History written for our 175th Anniversary
The Union Church of Canajoharie was erected in 1818 and stood along the towpath of the Erie Canal in the spot where St. John's and St. Mark's Lutheran Church now stands. It was for the use of all denominations except Methodists and Universalists. At that time Canajoharie consisted of about 40 houses with the village mainly confined to downtown with only three or four residences on West (or Academy) Hill and about five or six on East Hill.
It was a time in history when the entire length of small hamlets along the Mohawk Valley began to see the dawn of prosperity and expansion with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The townspeople thought the Canal might add a few rough characters to the town and run up the obligations of the village jailer and the profits of the rum joints, but the Canal also made it possible for our stone quarries to start some real business. Dan Shaper would send five boatloads of stone to New York in the spring when navigation opened up. The railroad was not yet constructed and the bridge across the Mohawk River had recently been rebuilt after a span was blown down by a wind gale. Mr. Frey was doing a lot of shooting in his quarry in Palatine Bridge and it was felt that all this activity would bring several new families to the area. This would give all the retailers added business which was important to those gathering to discuss the formation of a Protestant Dutch Church as they realized it would take money to run a church!
On January 13, 1827, a small group of earnest-minded men met in the house of Gerrit A. Lansing "for the purpose of taking into consideration the subject of organizing a Protestant Dutch church in this place.". His house was a small frame building, painted red, situated a few hundred feet east of the present site of our church. Present at the meeting were: Rev. Douw Van O'Linda, Gerrit A. Lansing, Jacob Hees, John Cooper, John M. Wemple, Jacob Gray, Henry Loucks. Everyone wanted regular church services in the village the proposed Dutch church was discussed widely. There were many Dutch people in the immediate community who would support it just the same as they did in the surrounding area communities of Sprakers, Currytown, Mapletown, Stone Arabia, Caughnawaga (now Fonda), and St. Johnsville. Those who had teams of horses were able to attend the Dutch Church services in other areas, but they had to drive many miles, so the group was in favor of the new organization.
At the meeting on January 13, 1827, the organization was completed by the election of Gerrit A. Lansing, Henry Loucks, Silas Stillwell, and John Cornue as elders. Elder Cornue, who shortly afterwards moved west, was replaced by Elder Andrew Calhoun. Services were held at the Union Church under the agreement that they behaved themselves, showed signs of life, and paid a weekly charge of $3. Rev. Van O'Linda was called as pastor and led worship services for an annual salary of $500.
Services continued at the Union Church (also used by other denominations) until the Lutherans came into real possession of it and the Reformed Church found itself compelled to build in 1841. The need for a new building became more immediate when fire destroyed the Union Church as well as several business along Church Street from Main to Canal. From 1839-1841, the Protestant Dutch church was without pastor and building. Funds were raised and the present building was erected on Front Street on property given by Mr. John Frey. Dedication of the building was held on March 29, 1842.
Between 1850 and 1854, sidewalks were built in the front of the church property and $50 expended for a choir. Between 1857 and 1862 (Rev. Benjamin Romaine, pastor) the galleries which were on three sides were removed, the worship center was moved from the south to the north end, the pews were reversed, and eight horse stalls were added (at a cost of $25 each).
In 1859, the 2,000 pound bell (which still rings each Sunday) was hung from the belfry. At this time the musical instrument in the church was noted as an accordion, purchased for $7.
In 1876, the current steeple tower and vestibule were built.
In 1891 services were held in the Methodist Church while the second major renovation took place. There was an addition to house the new organ given to the church by Mrs. James Arkell. At this time the ceiling was opened to expose the beams as they are today and stained glass windows were installed. Between 1911-1914 a parsonage was constructed on Barclay Street.
The next modernization took place in 1924. The organ addition was enclosed in brick, a pastor's study was added in the northeast corner of the sanctuary, new carpeting put down, new paint in the sanctuary, and draperies hung. Downstairs the Sunday School rooms were enlarged, a new kitchen put in, cloak rooms and bathrooms built, and a modern furnace added for heat. Extensive rebuilding and chimes were added to the organ, the gift of Mrs. Barbour in 1940.
Rev. Christian H. Walvoord (1941-1946) was the first pastor to live in the parsonage on Wheelock Street, bequeathed by Alida Getman Diefendorf.
The church celebrated it's 100th anniversary during the pastorate of Rev. Edward James and its 125th anniversary during the pastorate of Rev. Cornelius Dykhuizen.
A special meeting of the congregation was held on October 6, 1955 to consider purchasing the home of Hazel T. Spraker, located adjacent to the church, to use for the expanding Sunday School. Consistory minutes of November 11, 1955 note a resolution to purchase the home for the sum of $13,000.
In 1958 the sanctuary was refurbished with new pews forming a center aisle, replacing the side aisles, installing new carpet, refinishing woodwork, and re-painting the walls. Accordion walls were installed for flexibility in using the enlarged area in the Fellowship Hall and the kitchen was updated.
The Estates of Jacob and Ethel Potocher designated the church as their sole beneficiary and a good portion of this bequest was used for remodeling and renovating the Church House. A dedication service was held on May 18, 1975 during the pastorate of Rev. Richard E. Lake.
The 150th anniversary was celebrated on January 16, 1977.
Reformed Church in America's (RCA) "Selected Findings from 1977 Research" classified our church as "independent rural." During the 1970s our youth fellowship joined with other community youth groups in recycling activities in the Canajoharie community. Due to the high costs of heating, worship services were held in the Fellowship Hall to conserve costs.
In May 1980 we joined in the celebration of 200 years of RCA Sunday School by honoring past and current superintendents and teachers. In the early 1980s we started the "tying of the greens" decorations for Advent and having the congregation present "white gifts" for the Fulmont Neighborhood Center.
During Rev. Donald R. Baird's pastorate (1983-1990) the ARC home residents from Ridge Road began worshiping with us and a ramp was built to the front entrance of the church. Sunday School also took on a new format with all classes meeting for opening worship prior to class meetings. Annual picnics were held for the congregation and Sunday School. The church library was reorganized and greatly expanded through donations and new purchases. Special offerings for the Mission of the Month and a "Minute for Mission" talk were added to the second Sunday of the month. Our mission budget has continued support for our partners in mission in addition to many other mission and benevolence projects.
The organ, originally built in 1891, was renovated and dedicated to the glory of God in a special service on October 20, 1991. Several area organists and an ecumenical choir took part in the service. At this time Anita MacKenzie retired after over 30 years of dedicated service as organist and choir director. Our church history is rich with a wonderful ministry of music through organists, choirs, instrumentalists, and soloists.
In the 90's the Men's Breakfast Fellowship was turned into an ecumenical breakfast fellowship with both men and women attending from Montgomery and Fulton counties. For many years, a summer worship service was held on the grounds of Arkell Hall. Other special traditions throughout the year include remembering members and friends who have passed away on All Saints Day, holding a reverse cornucopia on the Sunday before Thanksgiving with food offerings given to Fulmont, and involving more lay participants in worship through scripture reading and junior sermon presenters.
In 1996 renovation to the Fellowship Hall was completed with fresh paint, new carpeting, new curtains, and homey decorations.
In 1998 the Building Restoration Committee determined that work needed to be done and projects undertaken including re-roofing the Church, steeple repair, sill repair, front door repair and painting, church house exterior repair and painting and sanctuary refurbishing. A new roof was also installed at the parsonage. A handicap sidewalk was installed in front of the church and behind the church house to the rear Fellowship Hall entrance.
In 2000 the Comfort Zone ministry began to offer support to families in need through the distribution of household goods. What began as a ministry to just a few families each month out of the Church House lounge has since grown to a sanctuary-filling ministry of around 100 or more families each month. In addition to monthly supplies, the ministry has also offered a big Christmas party and back-to-school supplies.
The 175th anniversary was noted on January 13, 2002 and further celebrated on April 28, 2002 with a special worship celebration service at 3 PM in the sanctuary.