Historical Sketch of the Florida Ref'd Church, Minaville, New York, 1784-1950

Prepared by Rev. Bartell Bylsma, October 8, 1950

The Florida Reformed Church is located in Minaville, in the Town of Florida, from which the church derives its name. It was known as the "Chukonot" church in 1800, when the Montgomery Classis was formed. "Chukonot" is said to be a corruption of the Indian term, "Chuctanunda" which means "Stone House." The Indian term "Chukonot" means "Place of the Tamerack." In those early days, Minaville was known as "Yankee Street," and not far away was Remsen's Bush, where a Reformed church had been established before the Chukonot church was organized. In 1769, Lawrence Shuler settled about a mile east of the present village. On part of his farm of three hundred acres the first church was built. The district in which the church was situated was called Caughnawaga, and was one of the eight districts of Tryon county, which in 1784 became Montgomery county. When the Montgomery Classis was formed in1800, two churches in what is now Minaville, were included among the twenty-four organizations, namely - Chukonot and Remsen's Bush, the latter being the first congregation, whose house of worship was near the old burying ground. The cemetery still stands, and one of its stones bears the burial date of 1786. The church building stood until 1846, an unpainted, barn-like structure, with galleries, high pulpit and sounding board. Some of the timbers of this church were placed in the barn which still stands on the farm of Mr. William Staley.

In its incorporation, dated February 9, 1789, the title of the church was "The Remsen's Bush Reformed Protestant Dutch Church." It was very likely organized soon after the settlement of Lawrence Shuler. The date usually assigned to it is 1784, although perhaps an earlier date should be given to it. In the record of the County Clerk's office, the incorporation of the Florida Reformed Dutch Church is recorded January 22, 1807. This record follows that of the Remsen's Bush Church.

The oldest consistorial record extant bears the date of June 2, 1808, which states the action whereby the Remsen's Bush and Florida churches were united into one body. This body was incorporated on June 6, 1808, and put on file January 13, 1810. The elders were: Christian Servoss, Isaac Vedder, and John Sharpentine; the deacons: Ruloff Covenhoven, Jacob Staley, John Davenpeck, and John Van Derveer, with Winslow Paige as minister.

The first church of this united congregation was erected in 1808. It had a tall spire, galleries around three sides, square pews, and a high pulpit with a sounding board. In 1836, the church was changed considerably and extensively repaired. The pulpit and pews were reversed, the tall steeple taken down, the box pews were done away with, the pulpit was lowered and the audience room was lengthened. It served the congregation for seventy-two years.

In 1880, the building was found to be inadequate and was taken down and a new building was erected at the cost of $5,000.00, and formally dedicated to the glory of God in the summer of 1881.

In 1882, the Rev. J. Henry Enders came to reside in the vicinity. Mrs. Enders had been born and reared in the Florida Church, and upon her passing, the Rev. Enders added a chapel to the church in loving memory of his beloved wife. A bronze placque memorializing this gift still can be seen in what is now called the minister's study in the church.

Until the year 1858, the church had no parsonage. In that year, the property nearly opposite the church was purchased for $1600.00. Painting, repairs and changes were made to the extent of $300.00. In the year 1886, the house and barn were burned. The present parsonage was then built in the winter of 1886 and 1887. The total cost was $2,462.19. The funds were raised as follows: Insurance $1500.00, Subscription $479.00, and Church Fair $483.00. When the roof was repaired in 1945, a board was found bearing the building date of 1886 and 1887. This parsonage still stands and it is the residence of the pastor of the church.

The second church in Minaville, together with the chapel presented by Rev. Enders, was burned in 1912. The present church was then built. The principle items of expense were: Contractor, Frank Machold $9,185.80; Pews - $465.00; Acetylene plant - $150.00; Architect - $120.00; Furnace - 251.00; Cellar, walk, printing, insurance and sundries - $162.20. The organ, which is still used weekly in the church, was a special contribution of the young people toward the equipment of the church and cost $715.00. It is worthy of note that the church has never been in debt. The money for each building was raised before the work was done. This is largely due to the efforts of Dr. Pearse, under whose leadership the last two churches were built.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on August 2, 1912, with appropriate ceremony. Within the cornerstone is a galvanized box which contains: some coins which were in the cornerstone of the burned building, a 1912 five-cent piece, a list of subscribers to the building fund to date, the church and Sunday School officer's names, the names of the building committee and contractor, a piece of the old bell, an aluminum post card and pin tray with a photograph of the old church and Dr. Pearse, a copy of the Christian Intelligencer, a Sunday School quarterly, two copies of the Amsterdam Recorder containing pictures of the first and second churches with an account of the fire.

The church has been described as a handsome structure, built of hollow tile, stuccoed. The auditorium, resting on the old foundation walls, is sixty-two feet, 7 inches long; and 44 feet, 6 inches wide. The Sunday School room, which was in the rear, was moved up to the side of the church auditorium and a commodious kitchen was placed in the rear of this room. The Sunday School room opens into the auditorium by eight large folding doors, with opalescent glass in the upper panels. The windows of the church and the chapel are all memorial windows which were presented to the church by friends in loving memory of those who were loved long since and lost awhile.

Other special gifts to the church were:
Bell: - by Alfred Ernest of Rochester, N.Y.
Baptismal Font: - by the McClumphas of Amsterdam and town of Florida.
Carpet: - by the Hon. Mr. Wallin, member of Congress.
Sheffield Vase: - by Mrs. Anna DeGroot Hyser of Schenectady as a memorial to her mother.

The first settled pastor was Rev. Thomas Romeyn, 1800-1806, who was born at Caughnawaga, the son of Thomas Romeyn Sr., pastor there during 1772-1774. For a score of years he was pastor at Niskayna. Ill health compelled him to give up the ministry in 1827, though he lived until 1857.

Successors to Rev. Mr. Romeyn were:
Rev. Winslow Paige, 1808-1820, died in 1838.
Rev. Peter Rouse, 1822-1828, died in 1832.
Rev. James Stevenson, 1829-1854, died in 1864. He was buried in Minaville. This was the second longest pastorate in the history of this church.
Rev. John Clancy, 1855-1860, in whose pastorate the parsonage was secured and sheds built. On leaving Minaville, he gave up the ministry (active) and moved to Schenectady where he spent the rest of his life.
Rev. Josephus Krum, 1861-1865, ordained by Classis, later entered the Presbyterian ministry.
Rev. Gilbert Lane, 1866-1873, had been a chaplain in the army, and died in the year 1896.
Rev. Richard A. Pearse, came in 1873 upon graduation from New Brunswick. Was pastor until 1919, when he became pastor emeritus. He held the longest pastorate in the church - over forty years.
Rev. Sheldon Jackson, the noted Alaskan Missionary, was born and spent his youth under the shadow of the old church in Minaville. He lies buried in its beautiful cemetery along with his wife, children, parents, brothers, and sisters, - a multitude of kindred. Rev. Dr. Jackson was present in 1908, at the centennial of the formation of the church, and delivered an historical address.
Rev. D. L. Betten, 1920-1922. Passed away in Minaville and lies buried here.
Rev. Leonard A. Sibley Sr., 1924-1926.
Rev. Fred Simmons, 1927-1929.
Rev. Franklin Hinkamp, June 14, 1929-May 9, 1932.
Rev. Russell Damstra, July 7, 1932-August, 1939. During his pastorate, the new ceiling was installed.
Rev. Robert Geddes, January 19, 1940-Nov. 30, 1944.
Rev. Bartel Bylsma, June 24, 1945-present pastor.

There is still a warm feeling and a deep love for the church in the hearts of the people of Minaville. This is evidenced in the many improvements which were made in recent years, during the pastorate of Rev. Bylsma.

A Tower Music System has been presented by the Women's League For Service, in Dec. 1947, under the presidency of Mrs. Bartel Bylsma, in loving memory of Mrs. T. Romeyn Staley, long a faithful worker in this church and community. Individual members of the church presented recordings in memory of departed Christians.

A New Oil Heater was installed in the chapel by the Women's League in the year of 1948.

The Interior of the church auditorium was redecorated at the cost of $800.00. This was made possible through a gift of Mrs. Louisa Brown Herrick Whalen, of Albany, in loving memory of her Mother. The redecoration was completed in February, 1949.

The interior chapel was redecorated by the Mr. and Mrs. Club. New lights added to the outside of the church by the Women's League, and a new modern rest room was added through the combined efforts of the Women's League and the consistory.

Thus the work of the church in Minaville goes on. There always remains the challenge of the present and the future. The work of the Church Militant, on earth, must continue until it becomes the Church Triumphant. May God grant to each member, Grace, Courage, Wisdom and Strength to carry nobly in the great tradition of this church, to the Glory of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

NOTE: This Historical Sketch is of necessity brief, and leaves much to be desired. Perhaps some interested person may desire some time to assimilate all the available material and prepare for posterity a complete and detailed history of the church. It would be well to have a permanent Historical Record made for future reference.

        Rev. Bartel Bylsma

Many thanks to Pastor Crane and the consistory of the Florida Reformed Church for granting Michelle Bartels permission to present this article on line.

Michelle tells us "I'm a descendent of many of the big families in early New York: Vedder, du Traux, Van der Bogart, Glen, etc. I've recently traced many roots back to Montgomery Co., to the Arnot and McMichael families, between 1800 and 1850."

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Created: 4/18/00
Copyright ©1950 Rev. Bartell Bylsma
Copyright ©2000 Michelle Bartels
Photo Copyright ©2000 Michelle Bartels All Rights Reserved.