First Round Top Methodist Church Erected in 1838
By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail March 7, 1953
Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
This is the 16th in a series of articles about the township of Cairo published in the Daily Mail.
It is hard to learn just when the first religious services were conducted in a town but we find that around 1790 there was a log-house set apart in the village of Purling for a school house and one also for a church. In many places, the school house was used for the double purpose of school and church.
We do no known if this was so in Round Top or not, but we do known that the Strope family settled in Round Top in 1780 and in 1790, Elias Dutcher with his family of six children moved from Dutchess County to Round Top. He gave his children a very liberal education, according to early records. "They attended the village school for three months." It is further related that his younger son, Seth, who was born in March, 1796, "showed a great interest in the Methodist faith at a very early date."
The Methodist itinerant preachers came into this part of New York State in the early part of the nineteenth century. These traveling preachers were not natives of Greene County and the customs and habits of the people were new to them. However, they found many friendly people who opened their homes and welcomed the preachers, and during the bad weather the preaching services were conducted in the buildings. When the weather permitted, meetings were held in the open air and camp meetings were organized. People came from miles around to attend these free gatherings. Out of such meetings many people, moved by the spirit of God, decided to build a meeting place for christian worship. Another contributing factor was the large number of families coming to Round Top to cut hemlock bark for the tanneries. The crowd soon outgrew the space in the building and there was a demand of a church building.
According to the early records, the site for the church at Round Top was given by Catherine Emerick of Cairo and the main part of the church was erected in 1838 with the following as trustees: Peter Fiero, Harvey Stoddard, Samuel M. Jones, Chester Stoddard, John Edgerly, and Christian Schoonmaker. On October 1, 1853, The Round Top church and property was incorporated into The Methodist Episcopal Church, and on July 1, 1854, it was recorded in the County Court at Catskill, with the provision that it was to be used exclusively as a church for divine worship.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President on the Republican ticket in 1860, and the war between the States which followed created fear for loved ones on the battlefields. Money, food and other necessities became scarce in 1862. Government buyers came through in the fall and "bought up" wheat, corn and other crops for the troops, paying high prices, but leaving little for home use. Shoes and clothes shot up in price and leather and cloth were almost impossible to procure.
In April of 1863, Rev. Ardee Vale, a Southerner with strong sympathy for slavery, was appointed to the Round Top Methodist Church. His enthusiasm for a failing cause and ill-directed loyalty to his early training caused a rift in the congregation.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," had attained popularity and the evils of slavery were so vividly pictured that the people of this locality looked upon slavery with hate, and many people who were innocent suffered for persecution.
However, the Methodist Church itinerant system saved the situation and Rev. Ardee was replaced with another preacher and the rift healed.
Record More Clear
In 1878, Cairo and Round Top became one charge, with Rev. John L. Ketcham, as minister. This unity continued until 1891. From this date, there are records of the preachers who served the Round Top Church.
In 1891, Round Top, Acra and Kiskatom were formed into one charge, with Rev. William Lewis as minister.
In 1892, the ladies of the church dissolved their "Home Circle" and organized "The Ladies Aid." From that date, the ladies of the church have had an important influence on the life of the church. The idea to The Ladies Aid was proposed by Mrs. John Cochran. Nine ladies, Mrs. James B. Edgerly, Mrs. John Cochran, Mrs. Harrison Jones. Mrs. H. B. Whitcomb, Mrs. Wm. Richards, Mrs. O. Locke, Mrs. Adelbert Lennon, Mrs. Chas. Johnson, and Mrs. William Jones, assembled in the home of Mrs. James Edgerly and organized the society with the following officers: Pres., Mrs. Harrison Jones; Vice-Pres., Mrs. H. B. Whitcomb; Secty, Mrs. Wm. Richards; Asst. Sect., Mrs. John Cochran; and Treas., Mrs. James Edgerly.
Two of these ladies lived to see the church celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1938, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Cochran.
The church was enlarged, in 1892, to include the choir loft, front entrance, vestibule and belfry tower.
The ladies in 1895 voted their whole-hearted support to the building of a parsonage. In three years of constant effort, the church people saw their labor rewarded and the Rev. H. H. Mace was the first minister to occupy the new ministerial residence. The site for this parsonage was given by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Johnson and was recorded in the County Court office on May 9th, 1895.
More Changes Noted
A new reed organ was purchased in 1900 and a bell placed in the tower belfry this same year.
In 1911, Rev. Kenneth McElman preached at Round Tip and Kiskatom, this becoming one charge.
The church was carpeted in 1914 and the new oak pews were installed. The altar rail was changed to conform with the new pews.
In 1917, Round Top and Acra were again joined and Kiskatom was dropped from the circuit.
About the year 1922, the old heating stoves were replaced with a new hot air furnace after a cellar had been excavated under the church and electricity was installed for lighting.
In 1926, the stained glass window with the musical design was added to the sanctuary at the rear of the choir loft, which was the gift of Miss Della Schermerhorn of Cairo in memory of the Schermerhorn family of Round Top.
New Building Erected
The old church sheds which had housed horses and wagons for many years were dismantled in 1938 and the material was used to erect the new church hall.
In 1942, a church altar was designed by Frederick Kohlhepp and installed in the church.
The three churches, Round Top, Cairo, Acra, for the first time were under one charge, with the Rev. Samuel Art MacCormac as pastor. Under his able direction, in 1949, the church hall and church was painted on the outside and a new oil-burner hot-air heater replaced the old heater.
The following year, renovations consisted of the walls and ceiling of the church being redecorated, floors redressed, vestibule, aisles and choir loft carpeted and a new Electronic Hammond Organ purchased and installed. Total cost was over $3,000.
Pastors and Shepherds of the Round Top Church follow:
Round Top and Cairo—1863-1864, Ardee Vale; 1878-1879, J. Ketcham; 1879-1880, John Hogan; 1880-1883, Wm. Greene; 1883-1884, A. H. Hayes; 1884-1886, W. Dalton; 1886-1888, G. W. Martin; 1888-1891, S. Merchant.
Round Top and Acra—1891-1893, W. Lewis; 1893-1898, H. N. Mace; 1898-1902, Harry Chown, 1902-1905, A Schliermacher, 1905-1906, George W. Rice; 1906-1907, S. M. Cole; 1907-1908, J. McConnell; 1908-1910, S. A. Finch; 1910-1911, K. McElman.
Round Top and Kiskatom—1911-1912, K. McElman; 1912-1914, G. Bashford; 1914-1915, Paul Price; 1917-1919, R. Mautorstock; 1919-1920, Leon Booth; 1920-1926, Wm. Peckham; 1926-Jan. 1929, S. A. MacCormac; Jan. 1929-Apr. 1929, John Parker;1929-Sept. 1929, R. Meadowcraft; Sept. 1929-Apr 1930, Frank Mason; 1930-Oct. 1930, A. D. Rines; Oct. 1930-1932, A. Ochletree; 1932-1926, Stanley Risch; 1936-1938, Roger Squire; 1938-1939, Cecil Miller; 1939-1940 Charles Crain; 1940-1943, T. Debman, 1943-1944, Philip Byers, 1944-1945, To be supplied; Oct. 1945-Dec. 1946, William Fox; 1946-1947, William Burt; 1947-1948, Frank Bauman.
Round Top and Cairo—1948—S. A. MacCormac.
Old Church Lost
150-Year-Old Landmark Destroyed in Dawn Fire
The 150 year-old Round Top Methodist Church burned to the ground early yesterday morning, as efforts of five fire companies could not save the ancient landmark from destruction in a fiery holocaust that enveloped it, about 5 a.m.
Mrs. Harold Yeardon, a fire dispatcher who lives opposite the church, was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by the barking of her dog, and saw the old church already wreathed in flames. She rang the alarm and three Cairo trucks and two Round Top vehicles responded immediately, pumping 3,400 gallons of water into the structure before having to go for auxiliary water to Winter Clove Creek, a mile distant.
Their efforts were insufficient to save the old church from complete destruction, but Round Top firemen were still hosing down the adjoining church hall until noon, although only the roof and walls remained, and these appeared in danger of falling in.
Fire Chief Roland Jones directed operations of the Cairo companies, and Heinz Warring was in charge of the Round Top men.
Pastor at Scene
Rev. Gerald E. Sutch, pastor, was still at the scene at noon yesterday.
Cairo companies returned to their headquarters at 7:05 a.m.
Although many records of the historic church have been lost, it is presumed that it was established by a wandering circuit rider. In 1838 the site for the church was given by Catherine Emerick of Cairo, and the church erected that year. The church was incorporated in 1853.
The Ladies’ Aid Society was organized in 1892 and the following year the choir loft, chancel, vestibule and belfry were added. The parsonage was built in 1898 and in 1900 a reed organ and bell were installed.
Modern improvements came with the 20th century. The furnace and electricity were installed in 1922; sheds were dismantled and the church hall, built in 1938. The One Hundredth anniversary was celebrated that year.
An altar as an aid to worship, designed by Frederick Koehlhepp, was added in 1942. A Hammond organ was purchased in 1950 and, in 1956, the church hall was moved to adjoin the church. A Sunday School room, kitchen and rest rooms were added.
At various times the Round Top Methodist Church has been a pastoral charge joined with the Kiskatom Methodist Church, with Acra, and recently with Cairo, South Cairo, and Acra. In 1957 the charge was strong, enough to divide it again, with Acra and Round Top combined.
A continuous record of ministers since 1863 exists, with 43 ministers listed. A short term for the ministers is one of the handicaps of any small church.
The longest ministries were those of William Peckham and Thomas Denman, each six years. Rev. Denman, 1920-26, returned to preach one Sunday in August, 1958. Recent ministers have been the Rev. Samuel Art MacCormac, 1926-29 and 1948-54, a total of nine years; the Rev. Ernest MacMillan, 1954-19578, and the Rev. Francis Turpin, 1957-1957. (Writer unknown) (Re: Page 2—Examiner-Recorder SEC.1—Thurs,. Nov. 16, 1961)