History of Churches in Penn Yan, NY
From: History of Yates County, N. Y.
Edited by: Lewis Cass Aldrich
Published by: D. Mason & Co.
Syracuse, N. Y. 1892

Church History of Penn Yan. - The first religious services in the county of Yates were those conducted by the society of Friends,although the claim has been made that Catholic missionaries said masses in the region at an earlier day. The Friends came in numbers in 1788, and worshiped in their own peculiar manner during that same year. Four years later the Methodist circuit riders appeared and labored in the region, and planted the seed of their afterward prosperous church societies. As there was no settlement within what afterward became the village of Penn Yan earlier than 1800, it is not expected that religious services could have been held here prior to that time. But such meager records as do now exist, most of them being founded on unreliable tradition, and still less trustworthy memory of man, leave us in some doubt as to whether Methodist or Presbyterian services were first to be conducted within the afterward named village of Penn Yan. The Genesee Conference was organized in 1810, but there appears to have been no local church organization prior to 1826. However, common consent has generally accorded to the Presbyterian society the honor of having been the first to plant their church within the environment of the village.

The Presbyterian Church and society of Penn Yan was the almost direct outgrowth and branch of the older society of the same denomination in Benton. As early as the year 1819, in the month of June, Rev. James Hotchkins preached in the little old school house in this village, at a time when there were but two female and no male members of the church within its limits; and these persons were then members of the Benton society. During the summer of 1820, at the invitation of local residents, Rev. Richard Williams came here to reside, and thereafter preached in the village in the morning and at the Benton church in the afternoon. In 1821 the session of the Benton church held a meeting in Penn Yan, and examined Maria Masten, Sarah Cornwell and John Hatmaker, who were afterward received into the church on confession of faith. These were the first persons to be received into the Penn Yan branch of the church, and John Hatmaker was chosen its first elder.

With the constant increase of village population other persons expressed a preference for the Presbyterian doctrine and form of worship, and in February, 1823, Mr. Hatmaker, as duly authorized delegate, presented a petition to the Presbytery, asking for the organization of a separate and distinct church. On this petition appeared the names of thirty eight members of the Benton church. The request was granted, and the society was organized on the 9d Tuesday in Feburary of that year; an organization that was made fully complete on the 2d day of September following. Dr. John Hatmaker and Silas Lacy were chosen elders, and Henry Knapp and Mr. Lacy were elected deacons. For a period of four years from the first preachings by Mr. Williams the new society had no church home, but in 1824, the same year in which the Benton society erected its church, the local edifice was erected. It was a small, unpretentious building of frame material, but sufficient for the purposes of the society at that time. Its location was on the east side of Main street, near and just above the residence of T. F. Wheeler. From the time of the organization of the society down to the year 1841, the Presbyterian church maintained a steady and healthful growth, both in membership and influence, but in the year last mentioned there occurred a serious division among its members, growing out of a discussion relative to church action and doctrines, and increased in feeling by the divided sentiment over the question of slavery. The result was the withdrawal of a majority of the members from their church connection, in which action they were counseled and followed by the pastor, the Rev. Ovid Miner. The dissenters not only severed their relations with the mother society, but organized for themselves, and built a church edifice at the corner of Main and Chapel streets, the same building, though now enlarged, at present occupied by the society of the Methodist Episcopal church.

In this connection it may be stated that the new society, which by the way styled themselves Congregationalists, and adopted that form of church government, never acquired any substantial strength. They built the edifice now owned by the Methodist society, in 1841, but in years afterward themselves became involved in a controversy, with result in the dismemberment of their organization. A portion of their membership formed a new society styled the Wesleyan church; some returned to the mother society which they had deserted, while still others drifted into other churches or remained unallied to any religious organization.

Notwithstanding the serious blow against the welfare of the church, caused by the withdrawal of the majority of its, members, the society in about four months secured the services of the Rev. James Richards, and agreed to pay him an increased salary. Also they determined upon radical changes and improvements in the church edifice, which were accomplished, but at the expense of a heavy debt which hung over the society for many years. But with the lapse of time and the return of many of the former members the church again assumed her former position among the influential societies of the village. In 1864 the building was again subjected to repairs and enlargement to meet the requirements of the society, and on the 22d of October of that year the church was rededicated. However, fifteen years more of increasing strength demonstrated that the old church home was no longer sufficient for the society's uses, and the building of an entirely new and more spacious and elegant modern house of worship became imperative. The site chosen was at the corner of Main and Clinton streets, upon which was erected by far the most beautiful edifice in the county. It needs no other description on these pages. Conspicuously carved on the corner stone are the years "1824-1879," denoting the time of erecting the first and the latest churches of the society.

The succession of pastors of the First Presbyterian church of Penn Yan has been as follows: Richard Williams, from September, 1820, to February 19, 1825; Chauncey Eddy, 1826 to September 19, 1831; Samuel A. Allen, October 8, to December 8, 1831; Stephen Crosby, February, 1832, to August 1, 1836; Ovid Miner, April 1, 1837, to February 17, 1841; James Richards, June 8, 1841, to November 18, 1847; William W. Robinson, from early in 1848 to November 14, 1850; James Eells, September 23, 1851, to October 27, 1854; W. W. Taylor, December, 1854, to April 1, 1860; L. S. Fine, October 1, 1860, to June, 1862; Frederick Starr, March 1, 1864, to May, 1865; David Magie, 1865 to 1872; William Lawrie, 1872 to 1873; D. Henry Palmer, 1873 to the present time.

The Methodist Episcopal church in Penn Yan was not regularly organized until the year 1826, at which time the village society was made a distinct appointment. Although there may be no record by which the question can be acurately determined, yet there is reason to believe that Methodist services were held and conducted in the village several years earlier than the organization. As a matter of fact Methodism in the county, or what afterward became the county, dates back to 1792, and although there could not have been services in the village until after the latter was founded, there is good reason to suppose that class services at least were held here soon after the year 1895, or about that time.

In 1826 Abram Prosser, the first known class leader, caused to be erected for the M. E. society a frame church. Its site was on Chapel street, in rear of the present edifice of the society, and about where the horse sheds now stand. Becoming too small for the requirements of the congregation, the, old building was vacated, and the church property of the Congregational society, located at the corner of Main and Chapel streets, was acquired by purchase. This occurred in 1857, but two years later it was found necessary to enlarge the building. Additional alterations and enlargements were again made in 1881. The old first church buil4ing was removed from its original site to a lot just east of the landing place of the old line boats.

Numerically, financially, and in influence and good works, the Methodist Episcopal society is strong. In 1828 the church had a membership of but thirty persons; in 1891 the number is found to be four hundred and thirty. As a regular appointment the first services were conducted by John B. Alverson, who continued in charge three years, the last year being made nominally supernumerary, so as not to conflict with the church rule. Commencing with Rev. Alverson the succession of pastors of the church has been as follows:

John B. Alverson, 1826-28; Abner Chase, 1829; Manley Tooker, 1830; Chester V. Adgate, 1831-32; Wilbur Hoag, 1833; Robert Parker, 1834; Thomas J. Champion, 1835; Seth Mattison, 1836; Thomas J. Champion, 1837; Allen Steele, 1838; Freeborn G. Hibbard, 1839; William P. Davis, 1840; F. G. Hibbard, 1841-42; Clinton W. Sears, 1843; Isaiah McMahon, 1844-45; William H. Goodwin, 1846-47; Alpha Wright, 1848-49; Israel H. Kellogg, 1850-51; Daniel Dana Buck, 1852-53; Thomas Tousey, 1854-55; Nathan Fellows, 1856-57; John C. Nobles, 1858-59; Sanford VanBenschoten, 1860-61; Charles W. Bennett, 1862-63; D. D. Buck, 1864-65; Thomas Tousey, 1866-68; James E. Latimer, 1869; William R. Benham, 1870-71; M. S. Leet, 1872-74; J. P. Farmer, 1874-75; K. P. Jervis, 1876-77; A. N. Damon, 1878-80; E. M. Mills, 1881-83; J. H. McCarty, 1884-86; J. V. Benham, 1887-89; L. F. Congdon, 1890. Rev. C. N. Adgate died during his pastorate in 1832, and Rev. Schuyler Seager was appointed to fill out the term. Rev. J. P. Farmer resigned in 1875, and the term of appointment was filled by Rev. F. S. Stein.

Baptist preaching in this locality was conducted by Elder Simon Sutherland and Rev. Samuel Carpenter as early as 1711, but it was not until the year 1829 that any movement was made in the direction of establishing a Baptist society in Penn Yan. In the year last named about eighteen or twenty former members of the old Second Milo church severed their relations with the mother society for the purpose of founding a Baptist church in the village. Among the persons so withdrawing from the old society are remembered these: Stephen and Polly Raymond, Gideon Burtch, Thomas, Lydia and Mehitable Benedict, Samuel and Isaac Raymond, William and Lucy Freeman, Pond. and Pamelia Curtis, Eunice Randall, Artemas Enos, Sister Youmans, Sally Nash, Mary Telford and Sister Firman.

The early meetings of the new society were held in residences of members, in old Masonic hall, schools, the court house, and in the printing office of Brother Bennett. In April, 1831, a meeting was held in the old academy, at which time were chosen these trustees: Morris Earle, Stephen Raymond, and Abraham H. Bennett. At a meeting held February 11, 1834, it was resolved to build a brick church on Main street, to be in size forty feet front and sixty feet deep. At the same time the society chose a building committee, as follows: William M. Oliver, Morris F. Sheppard, Elipha Peckins, Abraham H. Bennett, William Babcock, and S. S. Barker. The first house of worship occupied the same site as the present church of this society. It was a plain brick building and cost $9,000. It was occupied by the society until 1870, and then torn down to make room for the elegant edifice to be erected the next year. The new church was built by Moses E. Buck, at an expense of $15,000, besides the material in the old building. The entire new building, including lot, represented a total of $25,000. The trustees were the building committee of the new edifice, and were as follows:

Andrew F. Chapman, Martin F. Hicks, Henry A. Douglass, George W. Shannon, Ephraim Sanford, Jeremiah Raymond, Henry Briggs, Watkins Davis, and Gilbert Sherer. The new church was appropriately dedicated May 18, 1871, the sermon of the occasion being delivered by Rev. T. Edwin Brown, of Rochester.

The following named persons comprise the succession of pastors of the Baptist church and society, viz.: Samuel Carpenter, David Hulburt, John D. Hart, Ira Bennett, Orel Montague, Samuel Adsit, Howell Smith, Hiram K. Stimpson, Charles Morton, Samuel D. Bainbridge, Charles N. Chandler, Edwin P. Brigham, N. Judson Clark, G. M. Peters, T. R. Peters, J, P. Farmer, D. Crosby, D. R. Watson, and Edward M. Saucier.

St. Mark's Church and parish became a separate organization by action taken by the proper authorities on the 8th day of May, 1837, but prior to that time, and during the period from 1826 to 1837, Episcopal services were undoubtedly held in the residence of Rev. William Bostwick, missionary at Hammondsport and Bath. Upon the organization of the local parish Henry Rose and Abraham Dox were chosen wardens, and John N. Rose, Dr. Henry P. Sartwell, Seabury Kissam, Francis M. Potter, Erastus Page, Ebenezer Lord, B. W. Franklin, and William C. Parsons were likewise chosen vestrymen. In 1838, the year next succeeding that in which the parish was organized, the church edifice was erected on the lot where now stands the dwelling of William N. Wise. It was consecrated on the 8th day of August. Its cost was about $7,000. The services of the church held prior to the erection of the edifice were conducted regularly in the old Masonic Hall on Court street.

"The church in Penn Yan," says a recently written historical article, has had a checkered history. Its growth has not been proportionate to that of churches in neighboring villages. This, no doubt, was due principally to the frequent changes and long vacancies in the rectorship. During the Rebellion the bitter partizan spirit which influenced all classes was permitted to invade the parish, and finally culminated in the withdrawal, about 1870, of a large number of its members. But the organization of a second parish was not effected until 1871. The new parish assumed the name of Grace Church. Rev. George M. Stanley was called to be its rector, but resigned after a brief pastorate of about six months. The Missionary Board of the parish having withheld the necessary aid, services were soon discontinued and the work of erecting a church on the corner of Main and Clinton streets was abandoned."

The old parish, after the loss of so many of its members, was able to maintain but a feeble existence. Rev. B. F. Taylor officiated for a time and was succeeded by Edmond Burke as lay reader, and after his ordination to the deaconate, September 15, 1872, was placed in charge of the parish. At this time the finances of the church were so low that the rectory and a part of the church lot were sold for debt. After the departure of Mr. Burke no regular services were held until 1875, but with the coining of Rev. H. L. Dennis, missionary, both branches of the church attended the services. Rev. William Catterson became resident clergyman on October I, 1877, and in Easter week of 1878 there occurred a practical reorganization, with the election of officers to the places that had been three years vacant. Horatio W. Perkins and Augustus W. Franklin were elected wardens, and John C. Sheetz, Henry Tuthill, William H. Fox, George Y. Eastman, E. B. Sample, Thomas Emory, H. Rose, and C. J. Page, vestrymen.

The church had for some time considered the question of erecting a more suitable edifice, but the condition of the parish did not appear to justify such action. But after some hesitation the vestry was induced to exchange the old property for the lot at the corner of Main and Clinton streets to which they acquired title, and on which, on the foundation already in part laid, was built the present attractive English gothic structure. Its cost entire amounted to about $9,000, and it has a seating capacity sufficient for 25o persons. The names of the following rectors appear in succession on the church register: Edmond Embury, B. W. Stone, Henry Stanley, O. F. Starkey, P. F. Stryker, Anthony Schuyler, George N. Cheney, John Long, T. F. Wardwell, G. W. Mayer, William Catterson, George S. Teller, William H. Lord. The latter, Mr. Lord, became rector of the parish in 1884 and has continued in that capacity to the present time.

St. Mark's parish contains about eighty five families, while the communicants number about 120. The officers are: Horatio W. Perkins and Augustus W. Franklin, wardens; John C. Sheetz, George. Beebe, Edson Potter, Wade Shannon, Perley P. Curtis, D. H. Stoll, George C. Snow, and Henry Rose, vestrymen.

In 1849 there were resident in and about Penn Yang about fifteen Catholic families. In 1891 the parish of St. Michael's Church numbers about 300 families. In the year first mentioned the Right Rev. John Timon, bishop of Buffalo, authorized Thomas Hendricks to raise by subscription funds sufficient to build a church, which was done. Abraham Wagener generously donated a lot on Pine street for the erection of the edifice, the deed therefor being excuted to the bishop. On this lot John Southerland built the church at a cost of $2,200. The church was dedicated during the same year and was christened St. Michael's Church. Afterward and during the pastorate of Father Dean the parsonage was erected, costing $1,500; and still later Father English enlarged the church edifice, frescoed its interior, placed new seats in the auditorium, painted the building, and otherwise improved the property at an expense of $1,500. He, too, paid the debt against the church and cemetery. The succession of priests in charge of St. Michael's Church and parish with their term of service has been as follows: Michael Gilbride, about three years; P. Canny, two years; Joseph F. Dean, two years; Joseph McKenna, seven years; D. English, more than six years; Edward McGown, about six years; W. A. Gregg, until January, 1877, when the Rev. Eugene Pagani, the present pastor, was appointed by the bishop to the pastoral charge of the parish. Connected with St. Michael's parish is a parochial school, an account of which will be found on a preceding page.

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