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 village of Fort Plain goes back beyond Revolutionary times, the place undoubtedly taking its name from Fort Plain which was built in 1776 about a third of a mile north-east of the "Sand Hill" church, which church was built about a mile above the present site of the village. Some have thot it derived its name from Fort Plank, built toward the close of the war and which was two and a half miles west of Fort Plain and a quarter of a mile from the river. The story of the "Sand Hill" church ought to be read in connection with this of Fort Plain, because of the close relationship of the two, Fort Plain being an outgrowth of the old church on the hill. The present church at Fort Plain was organized in 1831. The church at "Sand Hill" had about outlived it usefulness, but under the influence of Rev. Wack (cf "Sand Hill") who had been dropped by Classis, it was endeavoring to defeat the aim of the younger congregation, whose work was more opportune to the changed conditions of the community. Already the present village folk of Canajoharie had withdrawn from the hill church and the families at Fort Plain felt the distance too great to continue to go there. Accordingly a committee of Classis, Revs. Welles and Gray, visited the field, looked carefully into the situation and reported back to Classis on February 7, 1832, about as follows,-"that the 'Sand Hill' church was dominated by Rev. John J. Wack, no consistory had been elected for a decade, the property was fast falling into ruin, the members were scattered, and the church defunct. On the other hand Montgomery Classis and the Domestic Board had organized this new (Fort Plain) church and it was deserving of the hearty support of all in that community, and amply sufficient to supply their needs." The men behind the movement for this new church were Revs. Douw Van Olinda (cf Fonda) and Cornelius Van Cleef (classmate of Rev. Bethune at Utica). These men at the time were looking after the work of the Classis at Johnstown, Mayfield, Canajoharie, Palatine, Mapletown, Sprakers, Fort Plain, etc. In June, 1833, both the Reformed and Universalists began to build their edifices. Henry and Abram I. Failing were the Reformed church builders. There was a great rivalry to see which would first raise the frame. The Reformed church builders won out while the carelessness of the others caused an accident which injured several men, one of whom died.

Rev. Nanning Bogardus was the first installed pastor of whom we have any definite record. He was to have been installed on December 26, 1833, and Rev. Bethune was to preach the sermon, but on the night of December 25, the church decorated for the occasion, was burned and Bogardus was not installed until April 15, 1834. Rev. Demarest (pastor 1884-1890) thinks Rev. John H. Pitcher was the first pastor because he was ordained at Fort Plain. Corwin's Manual places Pitcher at Herkimer and German Flatts during 1831 - 1833, but this is an error since Domine Spinner was then pastor and for ten years longer. The Minutes of the Albany Part. Synod speak of him as a missionary at Fort Plain in 1831. We know, also, that Pitcher at this time was in the Second church of Herkimer, merged into the First church in 1836. The new church to take the place of the one burned was built in 1834. Mr. Bogardus remained with the enterprise but a little over four months. Later he spent ten years in the Classis as pastor of the churches at Canastota and Sprakers (cf). He died in 1868.

During 1835-1836 the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Arthur Burtis, a member of the Oxford Presbytery, who went to the Little Falls Presbyterian church on leaving Fort Plain, and, later, became Professor of Greek in Miami University. He was ordained to the ministry by the Classis of Montgomery (1835). He died in 1861. The church was incorporated at this time, February 2, 1836, the names of David Diefendorf and James Post (elders) and Abraham I. Failing (deacons) appearing on the record; also that of Rev. A. Burtis. Rev. John P. Pepper succeeded Burtis, remaining four years (1837-1840), and had another pastorate in the Classis at Warren (Herkimer county). He died in 1883, being without charge for thirty years. Rev. Samuel Van Vechten was the next pastor (1841-1844) and tho he broke down physically here he lived forty years more. He also served in the Classis at Mapletown, Johnstown, and at Union. He died in 1882.

Rev. Charles G. McLean (1844-1852) came to the church from the Newcastle Presbytery (Pa.) and entered educational work on leaving this field. The church greatly depreciated during his pastorate owing to internal trouble. For three years McLean was on trial before the Classis and Synods. Rev. Martin L. Schenck (1853 1857) succeeded McLean and proved to be a great conciliator who harmonized the various elements in the church. He had three pastorates after leaving Fort Plain (Rocky Hill, White Hall, Plattekill). He died in 1873. Rev. John G. Hall was the next pastor, coming in June, 1858 (1858-1864), and remained seven years, a fine character, a most helpful preacher and pastor. But this prosperous pastorate was followed by a seven years famine, a divided house, --only the name of a church --and Classis seemingly unable to bring the prayed for peace to its Jerusalem. In the interim of the pastorate the pulpit was frequently supplied by Rev. G. D. Consaul (cf Herkimer) and Whittaker, a Presbyterian minister. Finally, by invitation of the Classis, Rev. Vermilye of the Utica church, and Revs. Clark and Elmendorf of the Albany churches mediated the matter with the congregation and again peace and prosperity ensued. Rev. Alexander B. Riggs was called and came to this, his first pastorate (1870-1876), and brot the church back to its former glory and efficiency. He was ordained by Montgomery Classis.

During this pastorate the building was remodeled at a cost of $13,000. A great revival conducted by Riggs swept over the community and not only increased the membership of the church but gave spiritual tone to the whole work. Mr. Riggs next went to the West Troy (Watervliet) Presbyterian church. For many years he has been Professor Emeritus at the Lane Theological Seminary. A Board of seven Trustees was incorporated on February 24, 1867, to manage with the consistory the temporalities of the church, There is also a record at Fonda of a meeting of these trustees, August 19, 1869, at which D. S. Kellog presided and G. J. Pettit was the clerk. During the years when the church was without a settled pastor the pulpit was supplied for at least four years by Rev. Ganesvoort D. W. Consaul (1864-1868), a licentiate of the Schenectady Classis. Seven years later lie was received into the Classis, ordained and in stalled over the church at Mohawk (cf Herkimer). In 1879 he demitted the ministry. Rev. Mr. Whittaker also supplied the pulpit for about two years (1866-1868). The successor to Dr. Riggs was Rev. Samuel J. Rogers (1876 - 1879) who had been a pastor at Geneva (cf) for eight years, and came to Fort Plain from Port Jervis. On leaving the field he entered the Congregational body, serving it in Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa. He died May 3, 1910, having been for a decade the Secretary of the Minnesota Congregational Association. Rev. Denis Wortman came to the church from the old First church of Schenectady, in 1880, and resigned in 1883 to take up work at Saugerties. For a great many years he has most efficiently served the denomination as Secretary of their Ministerial Board of Relief. Rev. James Demarest became pastor in 1884, remaining seven years. His last work was in the Bethany church of Brooklyn. He died in 1913. Rev. Edward A. McCullum was the next to occupy the pulpit (1890-1900). Mr. McCullum has recently resigned his pastorate at Fishkill-on-Hudson to take up the work at Castleton. Rev. Arthur Dougall was called to the pastorate in 1900 and remained about three years. He next entered the Elmira Presbyterian church and died while pastor there in 1909. The present pastor at Fort Plain is Rev. Henry C. Willoughby who came on the field in 1904.

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