The Beginnings of Holy Trinity


Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in the Village of Pawling was founded in 1910 by a group of local Episcopalians under the leadership of the Rector of Christ Church, Patterson, the Reverend Mr. William H. Meldrum. He conducted weekly services in the Masonic Hall over the drugstore in the Rogers Building. In 1937 the present building was built, and it was dedicated in 1938.

This History of Christ Church, Patterson, New York, 1770-1970 was written by a parishioner of Christ Church to commemorate their anniversary. Holy Trinity Church in Pawling is part of that story, and this History was reprinted in 1993 as THE BEGINNINGS OF HOLY TRINITY to help us know our heritage.

Holy Trinity is the younger daughter of Christ Church; we are recently on the scene, compared with our mother’s great age. But we might well consider the heritage of Christ Church to be our own. Indeed, some of us buy our gasoline where General Washington’s “Great Barbecue” was held. Most of the clergy from 1910 through 1968 have served both parishes. As neighboring parishes, our community concerns are similar.

With this publication, we at Holy Trinity Church express our gratitude to Christ Church for founding and sustaining us in our early days, and to God for enabling us both to grow in this place.

Commemorating the 200th Anniversary

As we celebrate, in this year of 1970, the founding of Christ Church, 200 years ago, it is difficult to visualize the world of 1770. Bounded as we are by a network of great motor highways; the winding post tracks which followed the river north and south along Route 22, west to Ludingtonville and Cold Spring, and the Indian trails along the ridge of the Oblong (Quaker Hill) are all but forgotten. Yet today, among our congregation, are men and women in whose veins runs the blood of the sturdy pioneers who settled this region and sleep in our churchyard.

We have our historical memories too. A bloody skirmish took place just north of here at the foot of Mooney Hill, between a regiment of British troops from Poughkeepsie and a bank of settlers going to join William Prendergast, one of the chief leaders of the Anti-Rent Rebellion of 1766. Prendergast’s home was on what is now the Pawling golf links. Nor must we forget our little Presbyterian Paul Revere, fifteen year old Sybil Ludington, eldest of twelve, who on a rainy April night in 1777, rode horseback thirty miles through Carmel to Mahopac, Stormville and home, alerting the militia that the British were burning Danbury, just fifteen miles away. She lived to be 77 years old as her stone notes in our neighbor’s churchyard where she lies beside her father, Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the Philipse Patent recruits and appointed by George Washington in charge of espionage in this area.

For a time during the Revolution, General Anthony Wayne’s headquarters was south at Haviland Hollow; the Marquis de Lafayette and his troops encamped on a rise a quarter mile north of our church; and, most thrilling memory of all, General George Washington himself in 1778 spent two months in our vicinity [actually, at John Kane House in Pawling – ed.]. On October 17, 1778, to attend a barbecue celebrating the first anniversary of Burgoyne’s surrender, he rode his white horse down South Quaker Hill to the point where the road bisects Route 22; “His noble appearance and majestic bearing so far exceed any other present as to leave no room for comparison,” reminisces a Mr. Boardman in an extant letter. Mr. Boardman was a young boy present at the “Great Barbecue.”

Early history of Christ Episcopal Church, Patterson, New York is largely traditional until its incorporation, July 8, 1797. Some facts are known. After the French and Indian Wars, a group of young Scottish officers, members of the British militia, took up residence in this area. Captain Archibald Campbell was one of three who organized the Episcopal mission at Fredericsburgh (Patterson), now Christ Church. It should be realized that Putnam County was not separated from Dutchess until 1812. In 1770, Patterson was known as Fredericsburgh and was an important town in our area. In fact, the story goes, a mayor and aldermen were elected and Fredericsburgh was known as ‘The City.”

Land Acquisition

The land which our original log church occupied was actually part of lots seven and eight of the Philipse Patent. It was controlled by Beverly Robinson, original owner in right of his wife, Susannah Philipse, daughter of Frederic Philipse who inherited from his uncle, Adolph Philipse, original grantee from the crown. Adolph was a bachelor and died intestate in 1749. It was Beverly Robinson and his wife who set aside from their holdings the plot for our church and burying ground; and, along with Archibald Campbell, it is said, built the original log structure near the site of the present church. Eight years later, in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, our Church building must have been standing and sturdy. In the Archives in Washington, the pension application papers of one Martha Watts of Patterson, dated April 14,1818, state:

Martha Watts was a widow of John Watts, a revolutionary soldier… Deponent Daniel Haynes of town of Patterson, aged 74 years, …swore that he was “acquainted with John Watts deceased, of the town of Patterson and have been for 59 years or more.…” Deponent (Mr. Haynes) saith that early in the spring of the year 1778 he was with his father Asa Haynes when he was drawing sawlogs to the sawmill and going to said sawmill passed by Episcopal Church where the continental stores were kept and a military guard was kept at that place, also several shops of artificers at that place, making utensils for the Army.… I was the militia company at said Episcopal Church as a military guard at that place under Captain David Heacock in Colonel Henry Luddington’s Company.”

Christ Church, Patterson, is established as the second oldest Episcopal Church in Dutchess County; Trinity Church, Fishkill, being traditionally organized in 1765. Our young church lived through stormy beginnings indeed, with the Revolutionary War being fought at its very door, coupled with the fact that the Episcopal Church in America was managed from England as a missionary enterprise and was much involved in the politics of the colonial government. Tory groups gathered around the Episcopal clergy and, in consequence, its churches were closed for religious services during and for some time after the Revolution.

During the years 1770 to 1781 services were held occasionally at Christ Church but were then discontinued altogether. Tory Beverly Robinson’s lands were seized by the commissioners of forfeiture and sold at auction in 1782 to one Joseph Roskrans, but the Episcopal Church and one-half acre for a burying ground was reserved “out of that survey.”

In 1795, Fredericsburg was reduced in extent to its present dimensions and was rechristened Franklin, but this name held only for about fourteen years. Our town took its present name from Matthew Patterson, a native of Scotland. He came to America in 1752, had business with Beverly Robinson in New York City, and in 1770, our anniversary year, came to Fredericsburgh. He ran a Revolutionary War tavern just across the road northwest of here, and, in 1809, the community honored him by giving his name to the town. He was judge of the Dutchess County Court on Common Pleas which, on July 5, 1797, granted incorporation papers to Christ Church. Christ Church officers signing the incorporation papers were Robert G. Wetmore (priest), Marshal Worden and Elijah Stone.

Parish Incorporation

In order to effect this incorporation, a meeting of interested men had been called by the Reverend Mr. Wetmore and the following are the first recorded elected officers of our church: Uriah Mitchell and Darius Stone, wardens; Dr. Richard S. Bryant, James Kellog, John Paterson, Samuel Cornwall, Nathan Palmer, Archibald Campbell, Jacob Haviland and Benjamin Brooks – vestrymen. Elijah Stone was clerk; Uriah Mitchell and Archibald Campbell were chosen to represent the church at the annual convocation in New York. Incidentally, this would have been the son of the former Archibald Campbell who had died of wounds received in the war.

We now enter an era in our history when records, although intermittent, were actually kept. We learn that in 1798 a meeting was held “to propose a union with the church at Beekman’s and to make arrangements for alternate services by a clergyman of the church.” In 1803, a committee was appointed to confer with the Presbyterian Society about the burying ground. In the year 1809 occasional services appear to have been held by Rev. George B. Andrews and Rev. Hiram Jeliffe. In 1816 a committee was appointed “to take care of the timber of the old church and of the land belonging to said church.” This would indicate a new church had been built around 1814.

Again a period of neglect ensued; no records, apparently no services for a number of years. Sixty-five years after the church’s original founding there was a rebirth of interest in Anglican rituals in Patterson. In 1835 a meeting was held at the house of John Jennings, chaired by Rev. Alexander Fraser. It was voted to build a new church on the site of the old one. The inevitable committee was appointed to procure subscriptions to the amount of $1,100. Trinity Church (New York) made a donation of $750; Frederick Stone, $150; John Jennings, $100; and others lesser sums. This building was finished and dedicated June 16, 1837. A year before, in 1836, Benjamin Evans was sent to our parish by the bishop as a lay reader. Communicants that year were John Jennings and his wife, Cornelius Dea, Mrs. Turner, Alexander Murray and wife, Mrs. Reed, Abigail Ingersol, Catherine Townsend, Elizabeth Hayt and Moses Beach.

There followed a rapid succession of ministers:

  • Rev. Sheldon Davis, April 1,1840 – October 1,1841
  • Rev. Alfred M. Loutrel, November, 1841 – March 28,1842
  • Rev. Albert P. Smith, July 16, 1842 – August, 1846
  • Rev. Orsimus H. Smith, August 6,1848 – December 1, 1850
  • Rev. Sheldon Davis (again), April 20,1851 – 1854
  • Rev. John Downey, 1854 – 1855, also 1860 – 1862
  • Rev. William Wood (missionary), 1862 – 1863
  • Rev. John Downey (again), September 19,1864 – October 2,1865

At this time a committee was appointed to take subscriptions for the support of services, and Richard S. Hayt was appointed clerk of the parish. Rev. Benjamin Evans was here again for a while and resigned in October, 1870, just one hundred years ago. Rev. Wilberforce Wells came to us in 1874. Rev. Matthew Bailey of Kent began services in 1877 and was chosen rector in April of 1879. A.A. Morrison, a lay reader, was next in charge, and he was succeeded by Rev. Frank Heartfield who officiated at Christ Church and at the church in Brewster. Services were held in Patterson in the afternoon of every Sabbath.

This brings our history up to approximately 1886. At this time there were some 134 names on the stones in the combined Episcopal and Presbyterian churchyards. The earliest recorded was of Thomas Fleming who died October 22,1792, aged 47; with him lies Helen, his wife, who died October 11, 1830, at the ripe old age of 83 years. Quaker influence is shown on these early stones in such names as Mindwell, Thankful, Mercy. Henry Ludington of Revolutionary War fame was buried in 1817 at the age of 78. Elizabeth Palmer also sleeps here. She lived to be 104 years, 7 months and 28 days old.

Actual direct records of Christ Church start with the first entry in the present Minute Book dated Easter Sunday, April 28, 1886, and signed by the minister-in-charge, Rev. Eli D. Sutcliffe. At this time Frank Tucker and George Turrell Ballard were elected wardens; Richard Samuel Hayt, George Ely Wright, Frederic Crawford Taber, Alexander Hall, vestrymen. We shared the services of the Rev. Mr. Sutcliffe with Brewster and paid him an annual salary of $250. Mr. Sutcliffe resigned in 1889 and was followed by Rev. Percy Penn and Rev. C.C. Parry who each served for a short period.

Mr. Meldrum arrives on the scene

In 1894, Christ Church was finally served by a minister who stayed for more than a short time. On July 8 of that year, the Rev. William Henry Meldrum was called and began his faithful ministry of nearly half a century, 1894—1942. In 1894, his salary was $400 per year.

In 1901, the old colonial-type building was torn down. Estimated expense for replacement was $1,500 – $2,000. A church in memory of Mrs. James Cornwall’s mother was built on the same site. Unfortunately, ten years later in February, 1911, this building, too, burned. The loss of this fine structure was unusually great since it contained many fine and costly furnishings, none of which were saved. During the months that followed Mr. Meldrum and the congregation were assisted by friends in the community in raising the money needed for rebuilding. Our neighbor, the Presbyterian Church, was particularly kind in offering its building for services and helping in fund-raising projects.

Our present church building, erected at a cost of about $4,452, was dedicated on St. Thomas Day, December 21, 1911. The dedicatory sermon was preached by Rev. Frank Heartfield who had been our rector, 1884 – 1885. Original plans were modified to accommodate a two manual and pedal Moller pipe organ of 14 stops and 734 pipes built around 1885 for a Maryland Methodist church. It was pumped by a boy at 15¢ per Sunday, but in 1921 an electrically-powered blower was installed. This organ is the special pride of our present organist, Mr. Paul W. Townsend, who has served Christ Church as organist for sixty years, since November, 1910.

Early in Mr. Meldrum’s ministry, he began holding Episcopal services in Pawling in the Masonic Hall over the corner drug store. Under his leadership funds were raised and Pawling’s Holy Trinity Church was built in 1937. Thus began our long association with the Pawling parish. Since that time, except for brief periods, Christ Church and Holy Trinity have shared the services of a minister.

On October of 1942, Mr. Meldrum retired, terminating a ministry of 48 years. Christ Church honored him by immediately electing him Rector Emeritus. He finally returned to Pawling in 1966 to be laid to rest at the age of ninety-nine.

Rev. Richard W. Wamsley succeeded Mr. Meldrum. In 1942, he became priest-in-charge of both parishes. In addition, he acted as chaplain and teacher of sacred studies at Trinity-Pawling School. It was a great shock to his parishioners to learn of his death on July 5, 1953 as the result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident on the rainy night of July 1.

Following the Rev. Mr. Wamsley came Rev. William J. Clague, a young deacon, later priest, popular with his parishioners, who saddened many when he left in 1957. Incidentally, salaries had risen since 1984. The Rev. Mr. Clague’s stipend was at the rate of $2,500 per annum with living quarters while a deacon, to be advanced to $3,000 when he became a priest.

During Father Clague’s ministry, with the hopes of a priest of its own and an expanded Sunday School and parish program, the vestry purchased the house across the street to the north. It was sold in 1964. Other property owned by the church is land east of the junction of Routes 311 and 292, left to the church in 1891 by Richard Hayt, erstwhile clerk of the vestry. Most daring of all, the women of the parish active in the Guild, in 1951 asked for the right to vote at parish meetings. By 1958 they have even invaded that sacred masculine preserve – the vestry!

After Father Clague, the parish was served for short periods by a series of capable young priests. Rev. Vincent H. Strohsahl, vicar in 1957 and 1958, lived in the vicarage and served both Christ Church and the Church of the Resurrection in Hopewell Junction. Rev. Louis Mitchell followed in 1958, serving our parish and the Church of the Holy Communion in Mahopac. We returned to union with Pawling when Rev. Charles Pedersen ministered to us in 1962. He was followed by Rev. Wesley Smith, with his deep belief in the Healing Christ, 1963 – 1968. Rev. Charles Brittain, deeply sympathetic with our troubled teenagers, has recently left both our parishes. Christ Church had now once again, with the ministry of Rev. Ralph Bonacker, achieved its goal of independence and a pastor of its own.

Founded in 1770, our parish is indeed older than our country. An Episcopal church building has stood on or near this site almost continuously for 200 years. May we never forget, as we enter our third century, those who gave greatly of time, effort and treasure to secure this sacred heritage for us.