Knox Sesquicentennial: The Churches

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY

The Churches

The early churches, which followed our pioneer forefathers into the wilderness, were powerful forces in the lives of those early settlers. The familiar, comforting rituals of religious services assumed an even greater importance for the men and women from the isolated farms and dwellings, scattered among the lonely hills. On the hard benches of the church, in the company of friends and neighbors, the early settler found a source of strength that enabled him to endure the hardships, loneliness, and endless toil.

The early churches provided meeting places for secular, social gatherings, too. And out of those gatherings, whether held for worship, social pleasure, or the discussion of common problems, grew the associations and ties that bound the people of the upland wilderness into communities.

Past historians tell us that the Lutheran Church was the first church to be organized in Knox before 1750. An old church book entitled, Memorial Volume of Hartwick Synod (1835-1880), which was used, apparently, by Tenney and Howell in their History of Albany County, states:

" ... the members of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches took up, under the church patent law, a tract of land for a Reformed and Lutheran Church, lot and farm containing about forty-two acres. Rev. Nicholas Sommer (from Schoharie) organized a Lutheran Church. The first church and schoolhouse, a building about 20 feet square was erected about 1750. In August 1810 another lot was purchased and in the following fall the old church was removed to the new lot and remodeled. In 1828 this old church was torn down and a new church 20 x 30 feet was framed, raised and partly enclosed, and before it was finished a misunderstanding arose between the Reformed and the Lutheran officers. According to the historians the disagreement lasted so long that nothing was done towards finishing the church until 1829, when a number of members got together and re-incorporated and chartered Zion's Lutheran and Reformed Church of the Helderberg."

In 1839, the Reformed members again withdrew and built a separate church at Secor's farm which they called the Second Berne Reformed Church. The Lutheran Church was more fully reorganized as Zion's Lutheran Church at Knox by the Rev. Adam Crounse. In 1850, the Lutheran Church was erected at a cost of $1,200, and during 1868 and 1869 the parsonage was completed.

During the 1830's, the Rev. Crounse served Berne and Guilderland, and in the years that followed his successful pastorate, there were times when there was no permanent pastor to occupy the parsonage. During such intervals the church farm was rented and the pulpit was supplied by clergy from other churches.

From 1884 through the 1900's, the Lutheran Church was vigorous and active. Issues of the Enterprise, covering those years, report on a rich variety of church activities: socials, exhibitions, visiting speakers, and other social gatherings. The old church burned in 1930 and was not rebuilt. The parsonage is the present home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Rock, and legend has it that Mrs. Rock's living room was once a funeral parlor.

There were three Methodist Churches in Knox. Reverend William Brown, said to have been the first Methodist preacher, was a circuit rider who, when young, served the "circuit" which included Berne, Reidsville, Middleburgh, and Schoharie, as well as Knox. Reverend Brown lived on a small farm in Knox and for many years he rode the wilderness trails of his circuit with his bible in his saddlebags. He was known far and wide throughout the hills by the affectionate nickname, "Old Saddlebags, the Circuit Rider."

According to Arthur Gregg, the author of Old Hellebergh, the Reverend Brown became the subject of a legend that was told and re-told wherever the hill town people gathered. Mr. Gregg relates that Reverend Brown was summoned to the manor of the patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer, to account for his failure to meet the payments of his rent. Old Saddlebags appeared before the expensively-dressed patroon, clad in his homespun coat, leather breeches, and high boots, and asserted that his delinquency was a consequence of his calling, which was to preach God's word to scattered groups of Christians who were themselves so poor that their contributions were insufficient for his rent.

The wealthy patroon could not believe that the uncouth bumpkin standing before him was in truth a preacher, and he seized upon the occasion to expose this rough-hewn tenant, and also to provide a comic entertainment for his friends. Accordingly, he invited Reverend Brown to preach a sermon in the big, two-steepled Dutch Church at Albany. But the man who had ridden the long miles of his circuit, carrying the Word to small congregations was not so easily discomfited, and "Old Saddlebags" rose to the occasion magnificently. For the text of his sermon to the elegant congregation he chose Matthew 19: 24: "It is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." And doubtless Old Saddlebag's straitened circumstances lent greater fervor and eloquence to his words. At any rate, Mr. Gregg relates that the patroon, who had expected a comic performance, was deeply impressed. When the service ended, Van Rensselaer approached the horseback preacher and said: "Tomorrow, we shall fix the deed – a valid deed – free from rent forever." Old Saddlebags rode home to the distant hills, and behind his back the two-steepled church faded in the distance.

The Reverend William Brown and his wife and child were buried in a tiny plot on a farm on Knox Cave Road which is now owned by Mr. Grennan. This small plot can still be seen. The inscription reads simply: Rev. William Brown, born Oct. 24, 1758, died April 25, 1834, aged 75 yrs. 6 M. 1 da.

The first Methodist Church, which stood about a mile east of Knox village, was torn down and replaced in 1851 by a new church that stood on the site until 1932. There was also a Methodist Church in Township. In 1851, when the Methodist Church in the village of Knox was erected, another Methodist Church was built in Township, which is still standing. From 1960 until 1963 it was used by an Apostolic Church congregation, but at present it is not in use and is deteriorating rapidly.

Reverend John Chase apparently served both the Knox and Township Methodist Churches, although this joint ministry cannot be verified because the actual records are missing from this church. It seems probable, however, that the pastor who served one church would have served the other also.

METHODIST CHURCH OF TOWNSHIP - At the intersection of the present Witter Road and Route 146.

During the years after 1850, the Methodist Church was a vital force in the affairs of the community. Some of the early pastors were: Elisha Watson, Aron Hall, A. Campbell, R. Patterson, and C. E. Taylor. In 1886, a membership of 162 was reported.

1n 1884, the Knowersville Enterprise (the present Altamont Enterprise) reported a centennial meeting at the Methodist Episcopal Church on November 20th. "The meeting was well attended. The Knox people have reason to feel proud of their choir and their organ." In 1889, the same paper reported that gospel meetings, led by an Evangelist from Manchester, England, were held in the Methodist Church. Another account, reported in 1890, stated that the young people of the church were preparing an exhibition for the purpose of raising money for street lamps. In the 1900's it was reported that the Knox Dramatic Club performed a popular drama entitled, Strife, in the Methodist Episcopal Church hall. Finally, the Enterprise of February 14, 1902, printed this spirited declaration: "This is a great day for the Methodist Episcopal Church in Knox. For over three months we have worked and waited to bring it about. We have treated our church to new steel ceilings, new windows, new circular seats, new carpets, prepared the side walls and painted the woodwork, material for painting the outside of the church and hall, and a new sweet-toned organ at the expense of $ 1,925."

For a period of time, beginning in 1917, the Methodist congregation formed a federation with the Dutch Reformed Church. In the absence of written records it is assumed that the community was unable to provide funds for the support of two congregations. However, each congregation is said to have maintained separate records and accounts. It has been reported that "insurmountable problems" beset the unusual federation, and that it survived at all was due in large measure to the resourcefulness and character of the first pastor, Alfred V. Patton. The Knox Church Centennial bulletin stated: "His quiet peaceful spirit, cheerfulness and common sense won the confidence and affection of both sides." The federation continued through the pastorates of G. 0. Reid. Wm. H. Nasholds, and A. E. Campin.

Some of the older members never fully accepted the federation and when, on the night of January 5. 1932, the Methodist Church burned to the ground, it is said that "many members felt that this was an Act of God." The Methodist Church was never rebuilt and the Dutch Reformed Church, which is now the only church in the village of Knox, absorbed the remaining members.

The site of the old Methodist Church is now owned by Mr. Fred Oettinger.

According to Parker's Landmarks of Albany County, the Reformed Church of Knox had its origin in the Presbyterian Church which was organized in 1825. Tenney and Howell in their History of Albany County state that "some years before, a formal organization was effected under the transient ministrations of some clergymen who chanced to visit the locality." The New England settlers who came to Knox from Connecticut agitated for a Presbyterian Church and irregular services were held until the first regular pastor, Rev. J. Judson Buck, was installed in 1825. However, the Knox Church Centennial bulletin states:

"Miss Bogardus has preserved for us the copy of the Church Covenant entered into by the Presbyterians of Knox which is dated 1802 and which shows that the church was already organized formally or informally on that date." Furthermore, it is said that Dr. Nott was responsible for the formal organization of the church in 1825. The church was received into the Classis of Albany on September 20, 1842. At that time it was described as an unadorned wooden building which stood approximately 195 feet northeast of the present church. Tenney and Howell state: "It was a plain wooden building of the uninviting kind, called God's barn."

The Rev. Buck remained with the congregation for three years, but after his departure no regular pastor was appointed to succeed him. The membership dwindled, funds grew scarce, and since the Dutch Reformed settlers in the village increased in number and influence, the subject of reorganization under the Dutch Reformed persuasion was much discussed. Finally, 31 members of the original Presbyterian congregation were dismissed to form the new Dutch Reformed congregation. The consistory chosen included: Daniel Chesebro, Joseph Gallup, Gurdon Gallup, Henry Williams, Jr., John Van Allen, Michael P. Cavart, Charles Clute, and John Possom.

An 1890 issue of the Enterprise yields the following description from a letter of Emmet Willard. "The high pulpit looked down into square pews that were as high as an ordinary man’s head, a veritable box or as they were called 'Sheep pens.' " Probably the high "pens" were designed to block the icy drafts that swept through the church and to retain the meager warmth of portable heaters, during those days when central heating was unknown. During cold weather, members of the congregation brought their own warming devices into the church. Affluent members had pierced metal boxes which held hot coals, while those of lesser means comforted their cold extremities with heated soapstones.

The church was moved to its present location in 1902. All the work of re-location was accomplished by local people under the supervision of Edward Evans, an Albany contractor. Hay jacks, rollers, and one team of horses augmented the many willing hands. During the same year, contributions of money and lumber made it possible to raise the church hall.

Reverend Joseph Kneiskern, under whose ministry the Reformed Church of Knox was reorganized, served both Knox and Second Berne during the years from 1841 through 1845. Incomplete church records indicate that after Rev. Kneiskern's departure, the churches of Knox and Second Berne did not share a pastor again until 1868. It is said that several ministers served Second Berne, which is now Thompsons Lake Reformed Church, during that interval but that none of them were formally installed pastors.

After 1845, the churches of Knox and Gallupville shared a minister, and from 1852 until 1868 were served by the Reverends E. Hammond, N. Bogardus, Lane, Compton, and E. Veeder. Incomplete records suggest that the "new" church at Knox was built around 1850. This date is approximated from a letter to Hannah Crary written by her brother, Beebe Crary.

On September 3, 1868, William Ballagh was installed as pastor of the Knox and Second Berne churches. From that time to the present these two congregations have been served by the same pastor, except for the period 1884-1885 when Knox itself was without a pastor.

Reverend Lockwood served the church well through the years, and together with Reverend Alfred Eaton of the Methodist Church created an atmosphere of harmony between the two societies. It is said that a hundred members were enrolled in the two Sunday Schools.

Reverend Lockwood, who succeeded Andrew Parson, enjoyed a popularity that extended beyond his flock into the whole community. His proficiency as a baseball player enhanced that popularity, and as captain of Knox's "famed nine" he led the community team to many thrilling victories. Between the pastorates of Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Van Ess the re-location of the church, described in the preceding section, was undertaken. The ministry of Reverend E. Kelder covered the period from 1904 to 1908. From 1908 through 1912 there was no installed pastor in the Knox Church, except for Reverend John Appel who served for a short period. Reverend Wm. Davis was the pastor from 1912-1915, and during his ministry the church was given a new roof and the present church windows were installed.

The period of federation with the Methodist Church was described in a preceding section of this resume. After the Methodist Church was destroyed by tire, Reverend Norman Vander Hart served both congregations for a time, but in June, 1932 the Methodist Board withdrew.

Mr. Vander Hart first came to Knox as a student pastor. Then, after his graduation from Western Seminary, he was installed as pastor of the Knox Reformed Church in June of 1929. During his pastorate there was a very successful Sunday School. In addition, Reverend Vander Hart, who was an accomplished cellist, joined with Reverend S. H. Evans of Gallupville, a violinist, and with Mrs. Vander Hart, a competent pianist, to form the Helderberg Trio which achieved a considerable reputation for excellence. Reverend Vander Hart also drew upon the musical talents of the congregation to form a successful community sing.

1n 1943 the Couples Club was organized with members that Rev. Vander Hart had married. The club was met continuously since that time, and for several years has held a Lord's Acre Auction, the proceeds of which have purchased many things for the church. The church was a dominant factor throughout the ministry of Reverend Vander Hart.

Reverend John Endert, who succeeded Reverend Vander Hart, came to serve the congregation in 1945. Credit is given to him for wiring the chandelier that is in use today. The chandelier was given to the Knox Reformed Church by the First Reformed Church of Albany, which had received this gift from Queen Anne of England. From 1950 to 1953, Reverend D. Boyce of Westerlo served as the supply minister.

From 1953 through 1958, Reverend Roger Johnson ministered to the church. During this time, two new hot-air furnaces were installed in the church and the church hall, and robes were purchased for the choir. A new organ was also purchased for $1200. ($1000 was given in memory of Mrs. Minnis Truax by Mrs. Jennie Weeks.)

Reverend Bertram Roskamp came to the Knox pulpit in 1959. Reverend Bohne supplied until his installation. Reverend Donald Hull served from 1961 until September 1968, with Reverend Bohne again serving through the interval. During Reverend Hull's service, the church hall was completely remodeled to provide a new kitchen, dining room, stage, minister's study, and Sunday School Room. The remodeled hall was dedicated in 1961. The dining room tables and chairs were purchased by the Couples Club.

From September 1968 to 1970, the Reverend Bowen Hawkins and Reverend Robert Hanley served the pulpit. During the period of 1968-69, the church was again redecorated with new furniture and a new red rug. In November 1971 a new roof was installed. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gibbs donated new chairs for the choir. On July 12, 1970, Reverend Peter Berry was installed as the pastor of the Knox Reformed Church, and he continues to serve in that capacity.

Tenney and Howell report that there was a Baptist Church in Township. Other sources report that a Baptist Church, known as the Church of Berne previous to 1825, was organized early in the century. In 1812, when Reverend N. H. Ripley was pastor, it had a membership of 105. Clarkson Wood, one of our senior citizens, states that there was a Baptist Church in Township and that the Salvation Army held meetings there.

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