband. But the lone dissenting vote belonged to Emma Timmerman who was directly descended from Jacob Timmerman. One night she had a dream---a vision of hands reaching out to her from the graves in the church cemetery---and voices urged her to save them. When she woke up she was committed to saving the church. And she did!!! At the fifth Snell-Timmerman-Zimmerman Reunion in 1942, she was able to reverse the decision to destroy the church. The group decided to incorporate and preserve the two cemeteries and the church. The church was restored both inside and out and donations maintain the upkeep.
Though the Snell's Bush Church will not be a stop on the August 2 bus tour, it is being promoted as one of the churches on the tour. August 3, is the date of the annual Snell-Timmerman-Zimmerman Reunion at the Snell's Bush Church. A religious service will take place at 11:00 A.M. on that date and it is hoped the visitors to our area will take advantage of the timing and attend the service.
Sources for the article:
The History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A. by W.N.P. Dailey, Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916, and Florene Burkdorf
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