in the Catskills
The Story of the East Jewett Methodist Church
Olive N. Woodworth
The East Jewett Methodist Church
Contributed by Lois Eastgate and transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
There is no doubt that religion was a substantial factor in the settlement of the Catskill Mountains. At the time of the Revolution, we are told, less than ten per cent of the people in the colonies were actively affiliated with churches; and for two decades after the war Christianity was at its lowest ebb in the history of the country. The conflict had left New England and eastern New York disorganized and confused. Invasions, Indian raids, inflation, political unrest and the innumerable attendant problems had disrupted family life, closed churches, and lowered moral standards. For some the times had been brutalizing. Many had lost their homes and possessions, titles to land became void over night, there were no civil officers to whom they could look for protection, and the future so far as they could see held little promise. Under these conditions Sunday became just another day, with people living like atheists because what religion there was lacked leadership and the means of the ministering to a disillusioned, somewhat desperate citizenry. It was a time when the steadying influence of religion, of a church that could reach the people and renew their moral and spiritual strength was needed if the principles for which the war had been fought were to survive.
Under these conditions responsible, intelligent men began to realize that if their children were to grow up in a wholesome atmosphere, obtain an education and look toward a good life, they must establish homes elsewhere, in new surroundings, and create the kind of environment they wanted. Perhaps these people were among the tenth that had known religious affiliation, perhaps they were simply intelligent enough to realize the need of something more than they had found. At any rate great numbers left their homes to explore the possibilities offered in the unsettled land then being advertised; and some of them found in the hills and mountains west of the Hudson River the kind of country they felt would promise them security and contentment, if not more tangible riches.
Such for the most part were the pioneer settlers of the Catskills, fine intelligent men and women, some of them well educated, most from good families, and in many cases from homes in which family worship had been a part of daily life. It is remembered by his descendants that Deacon Lemuel Hitchcock moved his family from Durham into the upper Batavia Valley, in the present town of Windham, in order to bring up his children in the isolation of the wilderness, away from influence of neighbors who were "Sabbath breakers with loose habits and principles." There were many like, him, willing to endure the hardships and privations of settlement in wild land in order to safeguard the welfare of their children. In most cases as soon as even a small settlement sprang up, religious services were started, and, in time, churches were built. Schools and seminaries followed.
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It was during this period that Methodism was spreading into New York State. before the Revolution it was almost non-existent there; in 1776 there was one Methodist congregation in New York City, in 1788 none at all north of Westchester County; but in 1825 there were fifteen congregations in the City and scores upstate. In 1860 there were nine in the mountain-top towns of the Catskills alone. Methodism had strong appeal for the new settlers who had lost touch with an established church—if they had ever had it—and sorely needed the encouragement and solace of religion to sustain them in the hard life they had chosen; for it took the church to them, even in the wilderness, by means of itinerant preachers.
They were strong men, these preachers, who endured hardships and danger, rode countless miles over hazardous mountains trails and along valley streams to reach remote settlements and isolated cabins to minister to the spiritually hungry people. They preached the word of God to groups gathered in cabin homes prayed with families far from settlements, and when conditions were favorable held revival meetings at which many found new strength and hope in acceptance of the Methodist doctrine offered by these itinerants, many of them powerful preachers. Whenever it was possible they would organize a class to meet regularly for worship under a leader chosen from their number, to be visited from time to time by a circuit preacher. It was in the country section that the church built up its greatest strength.
One of the earliest footholds of Methodism in upstate New York was in Schoharie County, where a Society was formed in 1792. And it was doubtless about this time that certain families who were to settle later in the East Kill Valley, in the Catskills, moved into Scott’s Patent, in that county. The 1800 census for the old town of Bristol lists in succession, suggesting the proximity of their dwellings, the households of Moses, Matthew, Rogers, and David Winter, and Lemuel Woodworth, Jr., all of whom eventually settled in the town of Jewett, in Greene County, Matthew, Rogers and probably David were brothers, presumably sons of Moses; Lydia, their sister, was the wife of Lemuel, whose sister, Anna, was Matthew’s wife. It was in Scott’s Patent, in 1793, that Lemuel and his wife heard the great Methodist itinerant preacher, Freeborn Garrettson, and were converted to his doctrine, Lydia first, then her husband. It is recorded that soon after the conversion she heard "a great noise" in the barn and went out to find him on his knees calling upon God to forgive his sins. From the time of his conversion until his death he was a devout, militant Christian. He and his wife may well have become members of the class already organized there; it is known that they belonged to a class formed in Scott’s Patent in 1796, with Elijheh Hurlbet leader. In 1801 he was a class leader, for a report of quarterly conference held in Niskeyuna, in the Albany area, November 7, 1801, contains this item: "Scott’s Patent Class, Woodworth, Paid $1.75."
It may be that Jonathan Fairchild, who settled in East Kill Valley even before these families, perhaps before 1800, knew them there; for according to a Fairchild family record he had lived in Scott’s Patent, and he was a Methodist.
In the spring of 1806 Lemuel Woodworth and two of the Winter families moved into the mountains and built three log cabins near the East Kill opposite the present church, double ones for the Woodworth and Matthew Winter households, a single one for the Winter parents. Rogers came somewhat late, it is thought, and settled farther up the valley on the site of the present Hide-Away Ranch. David settled somewhere in the area, but just where is unknown.
On June 16 of that year, not long after the arrival of the new settlers, there was a total eclipse of the sun over the northeastern portion of the United States—something these people had never experienced. An article in the December 1885 issue of the Prattsville District Register, an early Methodist periodical from which much of this history has been drawn, recounts their fright and the deep impression the event had upon them. They of course had no knowledge of the coming of the eclipse, and were confused and alarmed to find themselves at mid-day in total darkness. Lemuel was "chopping fallow" on the mountainside across the creek from his cabin, and it became dark so suddenly that he had difficulty in crossing the logs that lay across the stream to this home. All were convinced that judgment day was at hand; and it was a long time before they recovered from the frightening experience.
The fact that the eclipse occurred on Monday, after a Sabbath when perhaps there had been no common worship, probably heightened their feeling that they had been given a sign. Not long afterward Lemuel began to hold regular public prayer meetings in his home, a Methodist class was formed, and he again took up his position as class leader. In 1808 the Rev. Datus Ensign and the Rev. Samuel Howe, preachers on the Albany Circuit, hearing of these meetings, visited the little group, and the following year the Woodworth cabin was made an official class meeting place. At that time the town of Windham, which then included the whole mountain-top area, was a part of the Albany Methodist Circuit, with Coeymans, the Mother Church, and presumably the class on the East Kill was connected with it. Itinerant preachers first visited this locality about 1807 and circuit riders were then appointed to make regular stops there. According to Albany Circuit records, a quarterly conference was held in Windham December 17, 1811—possibly on the East Kill.
By the time the Woodworth home had become an established meeting place there were four other classes in the mountains: the West Hunter (South Jewett), John J. Artman, leader; in Windham, Gurdon Brainard, leader; in North Settlement, William Miller, leader; and in West Settlement, Ezra Disbrow, leader. These two became regular meeting places in the Albany Circuit, along with the one in East Kill (now East Jewett). However, no regular preaching appointments were made until 1820.
A class paper for East Kill dated April 2, 1813, gives us the names of the people present at the meeting on that date: Andrew McKain, Jesse Hunt, preachers. Members: Lemuel Woodworth, Lydia Woodworth (his wife), Justus A. Artman, Lester Artman (sons of John), William Miller (leader from North Settlement), Anna Winter (Matthew’s wife), Ruth Winter (Roger’s wife), Jonathan Fairchild, Elizabeth Fairchild, (his wife), and Huldah Bronson. "The itinerants," we are told, "preached in Woodworth’s house and sometimes in Matthew Winter’s. Both were log houses having two large rooms. The services were held in the room where the family lived, but on special occasions when persons came from a distance the congregation was larger and both rooms were occupied. Woodworth was chorister as well as class leader and he insisted on everybody taking part in singing." Many of Lemuel’s descendants had good voices; over the years the church had good choirs.
The mountains were not without church congregations when the Methodist family settled in East Jewett. The first organization seems to have been the Old School Baptist Church in Lexington, formed October 25, 1790; the second Reformed Church in Prattsville, organized in 1798, where most of the settlers were of the Reformed Dutch communion; the third the Trinity Episcopal parish, in Ashland, organized May 20 1799, by the Rev. Philander Chase, afterwards Bishop of Ohio; and fourth, in 1799, the meeting house of the First Congregational Church of Windham "on the Batavia" was begun, to be completed in 1803. A commemorative marker in the newer part of the Pleasant Valley cemetery, on Route 23 between Windham and Ashland, marks the site of this early church. Two branch Congregational Societies were formed, one in Jewett Heights in 1801 or 1802, the other in Big Hollow (now Maplecrest) in 1802; all came under Presbyterian jurisdiction about 1826. The first Methodist society was established in the mountains about 1806, as already noted.
There were settlers in East Jewett as early as 1797, and by the time the Winters and Woodworths came there were several families. Philip Mead and Timothy Lockwood, with their large families, had settled in the eastern upland section of the valley; Jonathan Fairchild, Jehiel Winchell, Samuel Hanson and John Beach were living two or three miles further to the west. Others took out "grants" and stayed for a while, but these families remained, at least long enough to become a part of the community. Some of them early became affiliated with the Congregational Church in Jewett Heights or Maplecrest and continued to attend there, even if infrequently. It is unlikely that in the early days many of them ventured to attend any of the meetings in the Woodworth and Winter cabins, for the Congregational (or Presbyterian) church fathers did not look with approval on this new sect. Member who did go out of curiosity risked reprimand by their minister—an attitude that softened gradually as members of the two churches intermarried and people became more tolerant.
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So the Woodworth, Winter and Fairchild families continued for many years to make up most of the East Jewett Society, though there were surely others. In time Lemuel’s son Abner, became class leader as did his sons-in-law, Henry Fairchild and Hugh Slater. John Peter West, father of Lester, whose large family remained in upper East Jewett for many years, is known to have been among those influential in having the church become a regular preaching place. But the membership increased with the growing up and marrying of these families. Matthew and Ann Winter had ten children who reached maturity, Rogers and Ruth Winter had at least six, Lemuel and Lydia Woodworth had ten, and Jonathan Fairchild had fourteen, some of whom were grown up and living in other communities when their father settled in the Valley. A son of each of three of these families died in early manhood, but all the others grew up, married and had families, and most remained in the vicinity for several decades, or as long as their farms could provide a living for them. All of them, we can feel sure, were brought up in the Methodist fold.
During this time Woodworth frequently held religious meetings in the surrounding towns. On one occasion, at Jewett Heights, where there was great opposition to Methodism, he was "violently assailed" at the close of the meeting, rotten eggs were thrown at him and he suffered much personal abuse. In this connection and incident told in an old Prattsville District Register seems too interesting not to be included here in its entirety. Controversies and public discussion of church doctrine were very popular in those early times, and the class leader had to engage in a great many of them. The following one became well known in Methodist circles and must have been told and retold with immense relish.
"Calvinism had at that time a champion in Jewett named Tompkins who came to Woodworth with a view of convincing him of his errors. For a time the class leader refused to enter into controversy, but his visitor persisted and said, "One more argument, Mr. Woodworth, one more argument." So he was permitted to explain his doctrine and endeavored to show that God had fixed all things by his eternal decrees, that men had no freedom of will, but were predestined some to holiness and heaven and others to sin and eternal punishment. For some time Woodworth listened in silence but seeing that Tompkins as usual charged God with being the author of sin, he arose and took two chairs and setting them before his visitor said, ‘Now Mr. Tompkins, these chairs have no will of their own, they are as incapable of motion as graven images and can be moved only by my will.’ ‘Yes, yes.’ said Tompkins, ‘that is so.’ Then Woodworth took a chair and raising it over the head of the man said, ‘Suppose I take this chair and break your head with it, who would be to blame and who should be punished, I or the chair? After considerable hesitation he meekly replied, ‘the chair’."
Another time, at a mill in Durham, a schoolmaster and his friends challenged Woodworth to a discussion on doctrinal views, and a great crowd collected to hear the arguments. He was one man against many but he did battle bravely and held his doctrinal ground until Durham Methodist leader, Jabez Hubbard, rode up "like Blucher at Waterloo" and shouted, "That’s right brother Woodworth, give it to them." with forces joined the two men soon put their adversaries to rout and were left in possession of the field.
All during these years the class leaders continued to labor diligently in the cause of Methodism, and the church little by little extended its influence all about the mountains. In the first thirty yeas or so of the century at least twenty-two classes were established, some of them with as many as one hundred members, and where the classes were strongest churches were built. Possibly the log cabin used as a church in South Jewett until 1833, where "Father" Artman was the much revered leader *(During the Revolution John Justus Artman, born in Goodlinsburg, Germany, came to America with Burgoyne’s forces. During a campaign he was captured by Indians and forced to run the gauntlet, but he escaped without injury. As he was retained as a prisoner of war he decided to enlist in the American service, where he remained until the end of the War. Soon after his marriage he moved to what is now South Jewett, where he died February 12, 1838. A son and grandson became Methodist ministers.), was the first building to be erected for Methodist services in the Catskills. The earliest otherwise was the North Settlement church, built in 1826. By the end of the century at least twenty had been built in the mountains towns.
The tanning era, beginning about 1815 in this section and gradually declining after the 1840’s, must have been important to the growth of these societies and to the eventual building of churches of various denominations. For the industry, dependent then upon hemlock bark for the rendering of hides into leather. Brought a good measure of prosperity into the hemlock-covered mountains. Tanneries sprang up. especially along the Schoharie Kill and the Batavia Kill, and to feed them great quantities of bark had to be stripped from felled trees and hauled to the tanners. This meant a new demand for hemlock land with resulting rise in land values and an increase in population—albiet a transient one: for extra hands were needed in the tanneries and in the forests to cut down trees and peel bark. Such conditions fostered the need for churches and provided the means to build them.
The East Kill Valley was fortunate in being generously forested with hemlock. One can only surmise that this circumstance may have bought the Schoharie County families into the valley as settlers. Jonathan Fairchild, who came about 1800, was a tanner and might well have foreseen the coming of the industry. At any rate when it did come the settlers made the most of their hemlock-rich land, much of which was owned by these Methodist families who saw in the better times the possibility of making their dream of a church of their own become a reality. The men and women who had first formed the class in 1806 were getting on in years (Jonathan Fairchild had died in 1815); if they were to see a church built in their lifetime, they must not delay.
So in 1833 the members of the Society formed a church organization, with three elected trustees, Matthew Winter, Lemuel Woodworth, and Henry Fairchild, son of Jonathan and son-on-law of Lemuel, representing the three first Methodist families. An 1871 record names Abner Woodworth, Lemuel’s eldest son, instead of Matthew Winter, but the first-named group seems the more logical one. However that may be, there was now an organized church and the East Kill (East Jewett) Circuit came into being. In 1834 Lemuel and his wife, Lydia, deeded about three-fourths of an acre of their land, a choice site north of the highway and overlooking the place near the creek where their first home had been built, to the three trustees for the sum of $15.00 with the stipulation that "they shall build—a place of worship for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America"—a token sale, it would seem, to make the transaction a business-like community move. The following year they deeded land bordering the church property on the north for a cemetery.
Probably every member of the congregation gave what he could, in money or in labor, toward the building of the church, but according to Methodist records and tradition in both families, the Beaches and the Woodworths made the largest contributions, John Beach and his family giving $500, Lemuel Woodworth give $250, his children $250, and his five sons, Abner, David, Alanson, Hiram and Lemuel, their labor as carpenters in the construction of the building. All the members of this Beach family left the valley between 1840 and 1855 and so are not remembered there now; but for more than three decades they were substantial citizens in the community, and Methodists. John Beach, Jr., had come for Norfolk, Connecticut, prior to 1810 and settled on what was later the William Tiffany farm, about a mile west of the church. His father, John, Sr., who moved to the valley somewhat later, died in 1835 and was the first person to be buried in the new cemetery back of the church. The John S. Beach who later lived on the "Beach farm" further down the valley was only remotely related to the earlier John.
Most of the lumber of the church, it is said, was drawn by ox teams, whose drivers doubtless walked from Preston Hollow, in Albany County, near where the Winter and Woodworth families had lived—a fact which may or may not have significance. While there were sawmills nearer at hand (John Beach had one) they might not have been capable of producing finished lumber such as was desirable for their building or there may have been other considerations that induced them to go so far away for their supplies. Preston Hollow was all of twenty-five miles distance over hilly, rough roads. It may be they cut the logs on their own property and took them to be sawed; the record doesn’t say.
Finally sometime in 1834, almost thirty years after the first class had been organized, the building was completed and the East Jewett Methodist Episcopal Church stood proudly on its knoll where it could be seen from all up and down the valley. It had taken a long time, a generation, but the Society had achieved its goal. Though no description of this first church has come down to us, its proportions and essential features were no doubt much the same as those of the present structure; the rebuilding some forty years later did not mean a completely new edifice. The furnishings we can only guess at; all may have been made by the church carpenters, some may have been bought. We do know that there was no means of artificial lighting other than candles, no heat except for the homemade foot warmers that families brought to church with them in cold weather and often passed around to serve those who had no warmers. And there was only a tuning fork to strike the key of singing.
It must have been soon after the completion of the church that sheds, never painted, were erected in the northwest angle of the yard to shelter the horses and oxen, wagons and sleighs that brought people to meetings. They remained there well on into the present century until automobiles took the place of horses and the old sheds, no longer needed, were torn down. Practical usefulness was a prime consideration in those days and while such shelters were never ornamental they did fill a need. Services were often long, horses and oxen were valuable and must be protected.
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For perhaps a decade after the church was built the membership may have increased, for the tanning industry was still flourishing and work no doubt plentiful. Then one by one as the supply of hemlock on their land became exhausted, families began to move away, those with smaller holdings of course going first. Enterprising young men with growing families could not wait for their land to become productive as farms. Many simply abandoned their "grants," for with the hemlock gone the land was almost worthless. Abner Woodworth in 1847 bought two one-hundred acre lots of what was eventually pasture land. For one he paid $200; for the other adjoining, less rocky one he paid $5.00. The conclusion seems obvious; no hemlock was left on the second lot. During the 1840’s and early 1850’s three Fairchild families, the David and Lemuel Woodworth, III, families, certain Winter families, the John Beach family, and the Fullers moved away—all Methodists. Those who remained were mostly the ones who had early secured the best bottom land in the section and had brought it under cultivation; some stayed on because they were too old or lacked the initiative and courage to start a new life elsewhere.
An old paper, preserved these many years, supplies the names of members and friends of the congregation in its early period. It lists in two columns, the men on the left, the women on the right in proper church fashion, the names of those from whom contributions of money had been solicited for some Methodist purpose and the amounts they subscribed, the largest being one dollar, the smallest half a shilling. No year is given, only March 15, but since the name of Lemuel Woodworth, who died in 1845, heads the list and that of Alice Fuller, born 1844 (a very young contributor) ends it, the year is established as one of those two. The solicitor was probably Lemuel’s son-in-law, Oliver T. Fuller, as is indicated not only by the similarity of the writing to his signature elsewhere but by the fact that he moved over to the female column to write his name with his wife’s and daughters.
The following were contributors: Lemuel and Lydia Woodworth and their sons Abner, David (and his wife), Alanson, and Hiram; Moses Winter and his wife, Harriet; Lovisa A. Winters (some of the Rogers Winter family added an "s" to their name), Washington, Martin, Julia and Matilda Winters; Oliver T. and Lydia Woodworth Fuller, their son Daniel and daughters Maliss, Eliza, Mary, Catherine, and (Rosalie) Alice; Julius Fairchild, grandson of Jonathan and of Lemuel (other Fairchild families had left the valley by this time); Asa Farrington, not a resident but his wife was a Fairchild; (John) Peter West and his wife, Caroline; Mary J. and Julia M. Judson, relatives of the wives of Abner and Alanson Woodworth; Asa, Andrew, and Loren Lord, John S. Beach (not the John who moved away) whose family may have attended the Maplecrest Presbyterian Church; Ebenezer Haight; Justus Coe, who lived in the Goshen Street section of Jewett and was a member of the Episcopal Church near Ashland; Stephen Mead, a Baptist who had married a church member; Hobart Johnson and Watson B. Hall (Jewett names); William A. Neal, John Salmes(?), Matilda and Priscilla Winchell, Elizabeth Simpson, and Catherine McLinehen(?).
The total amount pledged was $13.27 ½. The sum of $8.12 ½ was "paid over to Brother Fitch," who may have been the Rev. Silas Fitch, pastor of the church in 1850, possibly then an officer of the District Conference.
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Perhaps the uniting of the East Jewett Circuit with Windham in 1857 to become the Windham Circuit reflected the weakening of the church, or it may have been simply a change in Methodist organization. In 1860 it was separated from Windham and organized as a separate church, to remain such until 1878 when, with the building of the Maplecrest Church in 1857 and the Hensonville Church in 1874, it became and has remained a part of Hensonville charge.
The loss of membership when so many families left the valley in the 1840’s and 1850’s was a severe blow. And before there was time to recover the period of the Civil War had begun, bringing even to this remote community the worries and problems and heartache of wartime. Some of the young men enlisted or were drafted; their elders had to shoulder a greater burden of work on the farm; there was ever-present anxiety. All who went to war returned, so far as is known; but one, Sylvester Hanson, lost an arm at Gettysburg and others suffered for years afterward from the effects of illness and imprisonment during the war. To add to the troubles, the summer of 1863 was exceptionally dry, crops and gardens dried up, forest fires ranged here and there in the mountains. And then, when it seemed that conditions could be no worse, the heaviest blow of all fell; an epidemic of "black" diphtheria struck the valley. The cemetery contains stones marking the graves of eight children and one adult who died of the cruel disease that year: Elmer, two-year-old son of Sallie and Hugh Slater; Robert, nine-month-old son of Margaret and Henry Distin (who was in the war); five children, ranging in age from four to twenty, of Elizabeth and Horace Winter who died within a month’s time: and their next door neighbor, Alanson Mead, twenty-nine, unmarried. Probably there were others whose graves are marked only by fieldstone or who were buried elsewhere. It was a sad, hard time for the East Jewett people.
Under such circumstances it is not surprising that the condition of the church deteriorated during these years and the years immediately following the war. By 1870 it had fallen into a bad state of disrepair, as was noted in an item in the Windham Journal that year which remarked that it did not "represent a commendable public spirit." The condition was worsened when, in 1871, a bad hail storm broke more than a hundred widow panes; and it may be that the building was damaged by fire about this time. At any rate the congregation felt that something must be done, and since the farm population was once again reasonably prosperous because of high prices for diary produce during and after the war, they decided to rebuild and restore their church. So, with the encouragement and advice of their capable pastor, the Rev. Seney Martin, plans were drawn up and work on the new building, the present church, was begun, this time with Lemuel Woodworth’s grandson, Buel Woodworth, as boss carpenter. It could not have been a completely new structure, for the total was only about $800.
During the summer of 1873 the work was finished and on Wednesday, November 26—Thanksgiving time—the new church at East Jewett, in the Prattsville District, New York Conference of the Methodist Church, was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. Former pastors had been especially invited to be present and small printed cards of invitation had been sent to the congregations of neighboring churches to assure a good attendance. There was a sermon at eleven o’clock in the forenoon by the Rev. Alexander McLean of Hudson, Secretary of the New York Conference, another at six-thirty by the Rev. A. K. Sanford, Presiding Elder of the District. The Rev. George Clark, of Catskill, also spoke during the evening and perhaps was the one who presented to the East Jewett people a petition for the sum of $892, which completely relieved the Society of debt and gave evidence of renewed religious feeling and interest in their church born of their common effort in restoration.
The dedication was a big event for the little community and must have required no small amount of preparation and hard work for the men and women of the church. There was no public transportation into the mountains at that time other than occasional stage coach from Catskill to Windham which connected there with other stages to the west. Neither was there any public accommodations in East Jewett. Hence horses and carriages—possibly sleighs—must have been called into use, spare bedrooms made ready for guest and quantities of food prepared for their consumption. The Rev. Mr. Martin largely responsible for the rebuilding and for the dedication ceremonies, was a tireless worker and builder. It was through his efforts that the Methodist Church was built in Hensonville in 1874. After his death a stained glass window was placed there to honor his memory.
Possibly the vestibule with the tiered gallery over it, capable of seating thirty or more people, had been in the original church, or the addition may have made at this time to accommodate large numbers of people who came for special services and events. No doubt wood-burning stoves had been provided as soon as there use became practical—perhaps in the sixties; the comfort they gave in winter weather when the cold nipped at fingers and toes as people made they way to church can well be imagined. As in later years there probably were two stoves, one on each side at the rear to dispel the cold admitted when doors from the vestibule were opened and to enable the congregation to get comfortably warm before the service began. Three pews, each seating four, grouped about the sometime red-hot stoves were made good use of until their occupants were thoroughly toasted and in the mood for worship.
The new church was a course of great pride to the community and during the next several years its people continued to beautify the interior and improve the grounds. In 1876 maple trees were set out all about the church yard and along the cemetery walls—one hundred and ten it was reported, though it is difficult to see where room could have been found for so many—and built a fence in front, probably a picket one. Their fine example was followed by the other churches on the charge which also set out numerous maples: forty-eight in Maplecrest, fifty in Hensonville—numbers that suggest a little tongue-in-cheek reporting. In 1883, under the supervision of the pastor, the Rev., A. H. Haynes, the interior was improved by the purchase of new carpets and furniture and by the rearrangement of the altar and pulpit: the exterior was refurbished with "paint enough to cover the whole business spread on by artist John Moore."
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The rebuilding was completed about the time the Methodist Church was beginning to experience a new upsurge of religious feeling. Churches all about the mountain towns were lively with activity. East Jewett was having three prayer meetings weekly—"all necessary," a wag commented in the Windham Journal; there were lectures by visiting ministers, Sunday School conventions, and Sunday School "pic-nics," where a local band would provide music and the women ample refreshments for young and old to enjoy during a lazy summer afternoon; camp meetings, some of them on a large scale, were held in Hunter and Windham and Jewett and attracted people for miles around.
Most important of all were the revival meetings, conducted either by professional revivalist preachers or by the local minister. These drew large crowds and converted many people. The Rev. H. C. Travis, pastor of the charge from 1875 to 1877, was a very well-liked and effective preacher. As a result of his leadership and preaching during these meetings, fifty conversions were reported in East Jewett alone in 1875, eighty in 1876 and eighty again in 1877; the circuit doubled its membership during his pastorate and for the most part held its gains. This period of revivalism lasted for several decades and did much to strengthen the existing churches and build new ones.
At Christmas time 1875, the East Jewett congregation, filled with the spirit of the season and with gratitude and affection toward their able pastor, arranged a special Christmas program with appropriate exercises, trees, and presents. The account, written with obvious pride to: the weekly newspaper, give if read carefully, not only the details of the program and the names of the participants, some of them still remembered in the community, but something of a picture of the valley people and their church. It seems worth including in this history as it appeared in the January 6, 1876, issue of the Windham Journal.
THE EAST JEWETT CHRISTMAS TREE
Though the evening was very stormy, the church was well filled at an early hour. The exercises passed off very satisfactorily and pleasantly, giving credit to the speakers who performed their parts in a very praiseworthy manner. The programme was arranged by A. R. Mott, who conducted the exercises, assisted by David E. Woodworth, who lead the singing, with Mrs. Loren E. Woodworth at the organ. Of course our pastor, Rev. C. H. Travis, had a word to say, and he said the right thing in the right place, as he always does.
Part 1—Verses from the Old Testament Scripture representing the darkness of the world before the coming of Christ.
Part 2—Review of the Fourth Quarter’s Bureau Lessons.
Part 3—Prophecies and types fulfilled (by the twenty-four speakers; twelve gentlemen, each holding a lighted wax candle, and twelve ladies each dressed in pure white).
Part 4—Fulfillment of prophecies in the coming of Christ (recited in concert by all the speakers standing in a semi-circle).
Everything passed off nicely, and to the satisfaction of all concerned; and we hope it will prove an efficient incentive to the Sunday school of our place. Thanks are due to all who gave us their assistance and for the interest manifested in the Christmas tree in supplying it so liberally with costly and appropriate presents, among which was a fine twelve dollar Bible presented to A. R. Mott, also two other Bibles, one for Mrs. William E. Woodworth, and one for Adelbert Beers; and besides these a choice selection of other books, beautiful work boxes, a splendid castor for Mrs. Loren E. Woodworth; fine watch chains, lockets, very nice pieces of dress goods, a fine set of furs for Mrs. Rev. C. H. Travis; very fine mottoes, one of which, "Rock of Ages Cleft for Me," was presented to Hugh Slater, was very nice indeed; albums, cases of perfume, toys, scarfs, ties, hats, dolls, and lots of things too numerous to mention, filling two Christmas trees full, besides a pretty pyramid in the center of the most valuable and pretty. Thanks to Mrs. Loren E. Woodworth, Mrs. William E. Woodworth, Mrs. Adelbert Beers, Mrs. Asa Lord, Mrs. Orrin S. Griffin, and others for their taste and assistance in arranging the presents. S. F.
East Jewett, December 24, 1875."
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Aside from its use for religious services and related activities, the building had to serve as a community hall; for the population never became large or prosperous enough to warrant a building for that purpose. Consequently all gatherings too large for the school houses to accommodate (there were three in the valley) had to be held in the church. One of the earliest organizations to hold its meetings there was Greene County Lodge No. 848, of the International Order of Odd Fellows, of Northern New York, established 1823. The Lodge in East Jewett was organized sometime before 1859, for there is a record of the Rev. J. H. Champions lecturing before the Lodge that year at its meeting. Lodge meetings probably continued to be held there until Alanson Woodworth, when he built a new home, included a room for the use of the organization.
Political gatherings were held at the church too. In October of 1860, during the Presidential campaign, the Republicans had a meeting there with fifty or more "Wide Awakes" in attendance, after which they formed a torchlight procession and paraded up and down the road. And the Sons of Temperance also held meetings there and brought in lecturers. In the 1870’s the Rev Henry Kimball, from Brooklyn, was popular in the area as a teacher of "higher subjects" to private pupils in Windham and as a lecturer to the congregations of the various churches. When, in 1871, he lectured in the East Jewett church, his subject was "The Catskill Inhabitants, Their Characteristics."
In the summer time, particularly after the coming of the railroad to Hunter and Tannersville had made the Catskill popular as a summer resort, visiting ministers gave talks about their travels, missionaries home on furlough told of their experiences in foreign lands, and vacationing elocutionists gave readings. Musicians, singers, and novelty entertainers were brought to the church to provide pleasant evenings for the valley people. For such entertainment there was sometimes a small admission fee. Singing school, too, was held there, and singers of the three churches of the charge, usually taught by the same master, sometimes combined to present and evening of music.
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The ministers who served the church in its early years may have been given no fixed amount of money in the way of salary, but their congregations shared with them the produce of their land and the products of their skills. From time to time there were community "donations" when the people gathered, at the church in early days, being for delivery to the minister whatever useful commodities they had to offer or could promise to provide. There must have been organization in these donations to insure there being appropriate variety and amounts for the minister’s need. When this failed the pastor made known his wants and the people responded. There was no parsonage until late in the century. Ministers had to provide their own dwellings places, often farmed in a small way to supply produce for their tables.
Among the many things such donations might have included would have been firewood, hay and grain for the ministers’ horse and cow, cured and fresh meat, flour, butter, winter vegetables, maple sugar and syrup, honey from hives or bee trees, fruit from the orchards, and an endless variety of lesser items from cellars and cupboards. There may well have been products from the loom, too, for farmers then raised flax for linen and kept sizable flocks of sheep for their wool. Gifts from the carpenter’s bench, and handwork from housewive’s fingers must have been prized. In October of 1858, according to a local news item, the ladies of East Jewett presented to the Rev. J. H. Champion, minister of the Windham Circuit into which East Jewett had recently been incorporated, a quilt pieced in the diamond star pattern. Not to be outdone, the ladies in the Bell district (Mitchell Hollow, Windham) presented him with one pieced in an Odd Fellows pattern, with each block bearing the name of the donor written on a card sewed to the block. One was given by Julius Fairchild, who had lately moved from East Jewett to the stone House in Mitchell Hollow. These quilts may have been in the nature of farewell gifts, for Mr. Champion was succeeded that same year by a new minister.
Eventually these "donations" became social evenings at members’ homes where bountiful suppers were served for free will offerings, young people played song games—some of them kissing games—in a cleared out attic or summer kitchen, and their elders not busy in the kitchen exchanged news and probably gossip. There was no obvious means of serving food at the church in the early days, but the fact that at a donation in 1879 a keg of oysters was stolen would indicate, not only that there were some scalawags in the community, but that people, to make such occasions pleasurable, had contrived a way to serve oyster stew at the church. A keg of oysters would not have been a likely item to donate for the minister’s family.
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In spite of the impetus provided by the revival effort the strength of the church ebbed little by little during the nineties, although regular services continued. Times were changing. The hillside farms became less profitable, for much of the land was not suitable to cultivation by the farm machinery that was becoming a necessity, and many farms were abandoned. The location was too rural, too inaccessible, to attract many summer boarders. The lumber industry, which had flourished during the eighties when the coming of the railroads to Hunter and Tannersville made furniture factories there profitable and when summer hotels and park colonies were being built just over the mountain in the town of Hunter, gradually decreased. The sawmills shut down one after another and the valley felt the pinch of hard times.
After a few years, however, conditions in upper East Jewett, two or three miles to the east of the church, began to improve as a result of the proximity of that section of Onteora Park, an exclusive summer colony on the mountain nearby that provided employment for many during the summer season. Consequently it was not long before the people in the upper valley decided they needed and could afford a church of their own; and in 1890 the East Kill Valley Methodist Church was built there. The families of the least two of its trustees and doubtless others had formerly attended the lower East Jewett Church, though perhaps not regularly, which was left the poorer by the transfer of their membership to the new church. By location somewhat apart from the Hensonville charge, this church soon became a part of the Tannersville charge.
The congregation of the older church continued to decrease because of changing conditions and trends until, in the1920’s, it became obvious that the sanctuary was larger than needed. And since new attitudes and changed fund-raising methods seemed to demand a place for suppers and other community activities, it as decided to partition the building to form two rooms. The front section, with some pews removed, remained the sanctuary, the rear became a small dining room and kitchen—an arrangement that worked out very well.
In recent years the church under the vigorous leadership of a great-great-grandson of Deacon Lemuel Woodworth, mentioned before as one who moved with his family into the mountain wilderness to safeguard his children’s moral and religious well being, has regained its strength and has become one of the most active in the area. In 1936 the membership was increased when the upper East Jewett church, closed in 1956 for want of support, merged with the older church to become one congregation. Though it is still not large it is enthusiastic and energetic. The women’s organization, the Willing Workers, had been all the name implies and by persistent hard work had earned much of the income necessary to maintain and improve the building. By way of improvement the proportions of the sanctuary have been altered by lowering the ceiling and the seating capacity increased by eliminating the vestibule and gallery; modern lighting and heating facilities have been installed; and the sanctuary, entirely redecorated and refurbished with all new, modern furniture, including pews, reflects the pride the people have in their church. Too, a beautiful electric organ had lately been presented to the church as a memorial by the family and friends of a deceased member.
More recently a new kitchen has been built and equipped at the rear of the church, the dining room enlarged to extend the width of the church, with a room over it for the use of the local Boy Scout Troop; and through the generosity of a former resident of the valley a well was drilled to supply water for the church’s use. Whenever there is work to be done or a need to be filled, a loyal community responds. There are still "donations," not only of tangible gifts but of labor and time in carpentry, painting, plumbing; in the upkeep of the cemetery and church grounds and in the dozens of minor yet important thing that have to be done to preserve the dignity of the fine old building. The church is grateful to its many friends and shows it appreciation by entertaining a multitude of people who come back year after year upon occasion to enjoy the hospitality and warm friendliness of the people who make up the congregation.
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For more than one hundred and thirty years the East Jewett Methodist Church has graced the knoll its founders chose for it. In all that time its doors have never been closed, there had been no interruption of religious worship, it has never been without a minister. Faithfully it has ministered to the valley people and they in turn have given it their love and loyalty. We can never know how great has been its contribution to the uplifting of men’s hearts and souls, how far reaching its influence. We do know that when members of its congregation left the valley, whether to move to nearby areas or to start westward in search of new opportunities, they carried with them the Methodist doctrine their church had taught them.
And when they had found new dwelling places and settled in new homes, some of them became founders of Methodist societies and builders of churches. Isaac Hull, son-in-law of Jonathan Fairchild, was largely responsible for the building of the Methodist church in Jewett Heights (now closed) as was Horace Winter, son of Rogers, for the Methodist church in West Kill. Farther away, David Woodworth, Jr., grandson of Lemuel, was influential in the building of the First Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, whither tanning and leather interest had taken him. It is safe to assume that there were many others who, over the years, in places here and there across the land, contributed to their communities that which had its beginning back in the pioneer church in East Jewett. In truth, the souls of those staunch old Methodists who labored in their mountain valley must still be marching on.
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