Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A.
by W.N.P. Dailey,
Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916
To which is added sketches of Mohawk Valley men and events of early days, the Iroquois, Palatines, Indian Missions, Tryon County, committee of Safety, Sir Wm. Johnson, Joseph Brant, Arendt Van Curler, Gen. Herkimer, Reformed Church in America, Doctrine and Progress, Revolutionary Residences, Etc.


The name of the town, often found spelled "Canajohie," is Indian, and is said to mean "whirling stone" or "stone in the pot." A writer of more than a half century ago speaks of seeing deep bowls at the foot of a cascade half a mile from the village where large stones were whirled around at a rapid rate. Other Indian names as Cayuga and Niagara are smoother of pronunciation but even Canajoharie is preferable to Cato or Homer or Manlius or Pompey. The Dutch who clung to the Indian outwitted the Yankee who copied the Roman and Greek. The Indians called the hill on which the Canajoharie castle was built, "Ta-ragh-jo-res" ("hill of health"). The village was incorporated in 1829 and was locally known ad "Roof's Village." At this time, and for many years, Judge Alfred Conkling (father of Senator Roscoe Conkling) was the leading legal light of the community. He was a Representative in the XVII Congress (1821-1823). While Canajoharie is not identical in any way with the old and former "Sand Hill" church (1750-1838) still it may be rightfully regarded as a successor to it. In the call to Rev. John Wack, the last of the "Sand Hill" ministers that church is called "The Canajoharie Church." But Canajoharie must share any such honor with Fort Plain, if, indeed, we must not put the latter first in the line of direct descent, even tho this church was organized a few years previously. The "Sand Hill" church is treated under the "extinct" churches of the Classis. The first permanent religious work in this village was that of the Dutch church. Rev. John J. Wack of the "Sand Hill" organization raised funds with which to build what he called a "Union church," but it was expressly stipulated that while all denominations might use this building for worship the Methodists and Universalists were forever debarred. Wack probably had some personal grudge against these two non-union denominations. The church was built on what is now the towpath of the Erie Canal in the year 1808. Canajoharie at the time was a community of half a hundred houses. A Rev. George B. Miller, a school teacher in the village (afterwards a Hartwick Seminary professor) used to preach in this Union church. This was during his residence here, from 1818 to 1827, tho Dominy Wack of the Dutch church at "Sand Hill" and others also held forth for years before this.

When the Reformed church was organized in 1827 they began to use this building. Items of cost of repairs to the same appear in the records. The organization was effected at the house of Gerrit A. Lansing who with Silas Stillwell, Henry Loucks, and John Cornue were made the first consistory. Others present at the meeting were Jacob Hees, John Cooper, John W. Wemple, and Jacob Gray. Mr. Cornue soon after this left the village and Simeon H. Calhoun, who later became a missionary at Mt. Lebanon, Syria, was elected in his place. After using this "Union Church" for ten years, while likely other denominations also used it, the Lutherans came into real possession of it, and the Reformed church found itself compelled to build, as did likewise the Methodist church, both of whom built in 1841. The church built by the Methodists, near the modern Beechnut plant, was destroyed by fire January 2, 1915, and rebuilt the same year. The Reformed church was dedicated on March 10, 1842, Rev. Dr. Wyckoff of the Second Albany church preaching the sermon. The Sunday school work was begun with the organization of the church. Later there was a union Sunday school work carried on by the Dutch church and that of the Methodists who, until 1841 were on the south side of the river at Palatine Bridge.

The next record of incorporation is dated October 7, 1841, and herein are the names of John Frey, John A. Ehle, and Elisha W. Bigelow. John Frey was the grandson of Hendrick Frey, the first settler on the north side of the Mohawk in Montgomery county and who built a log house at Palatine Bridge in 1700. John A. Ehle was a descendant of Rev. Ehle (Oel) the missionary to the Mohawks who lived in what is not called Fort Ehle (near Fort Plain). The incorporation record states that "the church was organized, established and in continuous operation since 1827."

It is interesting to note the apparent religious awakening (not to say sectarian) about Canajoharie at this time, as evidenced in church organizations. The county clerk's records show the following incorporations.--"Second Methodist" (1838), "Methodist" (1840), "Dutch Reformed" and "English Lutheran" (1841), "German Lutheran" (1844), and the "St. Polycarp P. E." (1852), later changed to the "Good Shepherd". This was just prior to the erection of the stone edifice (1841) while the church was pastorless. John Frey (father of S. L. Frey) gave the land for the church. A third incorporation is found, recorded September 24, 1867, this patterned after that of the Second Dutch church of Albany, which a number of the churches in the valley in those days followed. After the building of the parsonage by Rev. George Davis in 1912, a fourth incorporation was effected. In other places of this record mention is made not only of the old original Canajoharie church at "Sand Hill", but as well to the Canajoharie Seceding church (1822-1842), and the Canajoharie Independent church of 1816, which was finally merged into the "Wyckofite" church, and also to the "Wyckofite" or True Reformed" church which was incorporated May 26, 1825, and of the "Reformed Calvanistic" church which was incorporated May 8, 1806.

The present Canajoharie church was organized in 1827 when the town embraced a large area on the south side of the river. The church was gathered together by Rev. Douw Van Olinda (later pastor of Caughnawaga) who was also preaching at the same time at Mapletown and the original Sprakers church. He supplied Canajoharie for four years. Van Olinda was born by, in the town of Charlestown (1800), and spent nearly his whole ministry in the Montgomery Classis. After leaving Canajoharie he served New Paltz for a decade or more, then returning to Caughnawaga (1844-1858) where he died while pastor. In 1830 the Rev. Ransford Wells became the first pastor at Canajoharie. In the first year sixty members were received. Wells was called to the Nassau church in August, 1832, but declined, tho a year later, in October, 1833, he left the field for Newark, N.J. After an absence of a quarter of a century he returned to the Montgomery Classis for a ten year ministry at Fultonville (cf). He died March 4, 1889, at the age of eighty-four. Dr. Wells' son, Theodore W. Welles has been in the Reformed ministry for half a century, and is now living at Paterson, N.J. He was licensed by this Classis.

The second pastor was Rev. Richard D. Van Kleek (1834-1836) who had been a teacher for a few years, and after leaving this field returned to this work for the rest of his life. He died in 1870 in Jersey City, N.J. Rev. Samuel Robertson was his successor (1836-1839) who went to Schoharie and spent the last twenty years of his ministry in missionary work in the west. He died in 1869. At this time the village came into possible prominence thro the Catskill and the Canajoharie Railroad incorporated in 1830 and built as far as Cooksburg at a cost of $400,000. But in 1842 it was abandoned and the track taken up.

Rev. Edward Osborn Dunning came from the Rome Congregational church in 1842 and remained thro most of 1845. This with Rome (1840-1841) were his only charges. Leaving this field he began a work of many years with the American Bible Society in the Southern states. During the Civil War he was a chaplain stationed at Cumberland, Md. During the last few years of his life he was interested in the exploration of ancient mounds in various parts of the south. Since leaving Canajoharie he had always made New Haven, Ct. (his birthplace), his residence. Here he died March 23, 1874. Rev. Jas. McFarlane of Rosendale was the next pastor (1845-1848). After two other pastorates in the Reformed church he entered the Presbyterian ministry. He died in 1871. The bell was bought in 1846 but cracked with use, and in having it re-cast by the Meneeleys they were directed to change its tone so it could be distinguished from the Lutheran or Methodist bell. Rev. John DeWitt was next installed as pastor in 1848 and remained thro the following year. On leaving here he went to Millstone, N.J., from which church he was called to a professoriate at New Brunswick Seminary which he held for thirty years. He was a member of the Old Testament Revision Committee.

Rev. Nathan F. Chapman came next (1850-1854), his first charge, and went from this field to Plattekill. He died in 1893 at Saugerties. He was followed in the pastorate by Rev. Eben S. Hammond who served the church as stated supply during 1854 thro 1856 in which latter year he went to the Columbia church for a few years (cf). He died in 1873, May 24. In 1856 a U.S. dime was officially declared the seal of the church. Rev. Alonzo Welton supplied the pulpit from October, 1856, to February, 1857, and then was called, but declined. Rev. Benj. F. Romaine who had been editor of the "American Spectator" (Albany) for fifteen years began a supply of the pulpit in 1857 and after a year or more accepted a call, was installed, and continued with the church until October, 1862. His last work was as secretary of the Colonization Society of Ohio. He died in 1874. During Romaine's pastorate (1858) the church was renovated throughout, the galleries removed, the pulpit changed from the south end to the north and the seats reversed. The cloth covering the pulpit, the gift of the North Dutch church of Albany (recently repaired) was originally given to the latter church by the family of Patroon Van Rensselaer. Venerable mantle! what theology, what sympathy, what Gospel, it must have supported thro a century or more of use. Following this pastorate of Romaine came Rev. Benjamin Van Zandt who had served Presbyterian churches for a few years. His mind seemed particularly attuned to the letter of the constitution, and Canajoharie was truly "disciplined" while he was pastor (1862-1869). His next church was at Leeds, and the last seventeen years of his life he spent at Catskill. He died in 1895 at the age of 86.

Rev. Richard R. Williams was the next pastor (1870-1883), one of the few longest pastorates and one of the most successful. He came from Union Seminary and was ordained by the Classis and installed over the church in 1870. He was forty-five years a member of this Classis. Leaving the field he took up literary work, becoming editor, as he was owner of Iron Age until his death in 1915. Rev. Dr. Pearse united in 1873, making these men long termers in Montgomery. Rev. John A. Lansing supplied the pulpit after Williams' leaving and until his death in July, 1884. Rev. Francis S. Haines, another Union Seminary man, was ordained by Montgomery Classis in 1884 and served the church for eight years. During his ministry two hundred and sixty-one members were received. Later Mr. Haines reentered the Presbyterian ministry. On leaving Canajoharie he became pastor at Easton, Pa., and in 1903 began work at Goshen, N.Y. Rev. Mark A. Denman came to Canajoharie in 1891 from the Gansevoort church and remained thro a part of 1896. For some years Mr. Denman has been engaged in business at Springfield, Mass. On leaving Canajoharie he became pastor of the Chatham church, then went to a Brooklyn pastorate, and next to the Springfield Memorial church. He has written an informing "History of the Republic of Honduras." Rev. Joseph D. Peters was called in October, 1897, and served the church for twelve years. Since leaving the field he has done fine work in the First Hoboken church (N.J.). Rev. George Davis came in 1911 and died while pastor, in March, 1914. Mr. Davis is remembered as a faithful pastor and a prodigious student. Following Mr. Davis, Rev. Victor J. Blekkink of Long Branch, N. J., came to the church in October, 1914. Mr. Blekkink is the son of the Rev. Dr. Blekkink, Professor of Theology in the Western Theological Seminary (Holland, Mich.), a former pastor at Trinity of Amsterdam.

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