The Union Dutch Reformed Church was founded in 1825 in the Town of New Scotland, New York.
From A Brief History of Unionville Reformed Church by Martha Slingerland, June 1982. Revised October 1985, April 2010, and March 2019.
The earliest church in the area now known as Unionville was organized in 1791 and was located on what is now Waldenmaier Road. It was built of stone and was named the Reformed Protestant Church of Jerusalem. Before that time it, along with “Helderberg" (Guilderland) and (New) “Salem", had been a missionary station of Dirck Romyn from Schenectady. His records continue until 1794 when the Rev. Harmanus VanHuysen was called to serve the three congregations.
How dedicated these early preachers of the Word must have been! How many miles they must have traveled on the long, lonely circuit without the aid of anything we would consider a road. People spoke of Mr. VanHuysen with affection for many years even after his death. So much so that an acquaintance of mine, born in 1884, told me about him. She referred to him as a noted preacher who traveled on horseback. She said that within her memory his saddle packs had hung in the corn house on his former farm near New Salem.
Mr. VanHuysen, a Revolutionary War veteran, was over 40 years of age when he accepted this, his first and only pastorate. He served for 31 years, and in the old Jerusalem Church alone he baptized 1,192 infants. That is an average of 38 a year. He also taught school, as early preachers were often called upon to do. He retired in 1825 when he was 74. After his death in 1833, he was laid to rest on his farm, in what later became the Mount Pleasant Cemetery near New Salem. His monument, “erected by the people of his first and last labours as a testimony of their love for his faithful and persevering spirit."1 tells much of his life story and was clearly readable in the 1980's. Unfortunately our acid rain has now taken its toll and the script has faded.
Toward the end of Rev. VanHuysen's pastorate the old Jerusalem Church was temporarily disbanded but it soon emerged as two new congregations, one at Feura Bush and one along Delaware Turnpike.
A deed for an acre of land, measured so as to be square, along the Delaware Turnpike and one hundred fifty yards from the house of David Cheesbrough in an easterly direction, was obtained in December of 1824. It states that the new church is to be called the Dutch Reformed Jerusalem Church and is to be built â€Å“for the glory of God and the benefit of perishing souls.”2 The first part of this statement must have been reconsidered since, in the end, the Jerusalem name was retained by the portion of the congregation that moved to Feura Bush. The people that lived nearer Delaware Turnpike combined with some members of the Salem church forming a union and adopted “Union Dutch Reformed Church" as their name.
In February 1825 a committee met in the old church to oversee construction on this new land. Work must have gone forward, for the organizational meeting was held in September of that year and the first consistory members were ordained “after public service in the church". This consistory was made up of Peter A. Bradt and John Becker, Elders, and John Oliver and Philip Smith, Deacons.
The first pastor came in 1826. He was the Rev. Ira C. Boice and he served the New Salem church as well. Indeed Union was affiliated with New Salem in this way until 1841 when the present Delmar Reformed church was built. This relationship was revived in 1962 and continued through the pastorate of Rev. Johannes Meester. About 1987 the two congregations once again went their separate ways.
By 1832, when the Town of New Scotland was formed, the Union Church was enjoying a significant revival under its second pastor, the Rev. Abram Fort, who had been one of the committee of classis which had helped organize the congregation. Fifty-three new members were added to the roll making it necessary for consistory to meet several days in succession to hear their confessions of faith since each candidate was examined separately.
In 1840 the consistory granted regular worshippers the privilege of erecting sheds on the rear of the church lot for the protection of their horses and carriages. We must assume that said worshippers proceeded to do so for the sheds are still here, somewhat of a landmark in Albany County.
The first parsonage was decided upon in 1837 “if sufficient funds could be procured."4 A building committee was appointed. We have no idea of the appearance of this house but some meetings were held there as early as 1839 and in 1842 a subscription was circulated through the congregation to raise money to pay off the rest of the debt on it. It must have been more than one story for we read in the minutes that in 1845 the parsonage house was “forcibly broken into by some evil disposed person or persons"5, prompting the consistory to issue hand bills offering a twenty-five dollar reward for the discovery of the perpetrators. They also resolved that shutters be made for the lower story windows.
As the church was growing, so too was the community around it, which was eventually given a post office. The post office address was “Union Church" since there was already a “Unionville in New York State (in Orange County). This is an example of a hamlet being named for its church. The area was becoming inhabited and in April of 1841 the consistory resolved that measures be taken to repair the fence around the church lot and that “hereafter nothing be permitted to pasture therein."6 They also decided to build elevated platforms at both front corners of the building. At that time, there was a driveway on either side of the church. These platforms, of course, were for the convenience of the ladies who arrived in long skirts and were reluctant to be forced to climb down from the carriage in a manner that was less than lady-like. The platforms were equipped with steps that could be navigated much more gracefully. The congregation was “invited to meet and assist the consistory in making the above improvements a week from next Monday at 7 o'clock A.M." Their work bees started early!
Union Church is located near the boundary between the towns of Bethlehem and New Scotland. In its early days it was the only church along the turnpike for many miles and its members came from as far east as the Normanskill Creek, from the hamlet of Slingerlands and quite a distance west along the Turnpike. So in 1841 it was decided to erect a “convenient house for divine worship in the eastern part of our congregational boundary for the accommodation of families residing remote from the other house of worship."7. The lot was designated as being near the junction of New Scotland Road and the Delaware Turnpike. No village name was used. This building was always called the east church and services were alternated between that and the west, or Unionville, house. This went on until January 20, 1848 when the east church was organized into the Second Reformed Church of Bethlehem. We know it today as the Delmar Reformed Church.
Union Church had reached a high point of 260 members before this division. Now the ranks were rather depleted and the following years brought harder times. In 1852 the church reported 85 members with 40 in Sunday School. In 1853 the pews were rented for the first time. They claimed that this act served a dual purpose: helping pay the minister's salary and attaining the object of having families occupying seats together. The front seat on the right side of the west aisle (There were two aisles until 1915) was reserved for aged and indigent widows.
A new parsonage was built in 1854, on the same lot, probably using many of the same materials. It cost $1,200 and is the one that some of our older inhabitants remember. This house was only about ten years old when the Saratoga and Hudson Railroad Company built a line through Unionville. The tracks threaded their way between it and the house across the Turnpike. Both houses ended up very near the tracks. The parsonage was extensively repaired in 1884. However, after about 1890 we had no resident pastor. No one was living in the parsonage so it was often used for church socials, dinners and the children were allowed to play games in the empty rooms. The main part of the house contained two large rooms, connected by double doors and they provided ample space for many activities. Remember that the church building itself consisted of only the sanctuary part. Sometimes the parsonage was rented. Then some church events were held in the hotel. In 1916 the Clarence B. Hopkins family occupied the parsonage. Mr. Hopkins served as janitor at the church and paid a quarterly rent of six dollars and twenty-five cents. The parsonage was sold to the railroad in 1927 and it was completely destroyed by fire in 1950.
On January 6, 1882 the pastor, Rev. Alexander Millspaugh, made the following entry in the record book: “An unfriendly gale lifted from its tower the spire of our church, which since 1825 had pointed with a steady finger the weary pilgrim to the better and more stable things above."8. The spire, which landed in the field across the road, was never replaced but the roof was repaired and a bell added to the tower.
In 1893 begins a period of over 50 years when we were without an installed minister but depended instead upon a “stated supply". This meant that our services were usually on Sunday afternoons since these men were installed in some other church and owed their first attention to that congregation. They were, however, truly dedicated to the work of the Kingdom and Union Church continued to proclaim the gospel.
In 1906 the hall for Christian education was added to the back of the church at a cost of $1,350. In 1911 new windows of translucent glass replaced the original twelve over twelve panes in the sanctuary.
In preparation for the 90th anniversary celebration in 1915 a furnace was installed in a newly excavated basement, the pulpit was lowered nearly two feet to its present level, a new carpet was installed and the old box seats were removed and oak pews installed. At this time the center aisle arrangement was introduced.
The 100th anniversary year, 1925, brought a steel ceiling for the sanctuary, stained glass windows and a new communion table. The church interior was renovated and redecorated and electricity was installed in the building for the first time.
Our first electric organ, an Everett Orgatron, was purchased in 1940 for $800 replacing the foot pumped model that had been purchased in 1892.
We installed a pastor once again in 1953. He was Rev. Louis Chisman who was also an associate pastor at Delmar.
An addition to the rear of the church hall in 1957 brought us indoor plumbing as well as more room in the dining room and kitchen.
Land across the road from the church became available in 1955 so we bought a lot in anticipation of the day when we would once again have a resident pastor. This dream came true in 1963 when we were able to build another residence and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woodward became its first occupants. At this time we once again joined with New Salem in a dual pastorate.
Through the years since, we have seen our parsonage occupied by the Rev. and Mrs. Ray VanZoeren, 1964-1965, Rev. and Mrs. Thomas Kendall and family, 1966-1969, Rev. and Mrs. Johannes Meester and family, 1970 to 1988, and Rev. and Mrs. Roger Earnesse and family, 1988-1990. Rev. and Mrs. Kendall returned in 1991 and continued his ministry among us until the Lord called him home in 2018. During Rev. Kendall’s two pastorates here, he has served Union Church for 30 years, longer than any other minister in our history. Our current pastor, the Rev. David G. Corlett, began his ministry with us in April 2018.
In 1979 we had the opportunity to purchase a Kilgen pipe organ. It was installed in the rear gallery by making use of a great deal of volunteer labor. It was dedicated on March 30, 1980 and we expect it will be adding much to our worship for many years to come.
How can we really record what has taken place in a church in 194 years? The efforts and prayers of its many people, including some 27 men who have filled the pulpit, from Ira C. Boice to our present pastor, the Rev. David Corlett, have been a special lot and God has used each of them in a special way. We think of the steady stream of souls that have come to this small church to be helped in their lives, both spiritual and temporal, and to be influenced for eternity.
I have recorded here some of the mechanics of our life as a church but we must never forget the reason for its existence. That has not changed, not since Paul preached to the first century church. And we see it right there in our deed: “For the Glory of God and the benefit of perishing souls!"
The monument of Harmanus VanHuysen in Mount Pleasant Cemetery ↩
Copy of deed in possession of Unionville Church ↩
Records of consistory of Union Church (old book) ↩
Records of Consistory ↩