The first church in the town was of the Presbyterian order. It was organized in 1802, by Rev. Daniel Buck, who was the first pastor, in the log school-house, which stood on the east bank of the river, within the limits of the present village of Afton and was the first school-house in the town. That church disbanded about forty years ago, but is perpetuated in a measure by the Presbyterian Church of Nineveh, which was organized in 1831, largely by members from this. Many of the members of this church had united with the Universalists, who were a numerous and influential organization at an early day, and with whom the Presbyterians were associated in the building of the Universalist Church, which was erected in 1818, and is the only one of the churches in the village on the east side of the river.
The Baptist Church of Afton was organized as the South Bainbridge Baptist Church. At a meeting of a number of members of several Baptist Churches, at the house of Moses Caswell, Friday, January 15, 1836, to take into consideration the propriety of locating a church of this denomination in “South Bainbridge,” articles of faith and practice were agreed upon and it was unanimously resolved to request a council of examination to convene at the house of Isaac Seely, February 17, 1836, to admit them to fellowship as a church. Rev. E. B. Sparks was delegated to invite delegations for that purpose from the Second Church in Guilford, the churches in Coventry, Masonville, South New Berlin and the Second Church in Butternuts, and to request the attendance of Rev. Aaron Parker.
The council convened at the appointed time and organized by choosing Rev. E. B. Sparks moderator, and Rev. H. Robertson clerk. Delegates were in attendance as follows:–Jesse Skinner, Wm. Mudge, Samuel B. Covey and Peter Surine, from the First Church in Guilford; Rev. E. B. Sparks, Elon Yale, Asa Jordan, Martin Post and Uriah Yale, from the Second Church in Guilford; Deacon Luman King, from the Church in South New Berlin; E. Porter, L. Hendrick and George Smith, from the Church in Coventry; Rev. H. Robertson, Deacon A. Cady, P. Bennett and L. Chandler, from the Church in Masonville.
The following communication was addressed “To the Brethren of the Council to be convened at the house of Isaac Seely, in Bainbridge, on the 17th of February, 1836:”–
We, the undersigned, believing it to be the duty of all who profess godliness to do all that is in their power to promote the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the world, and being desirous to promote it in the south part of Bainbridge, where Satan’s seat has been of long standing, and we being located so that we cannot enjoy privileges of church fellowship, humbly ask you to take into consideration our situation and the blessed cause of Christ and if expedient give us your fellowship as a Church of Christ, for which your brethren and sisters do humbly pray.”
The council decided to extend the hand of fellowship, and Rev. H. Robertson was delegated to preach the following day, and Rev. E. B. Sparks to present the hand of fellowship and address the church. The following named persons were thus constituted a church:–Eli Seeley, Seth Seeley, Garrit Dedrick, Savilian Thomas, Charles Toby, Moses Caswell, Eunice Seeley, Nancy Dedrick, Phebe Smith, Caroline Thomas, Nancy Tobey, Abigail Caswell, Bernetty Woodard, Lydia Night and Elizabeth Woodard.
The church petitioned to unite with the Chenango Association July 16, 1836.
Their first pastor was Rev. E. B. Sparks, who closed his labors with them in April, 1838. He was succeeded the following May by Rev. Mr. Crane, who remained two years. November 28, 1840, a call was given Rev. Jeremy H. D. Dwyre, who was voted a letter of dismission October 20, 1841.
The church was probably built in 1841, for July 11th of that year the records show that action was taken relative to finishing it and procuring a bell.
The next pastor whose name appears on the records is Rev. Daniel M. Root, who entered upon his labors March 5, 1842, and was granted a letter of dismission May 6, 1843. Rev. Levi Peck commenced his pastoral labors the third Sunday in May, 1843, and was dismissed in April, 1846. Rev. Lewis Robinson assumed the pastoral relation in May, 1846, and was ordained the last Thursday in August of that year. His resignation was accepted September 30, 1848. Rev. A. Virgil entered upon the duties of pastor February 24, 1849, and received a call April 1, 1849. He was granted a letter of dismission May 19, 1850.
July 14, 1849, the church adopted the declaration of faith and covenant recommended by the New Hampshire Convention.
The church seems to have been for some time without a regular pastor. They were ministered to at intervals by Revs. A. Virgil and Martin. October 12, 1852, a call was given to Rev. J. W. Vanhorn, who entered upon his labors and united with the church Nov. 1, 1852. He was voted a letter of dismission September 3, 1853. Geo. Balcom, who was received to fellowship March 5, 1854, was ordained to the ministry October 4, 1854, and officiated as pastor till April 1, 1856. From that time till July 1, 1856, there was no stated preaching, and the meetings and records were much neglected. About the latter date Elijah Baldwin commenced preaching once in two weeks, and from the 1st of November of that year each week. April 1, 1857, his services were engaged for a year. He and his wife were received from the Unadilla church. His resignation was accepted March 2, 1859; but he seems to have been re-engaged, for it was again accepted March 10, 1860. During the first year of his pastorate, August 30, 1857, the church had a membership of 91. Rev. G. G. Donnelly appears to have been the next pastor, but just when his labors were begun or ended, the records do not conclusively show. He was admitted to church fellowship September 1, 1860, and officiated here as late as April 5, 1862.
Rev. G. A. Hogeboom commenced his labors November 1, 1862, and continued them about five months. Rev. A. R. Hamlin closed a two years’ acceptable pastorate the first Sabbath in April, 1865. There was no preaching for several weeks following. Rev. E. Baldwin, then in poor health, commenced preaching one sermon each Sabbath, and continued, with some interruptions, until March following. Rev. E. T. Jacobs commenced his labors with this church in the early part of March, 1866, and continued them till February, 1870. Rev. J. A. Ball, from Laceyville, became the pastor about the middle of April, 1870, and closed his labors in February, 1871.
March 9, 1871, it was “Resolved, That we have no fellowship with secret societies founded on oaths and death penalties, and will not receive such into our fellowship, nor continue fellowship with such as are in our midst, or may become such.” Eight votes were cast in favor of and four against the resolution. This action was rescinded March 23, 1871, at a meeting at which 35 were present, with but two dissenting voices.
Rev. John Smith commenced ministerial labor with this church March 16, 1871, and received a call to the pastorate March 23, 1871. He closed his labors April 1, 1873. Rev. Jenkins Jones, the present pastor, (July 4, 1879,) assumed that relation April 5, 1874, the pulpit having been supplied the preceding fall and winter by Rev. Mr. Martin, who closed his labors April 1, 1874.
The church was repaired in 1875 at a cost of about $400. The present (July 4, 1879) number of members is 101.
St. Ann’s Church (Episcopal) of Afton. Occasional church services were held here from quite an early period, of which no very accurate record can now be obtained. Episcopal services were conducted as early as 1793, by Rev. Joseph Badger, at Harpersville, but a few miles distant, in the north edge of Broome county, and St. Luke’s Church of that village was organized April 15, 1799, by Rev. (afterwards Bishop) Philander Chase, who was its first pastor. It is presumed that these ministrations extended occasionally to this locality, though there is no record of the fact. The Rev. N. M. Adams, of Unadilla, preached here once certainly prior to 1838. Rt. Rev. W. N. De-Lancey, D. D., first Bishop of Western New York, officiated here twice, once in the Baptist and once in the Universalist meeting-house, in the years 1840 and ’42. The first attempt at regular services was made by Rev. W. E. Eigenbrodt, D. D., who, in 1838, the first year of his ministry in St. Peter’s Church, Bainbridge, commenced services, which he continued during the four years of his rectorship at Bainbridge, generally in the afternoon, at 5 or 6 o’clock, after the full services at Bainbridge, occasionally, but rarely, by candle-light. The services were held in the old school-house, a forlorn and rickety building, and were entirely gratuitous.
Mr. Eigenbrodt, in writing of these services, Januuary 28, 1860, in answer to inquiries made on the subject, says:–
“I rode down sometimes with one, sometimes with another of the congregation, [of Bainbridge,] generally with Colonel Juliand; and Captain Newton would often go to give us his valuable aid in the music. I always used the church service in full in the school-house. Mrs. Damaras Garrett lived near it; and there I was often refreshed and put on my gown. Sometimes I went on horseback. Mrs. Garrett was a good woman and deserves to be remembered. I always thought that, generally beloved as she was for her goodness and resorted to for her intelligence, she was the light that was eventually to drive off the thick darkness of the neighborhood. For I do think there were few spots in a civilized State, less favored with a knowledge of truth than South Bainbridge was at that time. Universalism was dominant and strong, and the sects in their attempts to cope with it only made it more obstinate and indifferent.”
The old school-house stood by the Baptist meeting-house, but was afterwards moved across the road and used as a cooper shop.
Rev. Israel Foote also held services in the Baptist meeting-house, (to which the church had a claim when not used by the Baptists,) towards the close of his ministry in Bainbridge, about the years 1849-’52.
In 1857 a seemingly providential opening led Rev. W. A. Johnson, then officiating at Bainbridge, to propose fitting up a suitable room for regular services. The work was begun in the summer of 1858, and the chapel opened for services November 21st. Previous to this Rev. Mr. Johnson held no religious services in the place, the only preparation for the full and regular worship of the church being a lecture on “the church and popular prejudice,” delivered by him in the Baptist meeting-house two weeks previous.
A two story building erected for a select school-house, but looking extremely like one of the common smaller meeting-houses, fell under the control of the only male communicant in the place, Mr. Harrison R. Caswell. The upper story was fitted up in a plain way for a chapel, at an expense of a little over $300, more than one-third of which was generously given by Mr. Caswell from his moderate means. The larger portion of the remainder was contributed by liberal church people, chiefly in the City of New York. The chapel was 38 by 23 feet, but sufficiently large for the needs of the place, which then contained only three communicants. A chancel ten feet deep was formed by setting off a vestry and library room on each side.
In this, evening services were held once a fortnight by Rev. W. A. Johnson, of Bainbridge. The first service was held November 21, 1858, and through the aid of Rev. Noble Palmer, of Harpersville, twice given, and of Rev. Dr. S. R. Johnson, of New York, weekly services were held till January, 1859.
In April, 1859, a Sunday school was opened which numbered during the term ending Christmas, some 28 scholars; in 1860, about 40; and in 1861, from various causes, but 14.
A parish library, of loaned books, was formed, and a Sunday school library of 127 volumes procured in 1859.
The Bishop visited the congregation for the first time September 11, 1859, when two were confirmed. The consent of the Bishop having been obtained November 29, 1859, legal notice of a meeting for the organization of a parish was given on the 8th and 15th of January, 1860. On the 16th a meeting was held in the chapel, when the persons present incorporated themselves under the name and title of “The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Ann’s Church in the town of Afton,” and John Russell and Harrison R. Caswell, were elected Wardens; and William Wilkinson, Z. Woodard, Wright Dean, George Landers, Eli M. Shay, Daniel Carpenter, Daniel A. Carpenter and Horace Jones, Vestrymen. Rev. W. A. Johnson was chosen rector, and served as such till October 13, 1862.
Up to October, 1859, services had been held once a fortnight; from that time till October, 1861, every week, either in the afternoon or evening, with a single morning service, and the Bishop’s second visitation, also in the morning. The holy communion was administered four times during the diocesan year ending August 1, 1861. During 1860, the offertory yielded $50.06.
The records do not show that there was any pastor from the date of Mr. Johnson’s resignation till April 3, 1866, when the name of Rev. J. A. Robinson appears as rector. He continued his ministrations until April 7, 1871. During his rectorship, the present church seems to have been built, probably in 1867-8. It was consecrated Thursday, Oct. 1, 1868, by Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Bishop of Western New York. June 25, ’66, Daniel Carpenter, Z. Woodard and H. R. Caswell were appointed a committee to locate a site for the church; Sept. 10, 1866, H. R. Caswell and Charles Seeley were appointed to circulate a subscription for the purpose of raising money to build it, and April 30, 1867, H. R. Caswell, H. Hinman and George Cook were constitued a building committee.
Rev. E. Dolloway succeeded Mr. Johnson in the rectorship, and continued afternoon services till Oct. 29, 1871. Rev. N. Pahner then conducted morning services from Nov. 5th to Dec. 17, 1871. Dec. 18, 1871, an invitation was extended to Rev. S. S. Lewis to take charge of the parish. The records do not show how long he served then, but his name appears as rector in connection with a confirmation service by Bishop F. D. Huntington, May 11, 1872. May 26, 1872, an indefinite call was extended to Rev. Moses E. Wilson, who seems to have commenced his services that day. He continued them as late as May 4, 1873. He was succeeded by Rev. Joel Davis, who was the rector June 20, 1874, but the records do not show when he commenced or closed his labors.
Rev. G. W. Porter, D. D., accepted an invitation to become the rector of this church in connection with St. Peter’s church, of Bainbridge, in August, 1874, and entered upon the duties of his joint rectorship on the 16th of that month. His rectorship was terminated June 30, 1876, when he removed to Hamilton. Rev. A. W. Cornell, of St. Luke’s church, at Harpersville, commenced his ministerial labors with this church in July, 1876, and still continues them. It appears from the records that there are thirty families connected with the church; that 56 have been baptized, 9 by Wm. Allen Johnson, 30 by James A. Robinson, 1 by E. Dolloway, 5 by Moses E. Wilson, 3 by Joel Davis, 2 by G. W. Porter, and 6 by A. W. Cornell; that 31 have been confirmed; that 16 marriages and 27 burials have been solemnized, and that the whole number of communicants has been 69, of whom 24 have been lost by death, removals, &c., and that the present number of communicants is 45.
The M. E. Church of Afton was organized as the M. E. Church of South Bainbridge, Nov. 24, 1851, by Rev. E. D. Thurston, at the district school-house at “South Bainbridge.” Its incorporation dates from the same time, and the first trustees, then elected, were Dor Stowell, Charles W. Griswold, Samuel C. Bump, Luman C. Pollard and Isaac Fergason. The applicants for incorporation were Jesse C. Flagg and Dor Stowell, and the articles of association were certified before S. T. Donaghe, Justice of the Peace.
Meetings were held occasionally previous to the organization and until the erection of their church edifice in 1853, in the district school-house.
April 22, 1853, forty-four rods of land on lot 57 in Afton was purchased of Damaras Garrett for a building site for $150. The church edifice was completed in the fall of 1853, through the indefatigable efforts of the pastor, Rev. E. D. Thurston, at a cost of a little more than $1,500, and was dedicated in September of that year.
The Rev. Mr. Thurston was succeeded in his pastorate in 1853 by Rev. B. B. Carruth, who served them during that year; Rev. R. L. Southworth, 1854-’55; Rev. J. Moon, as supply, in 1855; Revs. Joel Davis and T. J. Bissell, 1856-’57; Rev. J. W. Mitchell, 1858-’60; Rev. W. S. Queal, 1860-’62; Rev. Leonard Bowdish, 1862-’64; Rev. B. H. Brown, 1864-’67; Rev. W. W. Andrews, 1867-’70; Rev. B. B. Carruth, 1870-’73; Rev. T. P. Halsted, 1873-’75; Rev. H. N. Van Dusen, 1875-’78; and Rev. N. G. Hawley, the present pastor, who commenced his labors in April, 1878.
The number of members, April 1, 1879, was 93 and 24 probationers. The estimated value of the church property is $2,000, and of the parsonage, $1,800.
The M. E. Church at Ayrshire in the north part of the town, is on the same charge as this. It has a membership of 77, with 11 probationers. The church property is valued at about $1,800.
The First Universalist Church of Afton was originally incorporated as “The First Universalist Society of the town of Bainbridge,” at a meeting held in the school-house in the Kirby settlement September 14, 1818, of which Matthew Long and Thomas Humphrey were presiding and returning officers. James Johnston, Reuben Kirby, Ebenezer Landers, James Davidson, Stephen Stilwell and James H. Humphrey were elected trustees. Their house of worship was erected in 1818. How long this organization continued there is no record to show, but that it exerted a wide and powerful influence for many years thereafter the records of the Baptist and Episcopal churches abundantly testify. It was re-organized as “The First Universalist Society of South Bainbridge,” May 5, 1855, at a meeting held at the Universalist Church in South Bainbridge, (Afton,) and presided over by Rev. Chas. S. Brown, the pastor. Noble Buck, Reuben Kirby, Thomas Humphrey, Murlin Jackson, Stephen D. Pratt and Philo Landers were elected trustees, and a constitution was adopted. The records of the society subsequent to 1855 are very meager and furnish very little definite information in regard to its history. Rev. J. G. Bartholomew commenced his labors as pastor June 22, 1856, preaching half the time, and closed them April 18, 1858. Rev. W. Delong commenced preaching here one-fourth time May 14, 1865, but how long he continued does not appear; neither do the records show who filled the interval between 1858 and 1865. The desk was occupied every Sabbath in 1867 by Rev. J. F. Porter. The church was again organized under its present name February 20th, 1860. Rev. T. L. Dean filled the office of pastor from November 8, 1874, to May 1, 1875, after an interval of two years of partial inactivity. Our informant, who is a member, says, “The Society is in a low state and has the appearance of becoming extinct, as there is not life enough in the present members to do anything towards keeping up the organization.”
The Presbyterian Church of Afton.–The Presbyterians, though the first to cultivate the spiritual field, suffered a long period of decline and inactivity. Under their instrumentality, in 1802, the first church in the town was organized, and February 1, 1819, was incorporated as the “South Presbyterian Society and Meeting-House of the town of Bainbridge,” at a meeting of the inhabitants in the south and west part of that town, “assembled at the new meeting-house near the house of Horace Stone.” Calvin Stowel and Silas Stevens were chosen presiding and returning officers, and they together with Asa Stowel and Arad Stowel were elected trustees. This society seems to have been short-lived and to have subsequently changed its name and form of government to Congregational. February 8, 1825, it is recorded that “at a meeting of divers persons inhabitants of the town of Bainbridge*** being male members of full age belonging to the late Congregational Society of South Bainbridge, assembled at the place where they statedly attend for divine worship,” February 7, 1825, at which Deacons Calvin and Arad Stowel, two of the members of said society presided, The South Bainbridge Presbyterian Society was organized, and Arad Stowel, David McMaster and Nathan Boynton were elected trustees.
A long interval elapsed from the decline of this Society in which the Presbyterians ceased to have an organized existence. In January, 1875, at the request of several residents of the village of Afton and vicinity, Rev. Wm. H. Sawtelle, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Nineveh, commenced preaching once in two weeks, on Sabbath afternoons, in the Baptist Church in Afton, with a view to the organization of a Presbyterian Church. Soon after, notice of a meeting to be held in the Baptist Church of Afton, on Friday, February 19, 1875, for the purpose of organizing a Presbyterian Society, signed by G. P. Smith, B. Whittaker and Robert Yale, was read from the pulpits of the village churches. At that meeting, of which Rev. Wm. H. Sawtelle was Chairman, it was resolved to incorporate under the name of the First Presbyterian Church of the town of Afton, and Henry Doolittle, Robert Yale and Geo. P. Smith were elected trustees. The proceedings were certified to before J. B. Kirkhuff, Notary Public, February 23, 1875.
The persons who then united in church fellowship were Robert and Harriet L. Yale, from the Presbyterian Church in Unadilla; Ira A. and Martha Yale, from the Presbyterian Church in Bainbridge; Deloss Lyon, from the Presbyterian Church in Laurens; “Selar” and Mary E. Decker, and Henry, Betsey and Henry S. Doolittle, from the Presbyterian Church in Nineveh; and Emeline Merritt, from the Presbyterian Church in Windsor. They were formally organized by a committee of the Presbytery June 1, 1875, at which time “Selar” Decker, Henry Doolittle and Ira A. Yale were elected elders. Deloss Yale was elected elder June 30, 1876; Henry Doolittle re-elected June 26, 1877; and “Sebar” Decker June 25, 1878.
February 7, 1875, Rev. Wm. H. Sawtelle, of Nineveh, commenced to supply the pulpit every other Sabbath, at 3 1/2 P. M., and continued his labors with them till January 13, 1878. He was succeeded, April 21, 1878, by Rev. D. Grummon, of Bainbridge, who still supplies the pulpit every Sabbath at 2 P. M.
The whole number of members who have united with the church is 42; of whom three have been dismissed and one has died, leaving a present membership (July, 1879,) of 38. Four have been baptized, two adults and two infants.
In the spring of 1876 measures were taken to erect a house of worship. A building site was purchased of Edgar Garret for $500. The trustees, consisting of Henry Doolittle, Robert Yale and Wm. A. Wright, were associated with Deloss Lyon as a building committee. Subscriptions of money, materials and labor were solicited, and the work of construction was begun early in the summer. A building 28 by 40 feet, with an alcove for the pulpit and choir, and a front extension for the vestibule, was erected at a cost of $3,000. It was completed, furnished and formally dedicated January 31, 1877.
A grant of $800 was obtained from the Board of Church Erection. The rest of the sum was raised by subscriptions from the citizens of Afton and some of the neighboring towns, except a few contributions from some of the neighboring churches; so that the church was cleared from all indebtedness soon after the dedication.
It is but justice to say that the Society is largely indebted for the success of the enterprise to the devotion and perseverance of Robert Yale, one of the trustees, who superintended the work, procured most of the subscriptions, and generously gave his time and labor until the building was completed.