FUMCNB - photo from Evening Sun Article0001

Photo from The Evening Sun

IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD: THE HISTORIC CHURCHES OF CHENANGO COUNTY

The First United Methodist Church of New Berlin

By PATRICIA F. SCOTTĀ *
City of Norwich Historian

We cannot help but wonder and surmise, what was Freeborn Garrettson’s impression when he literally pushed his way, while traveling the Albany circuit, of this vast wilderness in the year 1798. Mr. Garrettson has the distinction of being the first itinerant “circuit rider” to visit this section of New York State. What he found or what accomplishments he made are not known, as in that time period records were not written. What is documented is that a church edifice was erected in 1814 in New Berlin by united efforts of different denominations. There is evidence that this church may have existed on upper North Main Street. However the date of the first Methodist class formed is lost in time.

We will assume that interested persons of the Methodist faith were strong enough, both in religious spirit and in number, to warrant the formation of a committee for the purpose of incorporating to a formal society. An historic meeting was held Dec. 17, 1832 at the home of Abel Judson (now the site of Preferred Mutual Insurance Company offices) with the above purpose in mind. This first meeting was presided over by Rev. Lyman Beach. John C. Bates, Thomas Sayrles, Elisha Babcock, Abel Judson and Benjamin Jacobs were elected the first trustees. The outcome was that on Jan. 2, 1833, the fruits of these gentlemen saw the formal incorporation of “The First Society of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in the Town of New Berlin.”

The first step with this fledgling society was the procurement of land where a proper building could be erected. This was accomplished early on, as documented, Dec. 29, 1832, for the consideration of $5 Daniel and Dimmis Bancroft and Lydia Bancroft transferred title to the society with the condition that a church would be erected thereon within a 10-year period.

This early society had previously been holding meetings at the White schoolhouse, located in the northern part of the village, the privilege was withheld, arid open-air services were conducted under an old elm tree that was once located at the comer of North Main and Elm Streets. For these open-air meetings, large number of logs were drawn there and served as seats. Imagine listening to perhaps a two-hour sermon while seated on one of these logs. Let us assume that all who attended paid rapt attention to the sermon of the day. Later in time the society procured use of the Masonic Hall, which had stood on a now vacant lot (1932) still owned by the Masons. Services would continue to be held at this site till the church was erected

Continuing to meet at the above location we find that Feb. 4, 1841 saw new trustees being elected and that April 8, 1842 the contract was let for the erection of a building on site of present church with the stipulation that the trustees furnish all material and pay $300 for the erection of the church edifice. By the end of October of 1841, the building was completed and a formal dedication service was held Nov. 5, 1841. You may assume that after nine years of meeting in one location, at times outside, that this was indeed a very momentous occasion for all who attended. We regret that history does not document this occasion.

All churches are part of “charges,” a fact that is still in existence. In 1836 this society was part of the New Berlin circuit which had been set off from the old Chenango circuit that included New Berlin, Gilbertsville, South New Berlin, Morris and Dimmock Hollow. By 1837 Dimmock Hollow had been dropped and King Settlement added. However to continue, in 1846 New Berlin would be cut off and made a station, but finding it impossible to support a minister, Columbus and South Edmeston were added in 1851.

With these changes, the society prospered and grew and in 1854 a parsonage property which adjoined the church was purchased for $500. This property, at that time, consisted of a good size lot and a small story and half dwelling. This would be the home of assorted ministers of the above circuit.

By the year of 1859 the church society was able to make improvements to the church edifice and parsonage. A new bell was purchased for $375 and a church organ and pulpit Bible were added. The parsonage was repaired and both the church and parsonage newly papered at a total cost of $804.85. Proceeding through the years to 1875 would see major alterations to the church which would total a cost of $1,500. These would include stained glass windows replacing the old 32-pane windows (imagine the task of washing all those panes), the pulpit changed from the front to the rear of the church, a side door being closed and center double door being cut through., Of interest, these double doors are still in existence. The elevated pews were removed, new oak pews installed and cushioned and the choir gallery was placed to the left of the pulpit. With these alterations completed, once again, the church was re-dedicated on March 10, 1876.

The society had a “stroke of good fortune” when in 1890 they were the beneficiary of the Lydia Chase estate, being left a sum of $3,000 and after paying inheritance tax realized $2,800. Details of the investment of this inheritance are not known, but we assume this latest donation was invested wisely. By 1898 the decision was made to raise the church eight and one-half feet and erect a prayer room, Sunday school room and kitchen behind. Also electricity and new furnace were installed, a most welcome improvement. Having completed these latest improvements, once again the church was re-dedicated Nov. 30, 1898. This latest improvement was completed by Brother T. H. Dakin providing one-fourth, of the expense with a great deal of sacrifice of his time and labor.

Continuing this history to the 20th century, the church was again the beneficiary from the estate of Almond Hill in the amount of $2,000 and an additional gift of $500 from Nancy Keller. Maintenance and repairs were again necessitated with extensive repairs to both the church and parsonage which included new floors, new memorial windows, new pews and a new pipe organ being completed in 1918. This latest improvement totaling $3,000, all being raised with the exception of $900. Under the pastorship of Rev. Joseph Coleman in 1928 the parsonage was once again completely remodeled at a cost of $4,200. This latest project was entirely paid and additionally the retirement of $400 from an old debt.

Again the Methodist church was the beneficiary of still another estate, that being from M. F. Ballard in the amount of $3,000 with $1,000 being invested to carry on Mr. Ballard’s interest in the church. Continuing to the year 1931, again the church, parsonage and sheds would be repainted, with the total cost of this latest improvement being met by subscription.

Other interesting facts of history relevant to this church is the fact that in 1890 the Epworth League was started and in 1891 the Woman’s Missionary Society was formed.

Another note of interest is that fact that in 1879 the membership was approximately 200 and in 1932 membership stood at 126.

In 1932 this historic structure celebrated 100 years of existence with a celebration enjoyed by all. Regretfully, we do not have details of this celebration. Nov. 3, 1938 the New Berlin Methodist Church enjoyed “Home Coming Day.” This latest celebration was attended not only by current members, but additionally those traveling from distant places. A fine turkey supper, a time for memories and the meeting of old friends and churchmen, all contributed to making the occasion one that was long remembered. Continuing to the year 1942-49 the weather vane was removed and a lovely white cross added in its place and again the church was painted white and a new oil furnace was the order of the day.

Continuing to the decade of the 1950’s would see yet a new kitchen being added to the church, containing all new modem fixtures, a new wall be installed in the back of the church, along with another Sunday school room. The floor under the pulpit and choir loft had become weakened, necessitating the installation of new supports, and a new ceiling being installed in the Sunday School room. Shortly before this the old pipe organ had failed and a new Conn was purchased. A set of chimes was given by Mr. & Mrs. Elwell Mowry and Dr. and Mrs. Lyman Hale. Additionally an “Echo Organ” was given by Mr. & Mrs. Glenn Carpenter and Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Carpenter. 1957 would see the auditorium redecorated and completed in time for the Easter service.

During the year of 1962 this historic church would see new memorial windows being installed and a, new garage being erected at the rear (east) on the site of the former Jonathan Angell house (now destroyed.) Additionally in this time period would see the front steps of the church being removed, and enclosed double stairway was installed to lead upstairs to the sanctuary, allowing for a front entrance directly to the first floor level. 1968 was an historic year for all Methodist churches as this was the year when Methodist-Episcopal Churches united with the Evangelical United Brethren creating the United Methodist Church in the United States of America. At this historic time the church in New Berlin became the “First United Methodist Church.”

To continue this religious legacy a new addition (wing) was added in 1988 for Sunday School Classrooms and offices. Plans called for a pre-school to service the community and surrounding, area aptly named “Preschool at Noah’s Ark” as a mission of the church. This preschool continued the tradition of care for children in the memory of Mary “Tot” Bush, who had held a nursery school in the church for over 20 years. A sad note, this preschool closed in 2004.

A most auspicious occasion occurred in 1998 with the burning of the mortgage for the new building, with a celebration being held to mark this latest event. The latest improvement was in the year 2000 with the north front stairwell being removed and an “elevet” being installed in October of the above year.

Closing yet another chapter in the rich and very diversified history of this place named Chenango County, research credits must be given to Smith’s History of Chenango County, Guernsey Memorial Library, Chenango County Historian’s office, Early Glimpses of New Berlin and Related Areas Nearby, Volume II by Floyd Wilbur and to Rev. Beverly Butler for her assistance in the preparation of this article… yet another chapter of faith, courage and fortitude by the pioneer settlers of New Berlin and a testament to all members, past, present and future.

* Printed here with permission of the author.