Methodists Celebrate Centennial
by Dan Alaimo
Yorktown’s United Methodist Church celebrated its 100th birthday this past weekend with an old-fashioned picnic on Saturday evening, and an anniversary service on Sunday morning. Three former ministers of the church took part in the activities, and a brochure detailing the church’s history was distributed.
The ministers were Rev. Gordon Fear of Binghamton, N.Y., who was the church’s minister from 1920 to 1924, the Rev. Wesley Williams of Ashland, N.Y., who served in 1936 and 1937, and the Rev. William Robbins of Loudonville, N.Y., who served from 1949 to 1953. This week (April 26 to May 1) has been proclaimed United Methodist church of Yorktown Centennial Celebration Week by Supervisor Albert Capellini.
History of Yorktown Methodists
The brochure traces the church’s history back to 1766, when the Methodist church was first established in New York City. Methodism was introduced into Westchester County in 1785, and six circuits were formed by a Bishop Asbury with the goal of extending the denomination from New Rochelle, to Lake Champlain.
As the church expanded and became more firmly established, smaller circuits (also called charges) were formed. One of theses was the Mt. Zion charge, which included Yorktown and Crotonville.
The years passed, and in 1875, the Yorktown meetings were being held at the home of Jacob V. Van Houten, whose house was on a part of what is now the so-called Amawalk Nursery property. At the time, Yorktown was known as Yorktown station, being located on the New York, Boston, and Montreal Railroad.
Methodists incorporate in 1876
Interest in Methodism was great, and the meetings were highly successful. On April 24, 1876, the church was incorporated under the name of the Mohansic Methodist Episcopal Church of Yorktown. The first trustees were John Vail, John B. Tompkins and Henry C. Kear.
In The Yorktowner of December 17, 1975, Elizabeth Macaulay notes that Vail lived on Moseman Avenue in Somers, the present Captain Dayton Clark place, Kear was the grandfather of Edward and Amos Kear, and former town clerk Katherine Kear Wyand. Tompkins was instrumental in building their first church.
Later, meetings were moved from the Van Houten residence to the Friends’ Meeting House, and from there to the school house. However, some townspeople did not appreciate the Methodists using the school, and forced them to move on to Palmer’s hall, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ezekiel Palmer. Mrs. Palmer was apparently the last surviving founder of the church, dying in 1929 at the age of 94.
Mrs. Macaulay noted, “The Palmer House was a “drummer” hotel across the little park from the Railroad Station. It was later known as the Whitney Hotel and the Carpenter House.” She also reported that the first Catholic masses in Yorktown were also held at the Palmer House.
Church opened in 1885
According to the brochure, Colonel and Mrs. N. E. Paine donated a plot of ground for a church on the hilltop above the station in 1884, and on October 28, 1885 the new structure was dedicated. The building is still standing at the corner of Church Place and Summit Street, and is presently the home of the Hebrew Congregation of Temple Beth Am.
A story from the Peekskill Blade, a newspaper, is included in the brochure that indicates that the dedication services were quite impressive. Church members and ministers from all over the area came, and the remainder of the church’s debt was taken care of by the generous offerings of those in attendance. The entire cost of construction amounted to $4,583.53.
The church’s bell arrived via railroad in December of that same year, and is currently mounted in front of the new church on Crompond Road. Its weight is 1200 pounds, and at the time, it cost $450, of which Colonel Paine paid $105.
The Yorktown church became independent of the Mt. Zion charge in April 1889, and the first full-time pastor was the Rev. George B. Meade. Prior to that time, the Yorktown Methodists were served by the Rev. John G. Shrive of Somers.
Church closed in 1924
In 1924, when the Rev. E. J. Vaughan resigned, a new pastor was not appointed due to many of the older members of the church passing away, and the surviving ones being unable to carry the financial burden of keeping the church open.
But it was reopened in 1928, and the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Holla conducted a communion service and baptized a baby, who Mrs. Macaulay tells us was Theodore H. Downing, son of John and Grace Downing. A revival period followed, and in 1929, 34 new members were received into the church. Of those, 8 still remain: Oscar Anderson, Evelyn Flewwellin Brown, Earl Brown, Beale Miller, Theodore and Dorothy Downing, Grace Downing Meurer, and Rexford Downing. The Browns were the first couple to be married in the newly reopened church on October 1, 1932.
In 1945, the name “Episcopal” was dropped as part of the official name of the church.
Ground breaking for the church hall took place on June 24, 1952, and later in the same year, an electric Wurlitzer organ was donated by Mr. Charles Gregory.
Methodists grow with Yorktown
In the following years, Yorktown experience a prolonged period of extensive growth, and so did the Methodist church. In 1963, a building committee was formed when it was decided that the congregation was outgrowing the old church building. The ground breaking for the new church took place of May 1, 1966, and the cornerstone ceremony on October 23, 1966. It was ready on March 18, 1967.
From July 1966, to March 1967, the Methodists shared the church with Temple Beth Am, which had purchased the building.
The brochure concludes, “The work that we have sought to accomplish has focused upon the outreach of the church to the community, the assimilation of new members, the building of a strong organizational structure, and above all the deepening of our spiritual lives and our witness to Christ. We trust that as the years go by the United Methodist Church of Yorktown will continue to grow and continue to deepen its spiritual life.”
Published in: The Yorktowner, Vol. 10 No. 17, April 28, 1976
Photos from book: Postcard History Series Yorktown
Authors: Linda G. Cooper, Adele Hobby, John Tegeder, Susan Hack-Lane
Copyright © 2008 Arcadia Publishing