History of Potsdam, NY Religious Societies


Local Histories

The early settlers of Potsdam were religiously inclined. Judge Raymond, the pioneer settler, conducted religious services in his home on the Sabbath for the benefit of his neighbors. The community, later known as the “ Union,” who settled in the town in 1804, formed a society in 1806, and later, in 1815, an organization was effected by Bela Palmer, which included most of the Union members, who were of a Unitarian cast, became quite numerous at one time, and continued its organization for a number of years. The congregational missionary, Amos Pettengill. with others, held services in the settlement as early as 1806, which were continued from time to time. and culminated in the formation of a society. A few years later the society was organized into a Congregational church. A council was called consisting of Rev. A. Pettengill, of Champlain; Rev. A. Permele, of Malone; Rev. E. Wright, of Russell; J. Winchester, of Madrid, and Amasa Blanchard and Salmon Gray, delegates from Hopkinton. The church was duly organized on June 9, 1811, by the assistance of Rev. William Wright and Rev. James Johnson, with twenty members. Rev. James Johnson became their first pastor, and was installed the following spring. Regular services were held in school-houses, and the church prospered for a number of years.

St. Paul’s Church Society.— A Presbyterian branch was formed August 14, 1811, with Liberty Knowles, J. P. Reynolds, and Azel Lyman, trustees. This society united with the congregational body in holding meetings, congregating in school-houses, and often in the Raymond building, called the old academy, that they became known as the Congregational Presbyterian Church. At length, exceptions having been taken at the name St. Paul’s Church Society, and a desire to form a union of the two bodies, when a general meeting was called for that purpose on the 16th of December, 1820. After due consultation as to the benefits of a union, a vote was taken, when the St. Paul's Society, being a trifle more numerous, the name of Presbyterian was carried and adopted by both societies, Hence the First Presbyterian Society of Potsdam dates its organization, and a frame church was erected at a cost of $4,500. The fall and winter of 1826—27 were periods of unusual religious interest, and the membership of the united bodies was greatly increased. In 1853 a brick church was erected on the old grounds (now part of the Normal School) at a cost of $10,000. In 1868 the property was sold to the commissioners of the Normal School for $10,000, and in 1867 the present beautiful stone structure was erected at the intersection of St. Lawrence and Elm streets, at a cost of $37,000. The Rev. George 0. Phelps is their present pastor.

The First Methodist Church.— A station of the St. Lawrence Circuit was organized in Potsdam in November, 1820, and an ancient record states that “ Brothers Powell, Miles, Denning and Clark” joined on trial on the day of organization, and were received into full communion the next spring There had been Methodist preaching here probably ten years prior to the above date. Josiah Keyes and William W. Randall were preachers on this circuit at the time in question. In 1821 a small frame church was erected which now serves the village as “Firemen’s Hall,” on June 21, 1821, and dedicated before its entire completion, on the 22d day of January, 1822, the first church dedication in town. Potsdam Circuit was formed in 1823 with two classes, one of them being in the village. This church became an independent station prior to 1833, and in 1835 had 130 members—eleven classes which extended over a considerable tract. The first church was repaired and enlarged in 1844. In 1859—60 the present brick church was erected at a cost of about $10,000. Tm 1882, during the pastorate of Rev. J. C. Darling, its present parsonage was built, refurnished, etc., at a cost of $3,500, and in 1883 over $4,000 were expended in renovating and repairing the church. The present membership (1893) is 320.

First Baptist Church.— This church was organized January 9, 1824, with thirteen members, viz; John Tickenor and wife, Norman Clinton and wife, Henry Myers and wife, Charles Grandy and wife, Silas Taft and wife, Josiah Doolittle, Phcebe Collins, and Rowena Fobes. The first deacons were Norman Clinton and Josiah Doolittle and the first pastor, R. Batchelor. The society was feeble for a number of years and had no house of worship until 1858, when a society was incorporated and a frame church erected on Elm street at a cost of $5,100. This was improved in 1875 at an expense of $2,500. Rev. A, L. Fox is the present pastor. The present membership is 168 and the Sunday school has an average attendance of ninety pupils; the superintendent of the Sunday school is F. F. Flint. The parsonage on Elm street was erected by the society in 1867.

Universalist Church.— The earliest record we have of the formation of the Universalist Society was at a meeting called January 3, 1824, and was incorporated October 2, 1825, with James Whitcomb, Asher Brown, and Stewart Bannister, trustees. The early efforts failed to secure the means for building a church until 1832, the meetings being previously held in the old academy. A committee was then appointed, who in 1835—36 erected a small wooden church edifice. Rev. Jonathan Wallace was the first pastor, who was followed by Rev. William H. Waggoner, and he by Rev. Jonathan Douglass. The church was reorganized January 17, 1852, with twenty-four members, and Joseph Miller, Timothy Bacon, Solomon Parmeter and John Lucas, trustees. There were several reorganizations from that time until 1859, whemthe number of trustees was changed to five. In 1874 there was a marked revival of interest, and twenty-three new members were added to the church. In 1876—77 an elegant and substantial edifice was erected on the site of the old one, built of Potsdam sandstone, forty, five by sisty five feet in size, and cost about $13,000, aside from the ground. Since the reorganization of the church in 1852 the pastors have been U. M. Fish, E. Fisher, M. Goodrich, Frank M. Hicks, Moses Marston, E. Hathaway, A. U. Hutchins, O. A. Rounds, E. J. Chaffee, Francis E. Webster, and the present pastor, W. O. Tuttle. The present Board of Trustees are General E. A. Merritt, William S. Brown, Merrill Hosmer, Dr. Oliver Bliss, and Chapin W. Hazelton.

Trinity Church (Episcopal) — As early as 1816 the Rev. Daniel Nash, while on his missionary tour through the county, visited Potsdam. In June, 1818, Rev. Amos G. Baldwin, who had the Waddington and Ogdensburg parishes in charge, made a tour through the several towns in the county and visited Potsdarn. Rt. Rev. Dr. Hobart, bishop of the Diocese of’ New York, made a visit to Potsdam in August of the same year, but nothing resulted in regard to establishing services there. For many years after the church people were dependent for ministration on the missionaries at Waddington, held in the old academy. In the year 1831, July 15, Rev. Aaron Humphrey officiated at Potsdam. Again on the 21st of May, 1833, he held services, examined candidates, and baptized one adult. On the following Sunday the Rt. Rev. Dr. Onderdonk, Bishop of New York, held services in the Methodist church and administered the rite of confirmation to eleven candidates. A call was extended to the Rev. Richard Bury, of Ogdensburg, on the z ith of November, 1834, who entered upon his labors soon after, and became the first rector of the parish. On the 23d of March, 1835, a parish was organized under the name of “Trinity Church,” (Potsdam), and articles of incorporation were duly executed, with John C. and Augustus Clarkson, wardens; David L. Clarkson, Zenas Clark, Theodore Clark, Myron C. Munson, Noble S. Elderkin, Samuel Partridge, Frederick Miller, jr.. and Aaron T. Hopkins, vestrymen. The southerly half of Fall Island was offered by the proprietor for a site for a church; the work was commenced and the corner-stone laid in June of 1835. The church was completed and consecrated on the morning of the 7th of August, 1836, by Bishop Onderdonk, and on the afternoon of the same day ten persons were confirmed, The edifice and furnishing cost $5,880; all of this sum, except $1,500 donated by Trinity Church, New York, after which the plan was taken, was raised in the parish. In 1858 the interior of the church was remodeled at a cost of $5,698. The sum of $3,000 was bequeathed to the parish by the late Augustus L Clarkson. The chapel erected in 1884 was provided for


by Mrs. Elizabeth Clarkson as a memorial to her late husband, Thomas S. Clarkson. In February, 1886, the church was reconsecrated by Bishop Dr. C. Doan, after the erection of a new front to the structure. This work was the gift of Thomas S. Clarkson and his sister. The tower is a memorial to their parents. The nave window, "Christ the Light of the World,” was a gift of Mrs. George H. Allan, of New York, as a memorial to her parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. A. N. Hopkins.

Catholic Apostolic Church— There are only a very few organizations of the peculiar character of this one in the United States. The sect originated in Scotland about 1830, spread to England, and in a few years men were named for office of apostle, as was believed by the Holy Ghost speaking through prophets. In time twelve such apostles were selected, and under their guidance the church has gradually increased, especially in the old countries.

The beginning of the church in Potsdam was in 1837, when two evangelists named Card and Cuthbert came at the invitation of David Lewis and began preaching. Since that time various persons have conducted the peculiar service, which in 1893 is tinder charge of W. F. G. Sealy. The membership is small.

Roman Catholic Church.— The first mass said in Potsdam was celebrated in the house of a Mr. Burk in 1832 by Father Salmon, to about a dozen people. In 1841 there were twenty-five families in that district. where Father Mackey, of Ogdensburg, said mass for a few months. He purchased a large dwelling house, where he said mass three or four times a year to about fifty persons. He blessed the house and gave it the title of St. Mary’s. In 1857 Potsdam became an independent parish with Father Philip Keveny as its first pastor. Father McGlinn soon succeeded him, and erected a church in the place of the old house. Bishop McCloskey in 1859 dedicated the new building capable of holding 600 persons.

In 1879 the Catholic population in the parish numbered 1,350 souls. Bishop Wadhams twice visited the parish and confirmed 205 persons. The Catholic spirit of the parish is very good and has never lost its tone from the beginning.

A Free-will Baptist church was formed at West Potsdam July 4, 1841, by Elder D. F. Willis, of thirty members. This church erected a house of worship, in connection with the M. E. society, in 1842, at a cost of $600, which was dedicated October 2 of the same year. The society was incorporated June 29, 1843, with G. S. Hathaway, Horace Hathaway and B. Lane, trustees.

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