FORT EDWARD — Winters were cold inside the Fort Miller Reformed Church when Mac Sanders was a child.
Central heating was not installed until 1953, so a coal stove heated the large, old drafty structure.
“It was a bit chilly here in January, sitting here on the north side when frost was forming inside the walls. It was a bit nippy,” said Sanders, 78, who was baptized in the church in the small hamlet of Fort Miller in 1947.
Candles were still lit for the Christmas Eve service and a garland decorated the wall behind the pulpit.
The same pulpit and pews still sit in the church, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary at a 10:30 a.m. service Sunday at 1239 Fort Miller Road. A welcome lunch will follow the service.
A few days before the service, the congregation will also dig up a time capsule buried in the 1980s in the front yard.
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The hand-built pipe organ will play during the Sunday service, which will celebrate history with a focus on the future of the parish, considered the oldest place of worship in the city.
The shrine was built in 1816, when Fort Miller was still part of Argyle. It incorporated at Fort Edward in 1818.
The building sits on a lot donated by Barent and John R. Bleecker. The church was deemed free for all Protestant denominations, according to “History of Washington Co., New York.”
The community on the Hudson River grew at the time around the operation of a grain mill and a sawmill.
The church was built in 1816 by Shepherd Norcross, a local carpenter, who lived in Hatch’s Point, according to the publication. The building, erected for $2,000, included only the nave and the balcony.
The building was used as a meeting place until 1822, when a Dutch Reformed Protestant Church congregation was organized.
“It took about six years to get the church up and running,” Sanders said, “in the meantime it was the town hall, the little hamlet meeting hall.”
In 1822, the country had only 24 states, with Maine and Missouri being the last states added. President James Monroe led the new country.
The Champlain Canal opened in 1823, and in 1855 the area saw the addition of a post office, grocery stores, blacksmiths, hotels and schools, according to “The Fort Miller Reformed Church : Its History and Mission & The Community”, published in 2011 by the presbytery of the church.
“The church grew during the first half of the 19th century with this economic development of the area, but in the early 1850s the congregation split over the issue of building a new dam on the river Hudson to Fort Miller and the church closed in 1853,” the publication states.
It finally reopened in 1867.
In 1896, the church hosted plays and concerts on the second floor stage of the building.
For the 100th anniversary in 1922, church members held a three-day celebration, highlighting the history of the region and the church.
“In the decades following World War II, the church experienced the same economic and demographic changes as other rural churches in upstate New York,” the 2011 publication explains.
But the doors have remained open ever since. The original hand-blown glass windows still line the sides of the nave. Light streams through the tall windows and illuminates the original pews, now painted white.
An ornate crystal chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, which was introduced into the church just after the Civil War, according to a Post Star article in 1974. At that time, it was lit with gas.
It was electrified in 1954 by church organist James Petit, also an electrician.
At the time, it was traditional for the bell in the steeple to ring every three hours. The bell still works, but the bell tower needs some structural work.
The building – an excellent example of ecclesiastical architecture from the Federal period – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The current 750-pound Meneely bell is not an original feature of the church, which had remained without a bell until 1940 when it received a bell from North Greenwich Methodist Church, according to the request of the parish for a place on the register.
In 1946 this bell was removed and replaced with the existing 1870s bell which was taken from the demolished Fort Miller Baptist Church, located about 150 yards to the north.
“We’ve pretty much preserved this 1816 building and maintained it,” said Sanders, who plans to discuss not only the church’s extensive history on Sunday, but also the future of the building and its congregation.
He plans to address how the church needs to change to ensure the congregation will be active in the future and how to attract young people into the church to carry it into the future.
“The problem is demographics,” Sanders said. “A lot of people here are not connected to the church. That’s not to say they won’t at some point, but we have to find a way to be what I call “outward facing” and a way to connect with the new people in the region. »
Sanders stood on the nave balcony, where he loved to sit as a child with a bird’s eye view of the congregation.
“My mind goes back 50-60 years and I think of the people who were here,” Sanders said. “That’s the mission here. We are in our eighth generation…and we will be here for the ninth generation and hopefully the 10th and 11th.
Gretta Hochsprung writes features and news from her hometown. She can be reached at 518-742-3206 or [email protected]