I wrote the following about three years ago, but somehow failed to post it on this blog. A recent query about the church made me go back and review…and make the discovery.
Several years ago, I wrote about the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, not only the first church in the town of Schaghticoke, but also the first church north of Albany in the colony of New York. Most of the early residents of town were of Dutch descent. By the time of the Revolution, many people from the Palatine section of Germany had moved to the area. They formed their own church, the Gilead Lutheran church in Brunswick, perhaps as early as 1745. The St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church followed in the town of Schaghticoke, originally located at the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road. Just when this church began is something of a puzzle- and has been misreported often over the years.
I have a transcription of a record book of the church beginning in 1829, which states that the church was founded in 1776, and that Reverend. Joseph Wichterman was the first pastor, from then until 1793. Some years ago, a Lutheran church historian wrote to tell me that was impossible, as Rev. Wichterman didn’t arrive in this country until 1790. He included the passenger list of the Brig Mary, from Amsterdam, Holland, arriving in Philadelphia on Oct 4, 1790. The first on the list was George J. Wighterman, a Lutheran minister. The History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church, written in 1881 by its then pastor JN Barnett, confirms this, recording that Rev. Georg Joseph Wichterman began as preacher there on August 31, 1795, and served until 1801. The book includes the contract of the church with the pastor, which does not mention any other church besides Gilead, but the author records that he preached at West Sand Lake in 1800, and perhaps at Schaghticoke at the same time, as the three churches were afterwards linked.
Gilead Lutheran Church
Gilead Lutheran church
I hope that Rev. Wichterman did preach at Schaghticoke, as he sounds like a colorful person. The Gilead history gives this description: “In stature he was short and correspondingly slender.” He was so short that a special box was built for him to stand on while he preached, “because those in the front seats could barely see his face over the top of the pulpit. ..he occasionally disappeared from view of his audience.” He had to yell at the young men of the congregation for their levity for “they would laugh when the dominie fell off the box.” He is further described as “impassioned, pompous, opinionated, and magisterial.” He persisted in wearing a three-cornered hat while he preached, long after it had gone out of style. He both preached and wrote in German, which tells us that his congregation was bilingual as late as 1800.
After a short gap, the next minister at Gilead Lutheran was Rev. Anton Theodor Braun, who began preaching about 1802. Unlike Rev. Wichterman, he had lived in the area: Schoharie, West Sand Lake, and East Greenbush, before coming to Gilead. According to the Gilead History, Rev. Braun preached at West Sand Lake or Greenbush, Gilead, and Schaghticoke, “which it is to be supposed that he organized.” The first surviving tombstones in the St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery are from 1800, 1803, and 1805, which confirms that Rev. Braun was probably the first to preach in Schaghticoke- in what sort of building is not known. The congregation at Gilead became smaller, as the 2/3 of it which came from outer areas began to attend their own churches. Rev. Braun is described as “indefatigable, mild, and forgiving.” He died in 1813, his otherwise solemn funeral ending with lots of drinking of rum!
In 1813 the new minister appointed for the three churches was Reverend John Bachman. According to the history of Gilead Lutheran church, he was born in Schaghticoke in 1790. I’m not sure of that, but his family, headed by father Jacob, was here by the 1800 census, with one male under 10, two from 10-16, one from 17-26, one from 27-44, one over 44, plus one female under 10, one from 17-26, one from 26-44 and one slave. The history states that Bachman’s family attended church in Schaghticoke, and that young John prepared for the ministry by living and studying with his predecessor, Rev. Braun. Unlike Braun and the previous ministers, Rev. Bachman preached in English, though some of his congregation may have preferred German. I find that so interesting, as the Dutch Reformed Church had switched to English about twenty years earlier. Many of the German-speaking families had arrived in Schaghticoke by 1780, and had emigrated from Germany by 1720, so the language proved very persistent.
Unfortunately, Rev. Bachman only stayed one and a half years (1813-1815) as pastor of the church. He felt he was called to go elsewhere, and perhaps moved for his health as well. He went on to greatness. Rev. Bachman went to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was pastor of its St. John’s Church for 56 years. He was an ardent naturalist, who co-authored the book Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America with world-famous naturalist John Audubon. Bachman did the writing, Audubon the illustrations. Audubon and Bachman were so close that two of the former’s sons married two of the latter’s daughters. Bachman wrote many other books, including one which declared that blacks and whites were the same species, a controversial stand for a Southern resident. Bachman also founded Newberry College in 1856 near Charleston. It is a fine small liberal arts college. He died in 1874, and is buried in St. John’s Church in Charleston.
Reverend John Molther followed Bachman in 1815. . The three churches cooperated to rent him a parsonage in Troy, which he felt was equidistant from his churches in Brunswick, Greenbush, and Schaghticoke. He only stayed until 1818, having gotten into a dispute with the Gilead congregation over the siting of a new church building. The author of the History of Gilead continues to describe the ministers in colorful terms. Rev. Molther was known for beautiful sermons, but too long pastoral visits: he, his wife and four children staying with various parishioners for days at a time. The next minister, Rev. William McCarty, the first non-German pastor, just showed up in 1819, claimed to be a Lutheran minister, and was hired. He was known for sobbing wildly during sermons, and racing horses wildly after services. Fortunately, he left after just a couple of years, and was succeeded by Reverend John Goodman, a very responsible pastor, who stayed until 1828. Reverend Jacob Senderling followed. After a few years, the Greenbush church hired its own pastor.
In my office I have a transcription of the records of St. John’s Lutheran Church beginning in 1829. The records from the 1830’s are particularly interesting. The death records give some commentary on each person. For example, Francessta Sipperly died at age 12 in 1836 of inflammation of the bowels. She was “an interesting girl, religiously inclined.” Mrs. Sebastian Snyder, who died in 1841, was a “good though afflicted woman.” David Doty, who died in December 1847, was “a young man who broke a leg in the flax machine of Colonel Hearman, which resulted in his death,” and John Wolf, who died in May 1849, “in a state of inebriation fell from his wagon and broke his neck.” He had been a member of the church, but was not at the time of his death. The marriage records are a boon to genealogists, giving not only the names of the couple, but often the names of their parents and of witnesses to the weddings. In general, the weddings took place at someone’s house- either that of the parent of the bride or the groom, or at the parsonage.
1877 Beers atlas: look for Melrose, then up Valley Falls Road to the parsonage, then the church at the junction of that road and the current NorthLine Drive
(SORRY THAT MAP IS SIDEWAYS—DON’T KNOW WHY!)
The records of the Schaghticoke church name Reverend Sylvester Curtis as the first pastor for the church on its own, beginning in 1850, though he was pastor for only a year or two. I found his name in the record book for the store in Grant’s Hollow as a customer in early 1853. As I said earlier, the original church was located near the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road in what is now Melrose. The large Lutheran Church cemetery is still there. According to the transcription of the church records, an early building was replaced during the pastorate of Rev. John. Selmser, 1852-1857, and the parsonage was just down Valley Falls Road, on the west side.
Ironically, while ministers can be very important in the lives of people, presiding over the ceremonies for the major life stages, they often served congregations for just a few years, and are hard to document in the public records. The minister following Reverend Selmser is an exception. Valentine F. Bolton arrived in 1858 and stayed until 1872. In the 1865 census, I find him and his family. He was born in Virginia, and only 27 years old- meaning he began as pastor at age 20! His wife, Catherine, was born in Fulton County, and was 29 years old. They had three children: Charles, age 4, Virginia, age 2 ½, and Grace, age 3/12. By the 1870 census, they had added another son, James, age 1. The next minister was Rev. J. R. Sikes, followed by Rev. George W. Anderson in 1883.
the final location of St. John’s Lutheran church
Reverend C. Diefendorf arrived in 1893 to a church that had dwindled to 48 members. He and his congregation took what I think was a bold step. They dismantled the church from the 1850’s and used some of its wood and stone in re-erecting the new building, at the corner of Church Street and Valley Falls Road. I would imagine that the change of location was because Melrose had become a center of population, but the area around the old church was still very rural. According to the record book, the whole building process, including a barn and sheds, cost $6000. Most churches had sheds where parishioners could park their horses and buggies during services. A new parsonage was built for $2000 next door to the church on the north side. The new church and its pastor must have been inspirational, as the membership doubled over the next five or six years, and the debt was paid off. A former member of the church, Marjorie Poulsen, told me that rehabilitating failing churches was Rev. Diefendorf’s specialty.
In 1905 under the next pastor, Rev. Emmanuel L. Dreibelbis, the entire church building was raised three feet, for $125. The auditorium got a new metal roof and walls, and all new windows. The men of the church excavated a basement during the winter, and finished and furnished it. All of the landscaping was redone. The church was rededicated in the spring of 1906, after about $2000 worth of work. The records are unclear as to how long Rev. Dreibelbis stayed at the church. On one hand, the records list T. W. Keller as receiving new members from 1910-1917, Rev. J.C. Trauger in 1919 and 1920, and Rev. C. L. Quinn the following two years. But then Rev. Dreibelbis seems to have returned from 1923-1926. I did find him in the 1905 census, at age 45, living just with his wife Josephine, age 39, but not in another local census.
During the pastorate of Dorr Edward Fritts, 1926-1929, the church underwent another round of renovations. This included everything from a new electric signboard to hardwood floors in the Sunday School room, an oak lectern and altar secured as gifts from West Virginia, and many memorial gifts of candle sticks, altar vases, new lighting fixtures, a new Bible, and more.
As with other churches, the Lutheran congregation sponsored a number of organizations which worked together for the church and community. The Luther League, the Willing Workers, and the Women’s Missionary Society were all active at least from 1900 on. They were all affiliated with the corresponding state and national organizations of the Lutheran Church, so contributed at home and nationally. They also paid for many of the improvements to the church. A 1910 pamphlet for the Luther League, which included men and women, lists a year of Prayer Meeting Topics, week by week, with a different member as the leader for each week. The topics were all based on Bible verses, and included “The chances we miss, Secrets of happiness, and How must a Christian be different from others?” The list of committees of the organization included Social, Sunday School, Temperance, Missionary, Flower, Lookout, and Good Citizenship.
In 1969, the church closed, its members joining with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Troy. In 1971, Carol and Patrick McCormack bought the church and renovated it to be a home. Some of the interior furnishings were sold at auction. The chandelier and altar table are in a home on Washington Park in Troy. The Goyette family lived in the building for a while, and then Lyn and Scott Whitcomb bought the property and made it into their home and her hair salon, Lyn’s Hairafter.
Groundbreaking for a new church took place in June 1970. The new building, at the corner of Route 40 and Plank Road, was dedicated on April 4, 1971. In 1992 Our Savior’s merged with St. John’s Lutheran of Troy, and was renamed Faith Lutheran.
Of course, the cemetery remains. It has had periodic “clean-ups” by various students and groups, most recently by Justin Frisino as a Boy Scout project. There are about 300 stones in the cemetery, including those of about a dozen veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The names of those buried are in the index to Rensselaer County burials in the USGenWeb site, and in my office. The Revolutionary War veterans mostly served in the 14th Albany County Militia, Schaghticoke’s unit in the war: Jacob and Michael Overocker, Christian Piser, Jacob Sipperly, John Snyder, and George Wetsel. There are also Daniel and Hendrick Grawbarger of the Van Rensselaer Regiment, Phillip Coons of the 10th Regiment Albany County Militia, Richard Green and William Myer of the 4th Regiment, Orange County Militia, and George Miller of the 2nd Regiment Westchester Militia. He lived until 1855!
Lutheran Cemetery at the
junction of Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive
St. John’s was not the only Lutheran church in the town of Schaghticoke. In 1852 a Lutheran Church was organized at “Bryan’s Corners”, which was located on River Road at the junction with Allen Road. The district was named for the Bryan family, of course. WW Bryan had a grain cradle factory just north of Allen Road, and there was also a school house. Hiram Bryan was one of about forty original members of the church, which was part of the Frankean Evangelical Lutheran Church Synod. The Frankean Synod was socially progressive, with strong emphasis on pacifism, temperance, and abolitionism. In other locations, the Frankean Lutherans were participants in the Underground Railroad, the movement of escaping black slaves to Canada, but the participation of this congregation is unknown. The 1877 map of the area shows a church building just south of the junction of Allen Road, on the river side of River Road. Unfortunately, I know nothing more about the building or the congregation.
look for the Lutheran Church labeled in this section of Beers Atlas of 1877
Records of the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
“History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church”, by JN Barnett, 1881
Records of the town historian
US and state census