A STORY OF FAITH
Edited by Gladys Kimmerer
A history Of Faith United Methodist Church
Staten Island, New York 1976
Faith United Methodist Church
Heberton and Castleton Avenues
Staten Island, New York
This book is a story of faith. It is part of the story of Faith United Methodist Church, Staten Island, New York City. Though Faith Church is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 1976 (and the United States of America is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence), the story of the parish is much older, for it was formed from the merger of three churches. We have sought to tell the more comprehensive story and declare that the histories of those three churches--Kingsley, Trinity, and Grace Methodist Churches--are the larger account of Faith Church.
We are telling a story of faith as we report about a people who found God's forgiveness for themselves and shared it with others. We have attempted to make our story more than a report on the pastorates, but rather the story of the people of the parish. It is impossible to list all the names of those who have served. We wish we could, because there is something meaningful in acknowledging that the work of people is important in the total story of life. We wish we could mention every Sunday School teacher, those who worked in the kitchen encouraging friendship, those who served on boards, and all the workers in the women's organizations. All these people contributed to the story of the life of faith, and we are grateful.
The writers of this narrative share in that story of faith. They have had to struggle with the meaning of faith as they worked with the documents and developed the tale. The styles of writing vary, and we accept each of them as an offering of love and faith. Writers include: Dr. Vernon Hampton, Elizabeth Haggren, Marian Williams, Barbara Filmer, Ralph Olsen, Gladys Kimmerer, Merwyn Grill, Lillian Olsen, Nelda Mohr, and Carlynn Kimmerer. Raymond Williams contributed his expertise in the area of photography, and Florence Hampton and Janet Johnson did proof-reading. Robert Loveless' assistance in the printing of this book has been most generous. Other members of the committee were Kenneth Filmer, Carl Anderson, Marion Hillyer, Olive Bevan, Roberta Holloway, and Howard Parker. The church is most indebted to the Chairperson of the History Committee, Mrs. Gladys Kimmerer, who gave so much of her time and energy in bringing this book together. She was the inspiration that made it happen.
For the Christian, history is always the story of faith. One who is committed to Christ is able to see the hand of God as it moves in the midst of people. This is the story of the Bible, and God's working did not end after the first century. As we have seen God's activity in the past, we can believe the activity is now, and it will be in the future. The study of history is a commitment to faith and a belief that God will lead in the tomorrows.
Lowell B. Johnson, pastor
PART ONE Early Methodist History on Staten Island
Chapter I Dr. Vernon B. Hampton
Staten Island first heard Methodist preaching May 5, 1740. The event was the first to our shores by George Whitefield, a member of John Wesley's "Holy Club" at Oxford. The place was Stony Brook, near New Dorp--the result, many conversions. Six months later, November 4, 1740, Whitefield again visited the Island with a powerful message. So large was the audience, four hundred people, that Whitefield preached from a wagon. "The Lord came amongst them," he says in his Journal, "Many of them rejoiced to see me again." The experience was long remembered. Lives were changed that day.
When Wesley's appointed missionaries began coming to America in the late 1760's they found a welcome on Staten Island. Richard Boardman and Robert Williams preached here, and so possibly did Joseph Pilmoor and Captain Webb. The "Old Book" of John Street Church refers to Methodist itinerants here.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a resident of Staten Island, on business in Philadelphia, heard Francis Asbury preach in that city before he journeyed to New York; nor that Peter Van Pelt and Asbury met en route across New Jersey and the latter accepted Van Pelt's invitation to stop over with him and preach to a congregation of our people.
Staten Island was a fifty-seven square mile paradise, Richmond County of the Province of New York, although hugging the Jersey Shore and extending to The Narrows and New York Bay.
The island was picturesque almost beyond belief, with half a dozen hamlets set in its forest greenery, three ferries on the western shore facing East Jersey, one on the north shore opposite Bergen Point, and three ferries on the northeast and east shore connecting with New York five miles away. The Island was a through route between Philadelphia and New York, and much traveled. The population in 1771, the year of Asbury's first visit, was 2,847. The Revolutionary War maps show 409 houses and identify most of the families. The population was scattered throughout the county. The largest villages wee Richmond Town (the county seat), Blazing Star (Rossville); a considerable, though scattered population on the South Side (Tottenville): the same at New Dorp, Long Neck and New Springville, and an impressively long line of houses along the entire North Shore. This was the setting in which Methodism was planted here during the last quarter of the 18th century.
Francis Asbury was welcomed to the Van Pelt Dutch colonial home with its sloping roof on Saturday, November 9, 1771. The house was situated on Wood Row (Woodrow Road). On that Saturday night Asbury preached before the wide fireplace to his first Island Congregation, probably gathered from the dozen homes along Wood Row and an adjacent road. This was his first sermon in the Province of New York. Fresh from the continent and with the vigor and energy of his 26 years, he preached four times in two days. The next day, Sunday, November 10th, he preached twice at Van Pelts (morning and afternoon), and in the evening he and Van Pelt drove a mile and a half back to Blazing Star or West Quarter (Rossville was not so named until 1837) to the home of Justice Hezekiah Wright on Arthur Kill Road (about opposite where St. Lukes Episcopal Church later was), where he had another large congregation to hear him preach. The next morning, November 11, he continued his journey to New York.
What was Asburys impression of his first New York auditors? His Journal says of this visit: "I trust I am in the order of God, and that there will be a willing people here. My soul has been much affected by them."
The famous missionary, preacher, and bishop visited Staten Island nineteen times, preaching forty times, possibly more. On one occasion he was here two weeks, and at other times he remained two or three days or an entire week. His Journal shows his affection for our people. On some occasions, coming from the city, Staten Island was his sole objective, and after itinerating some widely separated localities, he returned to New York. Generally, except when he came solely to the Island, his Staten Island visits were a continuation of his journeys throughout New Jersey, Province and State.
The Francis Asbury ministry on the eastern shore in 1771, 1772, and 1773 belongs in the chronicle of Kingsley Church. In fact, this early planting of Methodism in what is now the Tompkinsville-Stapleton area was doubtless responsible in part for the documented itinerant services and Methodist work at the New York State Quarantine Station when that facility was located in Tompkinsville section in 1798. Throughout its entire history, Kingsley has been of service in the religious life of the personnel of State and National institutions here, who sought the comfort of its ministry and the fellowship of its people.
Published histories of Kingsley Church make no reference to the missionary activity of John Wesley's emissary in the locality where the church was later established. My researches for the Asbury Journal as regional editor for New Jersey and Staten Island, disclose the fact that Francis Asbury developed a regular preaching place at the eastern shore, which is the territory of Kingsley, as early as December 20, 1771, his second visit to Staten Island. Not only did Asbury cultivate the house of John Ward, on the shore overlooking the bay, as a regular place of preaching, but that, and other homes, and later Quarantine Station, were the scenes of services by Methodist itinerants.
The house of John Ward "at the east end of the Island," became part of Asbury's first circuit in America here on Staten Island. John Lednum lists Mr. Ward, with Peter Van Pelt and others, as "the first friends that Methodist preachers found on this island." The location of John Ward's house (he is also noted as "Captain Ward"), is found on the revolutionary War Map of the Island situated between Cole's ferry at the Watering Place (Tompkinsville) and Van Duzer's ferry (Clifton). The latter ferry was the one to New York, which Asbury so often used. The Ward house was in a picturesque setting, with the bay as foreground and the tree-clad hills for background. During one very warm spell, Asbury preached in Mr. Ward's yard. What an experience and what a scene that must have been for our Methodist forebears who were there!
The Asbury ministry here is one of the most impressive aspects of the Staten Island Methodist story. The first occasion was part of his itinerant visit of December 27 to 31, 1771. Coming from New York, he was entertained at Justice Wright's in Rossville, on the 28th, preached on the succeeding day, which was Sunday, at both Peter Van Pelt's and Justice Wright's. His Journal then says: "Having received an invitation to preach at the house of one Mr. Ward at the east end of the island, I visited that place (Monday, December 30th) on my return to New York, where I had a comfortable time and much power, and found the people kind". As he did not return to New York until the nest day (December 31st), it is probable that he stayed at Ward's Monday night.
Two months later he preached again at the east side. He was on the island from February 21st to the 27th, 1772, and preached not only at Van Pelt's and Wright's, but also at the houses of Israel Disosway, Abraham Woglom, and Gilbert Totten. On the way back to New York on February 26th, he "preached at the ferryto a few people, though some came two miles on foot. After preaching, I visited a young man who seemed to be at the point of death; he was full of unbelief, and I fear it was through his calvinistic notions".
Another extended visit was that of March 17 to 26th, 1772, but no places are mentioned; however, his hosts of previous occasions were certainly on this ten day itinerary in the county. He was again preaching on the Island August 24, 1772, and then crossed over to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he had a "mixed company of Assemblymen, churchmen, Quakers," etc. "On my return (to Staten Island), I preached at Mr. Ward's to many people." This was August 27, 1772. Three weeks later he was here again: September 21, 1772--"I went and preached to many attentive people at Van Duzer's ferry. Hitherto, the Lord hath helped me. I will endeavor to praise him with my whole heart, and glorify him more and more."
Staten Island had one of its extremely hot, humid spells when Bishop Asbury came here Saturday, June 26, 1773, and remained until July first. He says "The heat was so extremely powerful that I stopped at my old friend, John Ward's, and on the Lord's Day (June 27th) heard Mr. Peabody, a Presbyterian minister, preach twice; but thought he was too metaphysical and superficial. In the evening I preached in Mr. Ward's yard, from Hebrews 7:12: 'You have need that one touch you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.' My mind is filled with the peace of God and is drawn out in love to Him and all mankind. Blessed be the Lord."
On Monday, June 28, Asbury again preached at Ward's. Of this he says: While preaching today on Isaiah LXII 6, Mr. Peabody, the minister, made one of the congregation. After service we had some serious conversation on religious subjectsMay the truth of God spread her and in every place."
The influence of Francis Asbury did not die out along the eastern shore near the ferries. The Revolutionary War came and went. Times changed, and the Quarantine station was erected on a large acreage north of the Watering Place (Tompkinsville) in 1798. Hundreds of immigrants were landed from incoming ships, the vessels fumigated, and their debarked passengers examined for possible contagious diseases. For these people in a strange land, in a strange and perhaps fearful situation, the comfort and spiritual help of the churches was not withheld. That itinerants still carried the Methodist message to this quarter is evident from records, one of which is that of Lorenzo Dow, who preached at Quarantine Station in 1801, according to his wife, Peggy Dow, who was his diarist. Dow's preaching in other localities of Newark Conference territory is chronicled in the Conference Centennial History.
The religious services at Quarantine were held in a large room or chapel of the vast facility which had several buildings. Hospital personnel and detained immigrants who so desired were privileged to attend the services. At times the number of immigrants totaled thousands, from the vessels daily arriving from abroad. The Rev. Peter J. Van Pelt, pastor of the Reformed Church of Staten Island in Port Richmond, also held services there weekly, until the erection of the Tompkinsville Reformed Church in 1818-1819.
Some idea of how this facility expanded, and why Methodist assignments for some years were made to Quarantine may be gathered from a report by Henry David Thoreau in 1843 while he was here in the home of Judge William Emerson. Referring to the Quarantine Station he says, "Sixteen hundred immigrants arrived at Quarantine ground on the 4th of July, and more or less every day since I have been here. I see them occasionally washing their persons and clothes: or men, women and children gathered on an isolated quay near the shore, stretching their limbs and taking the air; the children running races and swinging on this artificial piece of land of liberty while their vessels are undergoing purification."
PART TWO Church Life in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter II Kingsley Mrs. Elizabeth Haggren
The Kingsley Methodist Church had its organizational beginnings in the Spring of 1835 when the Methodist s of the Stapleton area held meetings at the house of Mrs. White, at the corner of Cebra and St. Paul's Avenues, near the place where the Kingsley Church remained for many years. St. Paul's Avenue was then known by the suggestive name of Mud Lane, and people who remembered it later affirmed that it lived up to its name.1 A Methodist "Class" had been meeting for some time. The members of this first class were James White, William Howard, William Thorn, Mr. & Mrs. Kirby, and Captain & Mrs. Hart. William Thorn was made leader. These class meetings, often conducted as a class and prayer meeting combined, were productive of great good, and many souls were converted, the very first being Eliza J. Morgan and Jane Baker.
Public and Sabbath services were held at the home of Widow White, and, as the attendance at these meetings increased rapidly, it became necessary to provide larger quarters. Services were transferred to the Academy, a school in the area. It was there, on the 12th and 19th days of July, that the Rev. Boehm posted the first notice of steps to form a church.
"There will be a meeting of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Staten Island on Tuesday, the twenty-first day of July next, at three o'clock in the afternoon, at the home of Widow White at Tompkinsville, for the purpose of electing five trustees to erect and take in charge a meeting house for the benefit of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the said village.
Dated, Staten Island, June 25th, 1835
(signed) Henry Boehm
Minister of the Circuit"
At that meeting on the twenty-first of July, 1835, William Cole and Jacob Braisted were duly nominated and elected by a majority of the members present to preside at the election of the trustees. We quote from the minutes:
"William Cole and Jacob Braisted presided at the elections which then and there took place for five trustees of the said society so to be formed, and that we did receive the votes of the electors and did judge of the qualifications, and that such election did take place between the hours of three and five o'clock in the afternoon of the said day, and we further certify that at such elections John Totten, Lawrence Hillyer, Henry Cole, Joseph Smith and Andrew C. Wheeler were duly elected trustees of the said Society, and that it was then and there determined by the electors aforesaid that the name and title of the said trustees and their successors shall forever be called and known and shall be the Incorporation of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Tompkinsville, Staten Island.
In witness whereof we, the inspectors aforesaid, have hereunto set our hands and seals this 21st day of July, 1835.
(signed) William Cole
The Board of Trustees at this meeting organized by electing Lawrence Hillyer, president; Henry Cole, secretary, and Andrew C. Wheeler, treasurer.
There is an interesting item that also comes out of the meeting on July 21. A subcommittee of the trustees was appointed "to apply for the money--$1,000--appropriated by the legislature for the building of the church". We note that at a later meeting of the trustees, "held May 30, 1837, Trustee Joseph Smith reported that he had received $1,000 from the state, and that it had been placed in the hands of the treasurer of the Board of Trustees."
The July 21st meeting also acknowledged that Judge Caleb T. Ward had offered to give the trustees four lots on Cebra Avenue, forming a plot of one hundred feet square, as a site for a new church.
The next day, July 22, 1835, articles of incorporation were filed in the County Clerk's office Richmond. They were signed by William Cole and Jacob Braisted.
The next meeting of the Board was held at the old Woodrow Church, and the following resolutions were passed:
"Resolved, that whereas Caleb T. Ward, of Tompkinsville, has offered to give four lots of ground situated in said village, to Trustees for the purpose of erecting a place of worship thereon and to give us a deed in fee of the same.
Resolved, that we accept the offer of Judge Ward, and that Lawrence Hillyer and Joseph Smith be committee to obtain a deed for the same."
In addition to accepting the land from Judge Ward, two other concerns came before the second meeting of the Trustees. The first had to do with a church building.
"Resolved, that a committee be appointed to procure a plan for a church for the village of Tompkinsville and ascertain the probable cost of the same and report to the board at least by the 5th of March next, and that Joseph Smith, Lawrence Hillyer and Andrew Wheeler be that committee."
The second had to do with a mission. There was an interest in presenting the Christian message to the Quarantine Station near the church.
"Resolved, that the above committee prepare an application to the presiding Bishop at the next Philadelphia conference for a missionary to be appointed to the Quarantine on this Island, and present the same through the presiding elder."
The first resolution of that trustee meeting resulted in rapid action. By a meeting held June 13, 1837, the following bids were received for erecting the church, 38 X 60 feet, according to plans, prepared by Andrew D. Gale and adopted by the Board: Lawrence Hillyer, $1,390; John H. Quilthot, $1,166; Andrew D. Gale, $1,225. John Quilthot, being lowest bidder, received the contract, the church building to be completed within three months.
The cornerstone was laid the 1st day of July, 1837 and the building was completed and dedicated about September 1, 1838. It was fourteen months, instead of three months in course of erection. (Mr. Quilthot left Staten Island before building was completed, and it was said, was never heard of again.)
Hubbell described the area: "The vicinity of Widow White's house and the land on which the church was built was a cedar forest. The roads were only lanes, in the Spring of the year and after heavy rains were almost impassable.
When the first church was built there were but three houses in all this section. viz; Widow White's, Mr. Van Pelt's and the one opposite the German Church and owned by Mr. VanBuskirk. Afterwards Judge Ward's house was built, and the next one nearby was built by Madam Grimes, a wealthy Southern lady."
The second resolution of that early meeting of the trustees also had a long range effect. The ministerial appointment to the church was designated under the heading Quarantine Mission, or simply Quarantine. (Actually, according to Leng and Davis, Quarantine and Tompkinsville were designations used interchangeably for the community known as Tompkinsville.)
For fifteen years after the organization of the church it was connected with other Methodist churches on the Island on what was called the "circuit plan".
For the first two years, 1835-37 the Rev. Henry Boehm served as pastor. He had been a friend and traveling companion to Bishop Francis Asbury; he was one of the executors of the Bishop's will in 1816.
We have this interesting historical comment taken from the Staten Island Advance of October 12, 1935, on the occasion of the centennial observance of the Kingsley Church. "The group (Kingsley) was formed by the Rev. Henry Boehm, familiarly known as 'Father Boehm', whose name is outstanding in the history of Methodism on Staten Island. Mr. Boehm was born in Conestoga, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, June 8, 1775, and was licensed to preach in 1800, was an associate of Bishop Asbury, founder of Methodism in this country. He accompanied the bishop for many years, preaching in English and German. In 1808 he was assigned to the Pennsylvania circuit, and at the age of 60 came to Staten Island. He was director of the Staten Island circuit during the years of 1835-36. In the Spring of 1835 he formed the class in Stapleton. In 1837-39 he was pastor of the church. He died at Woodrow, N.Y. December 28, 1875, aged 100 years; 74 years in the ministry."
From 1838 to 1840 the appointment was listed independently, Quarantine Mission--John S. Beegle. In 1840 the church is listed as part of a circuit with Port Richmond (later to be called TRINITY) and the pastoral appointment was Isaac Cross. This dual appointment remained until 1848 when the two stations were listed separately:
Quarantine -- George Winson
Port Richmond -- Alexander Gilmore
Even though the pastor was serving several churches, meetings were conducted on a regular basis. If the appointed Elder could not be in attendance, local preacher would conduct the services. The names of Hall, Crain, Crawford, Howe, and others were remembered for many years; this memory revealed a degree of effectiveness on the part of the men involved.
The Sunday School was organized when the first church was opened in 1838, during the ministry of the Rev. Mulford Day. William Thorn became the first superintendent.
As the membership of the congregation continued to increase, and though the church had not been in use many years, it was found necessary to provide a larger house. It was thought best also to secure a more convenient location. This movement first took definite shape in 1853. During that year the name of the church was changed to the Stapleton Methodist Episcopal Church, and arrangements were made to purchase a site from Richard Smith, on Richmond Road and Beach Street. The intention was to select some plan for the new church which would give opportunity to utilize the material in the old church, and after the old church was removed it was hoped that the four lots on which it stood could be sold and the amount turned in to the treasurer. Before the transaction was completed it was discovered that the old site, as soon as it ceased to be used for a Methodist Episcopal Church, would revert to the grantor or his heirs. The trustees, therefore, found themselves in an embarrassing position. If they built on the lots for which they had contracted, they would lose the $300.00 already paid. They appointed a committee to visit Mr. Smith and make the best terms with him that they could. He refused to refund the money paid, but stated that if the Trustees would pay interest on the balance due he would give them time to sell the lots and save themselves from loss, but the final outcome was that the $300.00 was lost, and the new church was not built until two years later. On May 11, 1855, the Official Board, consisting of the trustees, leaders and stewards, passed a resolution to build a new church, and appointed a committee, consisting of the pastor, the Rev. J.B. Graw, Messrs. Cisco, Willis, Morgan, Simpson and Kempton, to select plans. On May 28th of that year the old church building was sold at auction. Sidney N. Havens was the purchaser, and he removed it to New Brighton, where he remodeled it and fitted it up for a dwelling.
Plans for the new church were adopted May 21, 1855, and in the following month the cornerstone of the second church building on this site was laid with suitable ceremonies. The church was dedicated in December of the same year. During the interval from the sale of the old church until the new building was completed, the services were held in the old Lyceum, for which the Trustees paid rental at the rate of $100.00 per annum.
In 1857 the name of the church was changed to Cebra Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church.
We note that gas lighting was installed during the ministry of the Rev. John Coyle (1866-68). Then in 1870 during the pastoral term of the Rev. Henry Spellmeyer, the church was raised and a basement was added to be used as a Sunday School and lecture room. An extension of about twenty feet was built to the rear. These improvements, with the repainting and refurnishing which was done at this time, cost about $12,000.00.
The building had a seating capacity of 500, and, with a commodious lecture room for Sunday School and social meetings, had abundant room for carrying on the work of the church.
In 1878 Judge Ward removed all restrictions on the title to the church site and gave the church a clean title in fee simple.
After these improvements its name was again changed, this time to Kingsley Methodist Episcopal Church, in memory of the Rev. Calvin D. Kingsley of the M.E. Church, who, while performing a tour of Episcopal visitation around the world, died in what was then called Beyroot, Syria, April6, 1870.
When C.S. Woodruff (1879-82) was pastor, a house at 44 Beach Street was rented for his use. At the second quarterly conference in 1883, at the suggestion of the pastor, the Rev. R.B. Collins, a committee, consisting of S.N. Havens, William Buchner and James Ware, was appointed to inquire into the possibility of building a parsonage on the lot adjoining the church which had been donated by Judge Ward, and to report at a subsequent meeting. Nothing was definitely decided upon until the first quarterly conference of 1884, when the matter was again brought up. It was resolved to build a parsonage that year; the president of the Board of Trustees was directed to call a meeting in furtherance of that object, and at the meeting so called it was decided to erect a parsonage on the lot, west of the church, to cost #3,000.00. The contract was awarded to Peter Post.
Following the erection of the parsonage, the women of the parish were organized into the Ladies Parsonage Society, to furnish it. Mrs. Marion Vreeland was chosen President; Mrs. A.E. Braisted, Vice President; Miss Addie Morgan, Secretary, and Mrs. G.P. Savacool, Treasurer. The society held a fair in April and raised nearly $800.00. A few years later, the name of the organization was changed to the Ladies Mite Society. In 1897 the name changed again to the Ladies Aid Society.
The Young Men's League was formed in 1886, changed to the Young People's League in 1887, and again reorganized, as the Epworth League, Chapter 9040, in 1892. The League's activities added substantial help to the church's spiritual life, both socially and monetarily. Through their efforts a Chickering Grand piano was given to the Sunday School for the use of anyone using the lecture room.
Kingsley Church frequently conducted revival services. Pastors would regularly comment on the response to revival evangelism. The Rev. G.W. Smith (1873-74) wrote: "Perhaps the most marked feature of my ministry during the year was a gracious revival. One of the converts was James G. Bickerton, who afterward prepared for the ministry and entered the same in the Philadelphia Conference. After successful pastorates, Dr. Bickerton was elevated to the office of Field Agent of the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension.
A fifty year Jubilee service was held for the Sunday School in 1888. Hubell reports: "A gracious revival began during the 'week of prayer' and many young men of the community were convertedAt the close of the conference year 1897, a revival took place which the presiding elder reported at the annual conference as follows: 'The revival in Kingsley Church was the best one known in its history. There were 80 accessions, including 57 on probation and 21 by letter and profession of faith.' "
The following paragraph about 19th century pastors was included in a newspaper article that appeared in the Spring of 1941 upon the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the appointment of L. Gardner Forman (1936-43) as pastor. "The (Kingsley) pulpit has been served by several noted pastors. Among them (was) Henry Spellmeyer (1869-72), who later became a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church (more will be noted about him in the history of Trinity Church); C.S. Woodruff (1879-82), who was one of the guards of the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln; and J.C. Howard (1897-1908), during whose eleven years' pastorate the organ and memorial windows were installed."