Leeds Reformed Church

Leeds Reformed Church


A Kind reception is better than a feast
Leeds, N. Y.

Published by the Compilers, 1895
Revised, 1906

Church pamphlet located at the Catskill Public Library and Historical section transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

The Reformed (Dutch) Church of Leeds is the oldest church organization in Greene County, New York, having been founded in the early part of the year 1732. The village was originally called Old Catskill, and the name given to the Church at its organization was the "Reformed Dutch Church of Old Catskill." Later the name of the village was changed to Madison, and later still to Leeds.

The first pastor of this Church was Rev. George Michael Wiess, a native of the Palatinate on the Rhine, Germany. He was educated and licensed at Heidelburg, Germany, and was ordained to the ministry in 1725. In 1727 he with four hundred German emigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America, and settled in Pennsylvania. In February, 1732, Mr. Wiess received a commendatory letter from the High and Low Dutch Church of Schoharie, New York. On the 25th of the same month he became the pastor of the Old Catskill Church, conjointly with the First Reformed (Dutch) Church of Coxsackie, which was established a few months later than this church. The call by which he was invited to become the pastor of these Churches was signed by twenty-seven persons, no consistory having yet been formed; these names represented the principal families of both Churches. Among them are five Bronks, three Van Bergens, two Conines, also Van Vechten, Van Schaake, Schermerhorn, Osterhout, Salisbury, Muller, Provost, Wormer and others. The terms of the call provided that the pastor should preach twice every Sabbath in low Dutch or the Holland language, administer of sacraments, and catechise the children. He was to hold services thirty Sabbaths a year in Old Catskill, the remaining twenty-two in Coxsackie, alternating between them. The compensation he was to receive was f50 a year, payable half yearly, together with a house and garden, firewood, a horse, saddle and bridle to be his own, and if his horse died, he was to have the loan of another. If called to another field of labor he was not at liberty to leave until these Churches had another minister, or at any rate not until one year after the call was received.

The first church edifice was erected on land given by Gerret Van Bergen, and stood on the West side of the Catskill Creek, on a slight elevation near the present residence of Leonard W. Mower. This church building was fifty feet square, and the roof was carried up on all sides like a pyramid. The apex was used as a belfry. It could seat one hundred and ninety people, and was dedicated February 25th, 1733. Rev. Petrus Van Driessen, from Albany, preached the sermon from Psalm 27:4. Immediately after the dedication, the first consistory was elected as follows: Elders, John Bronk, F. Salisbury and Abraham Provost; Deacons; Peter Bronk, Jacob Ten Broeck and Frederick Streyott. The first parsonage was built of stone in 1735, on the West side of the Catskill Creek, and is still standing.

In 1736 Mr. Wiess resigned the pastorate of these Churches, and the vacancy was not filled until 1753. When Rev. Johannes Schuneman became the second pastor. He was born in 1710 at East Camp, New York, of German parents, and when quite a young man had been led by the influence of Dominie Frelinghuysen to turn his attention to the ministry. The call was made November 12th, 1751, and was accompanied by one important condition, which was that he should go to Holland and there complete his theological education. He accepted this condition; his expenses abroad were paid by the Churches whose call he had accepted. In 1753 he returned and was greeted with a joyful welcome by the people who had chosen him to be their pastor. In August of the same year he preached his introductory sermon at Old Catskill from Isa. 40:6-8. During his pastorate the Indians were constantly attacking the white settlers, and Mr. Schuneman carried his rifle with him, not only in riding on horseback through the woods in going from Old Catskill to Coxsackie, but also into the pulpit with him; and he carefully examined the priming before beginning the service, to see that the gun was in readiness for sudden need, believing with Oliver Cromwell in that sound advice, "Trust in God and keep you powder dry." His pastorate extended for forty-one years, being the longest of any pastor, and he preached his last sermon on the Sabbath before his death from the text "It is finished." After the death of Dominie Schuhneman the relation between the Churches of Old Catskill and First Coxsackie was dissolved and thereafter each chose its own pastor.

The third pastor of the Old Catskill Church was Rev. Peter Labagh. He was born in New York city in 1773. In the veins of his ancestors ran "The pious blood of France and Holland." He studied with Drs. Freleigh and Livingston, and was licensed by the Classis of Hackensack in 1796. He undertook the tedious journey of nine hundred miles in response to a call for gospel service in Kentucky. After his return he became the pastor of the Churches of Old Catskill and Oak Hill from 1798 to 1809.

The Reformed Dutch Church of Oak Hill, New York, was organized in 1786, and was located about a mile from Oak Hill village on the turnpike leading to Preston Hollow. In 1798 the Churches of Old Catskill and Oak Hill were united and called Rev. Peter Labagh, who accepted the call and entered upon his ministerial labors in May, 1798. He continued his pastorate until May 21st, 1809, when he was dismissed to the Reformed (Dutch) Church of Harlington, New Jersey. After Mr. Labagh left, the relation between the Churches of Old Catskill and Oak Hill was dissolved, and thereafter each chose its own pastor. In September, 1832, on account of weakness through the removal of members by death, and also to other places of residence, the Church of Oak Hill was unable to support a pastor, and so was disbanded.

The fourth pastor was Rev. Henry Ostrander. He was born in 1781, and was licensed by the Classis of Paramus in 1800. He was called to the pastorate of this Church in 1810, where he remained until 1812, when he accepted a call to the Reformed Church of Katsbaan, where he labored for fifty years.

The fifth pastor was Rev. Peter S. Wynkoop. He was born at Kingston, New York in 1787, and graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York. He was first educated for the law, but afterward, when about thirty years of age, he entered the ministry, graduating from the seminary at New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was called to the pastorate of this Church in 1814 and continued his labors here until 1817.

The sixth pastor was Rev Isaac N. Wyckoff; born at Millstone, New Jersey, in 1792; studied at New Brunswick, and was ordained to the ministry and installed pastor of this Church in 1817. Here he labored for seventeen years, when he became the first pastor of the Church in Catskill village. He established churches in Catskill village, Kiskatom and Athens. On May 19th, 1816, Martin J. Schuneman gave to the consistory a deed for a plot of ground in the village of Leeds. The present church edifice was erected on that lot. The first service was held in the building while it was yet in an unfinished condition, on July 4, 1818, when the young pastor, Rev. Mr. Wykoff, was the orator of the day. It was completed and dedicated in the Fall of the same year, and has thus stood for nearly eighty-eight years.

The seventh pastor was Rev. John C. Van Liew, who was a nephew of Rev. Mr. Wyckoff and his colleague for one year in the triple charge in the Catskills; he was installed on May 1st, 1833. It was about this time that the Reformed Church of Kiskatom was organized, and that church and Leeds became one charge. On account of ill-health, and in consequence of arduous labor, Mr. Van Liew remained here only fourteen months, being dismissed July 21st, 1834, having accepted a call to the Reformed Church at Spotswood, New Jersey.

The eighth pastor was Rev. Brogun Hoff, who was installed in April, 1835. He remained seven years. In 1842 the present corporate name was taken, which is "The Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Leeds." After Mr. Hoff left, the relation between the Churches of Leeds and Kiskatom was dissolved, and each Church thereafter chose its own pastor.

The ninth pastor was Rev. James Romeyn of Catskill, who was then living in retirement. He accepted the call in 1842 and remained here only two years, when failing health compelled him to resign his charge. He was a very able and eloquent preacher and is remembered still by a few of our older member, some of whom united with the Church under his ministry.

The tenth pastor was Rev. W. R. S. Betts, who began his work here in 1845. Mr. Betts remained here five years and was released from his pastorate in October, 1850.

The eleventh pastor was Rev. John Minor, who was installed in October, 1851. During the year 1852, the old parsonage lot, lying along Main street, below the church, was sold and the present site, called the "Vedder Lot," was purchased, on which a commodious parsonage was built. On account of needed mental rest Mr. Minor resigned the pastorate in April, 1857. He died November 20th, 1890.

The twelfth pastor was Rev. Samuel T. Searle, who was called from Schuylerville, New York, in 1857. His pastorate extended for a period of twelve years, when he accepted a call to the Reformed Church of Wyckoff, New Jersey. His last years were spent in the delightful home of his son, Rev. Dr. J. P. Searle, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The thirteenth pastor was Rev. B. Van Zandt, D. D., who began his labors here in September, 1869. For nearly nine years he faithfully labored here. In March, 1870, the present pipe organ was purchased and put in the choir gallery. It was during his pastorate that the evangelist, Mr. Bronk, held meetings for forty nights and very many were led to give themselves to Christ. Dr. Van Zandt’s pastorate ended in April, 1878, when he moved to Catskill, and lived in retirement until his deceased.

The fourteenth pastor was Rev. C. P. Ditmars, who graduated from Rutgers College and New Brunswick Seminary. On September 24th, 1879, he was ordained to the ministry and installed pastor of this Church. He remained here until 1882, when he accepted a call to the pastorate of the Reformed Church of Niskayuna, New York, where he is still faithfully serving the Master.

The fifteenth pastor was Rev. Elbert N. Sebring, who was called from Middleburgh, New York. He was installed pastor of this Church in October, 1884. In 1885 the interior of the church was renovated and presents a beautiful appearance. Mr. Sebring continued pastor until October 12th, 1889, when the Master he so faithfully served called him to his Heavenly Home.

The sixteenth pastor was the Rev. Clarence M. Perlee, who was installed September 15th, 1891, and on account of declining health resigned his pastorate July 1st, 1899, after eight years of service. It is on record that he "served the Church with devotion and faithfulness."

In September, 1890, the parsonage was entirely destroyed by fire, and a new one was builded in the following year. In September, 1893, through the efforts of the Ladies Sewing Society the lot adjoining the church was purchased, a new shed was built, and the old building on it was renovated for prayer meetings and social gatherings.

The seventeenth pastor was the Rev. Edward T. F. Randolph, a graduate from the New Brunswick Seminary, and ordained and installed pastor January 11th, 1900. His pastorate was short, remaining until October, 1902, having received and accepted the call from the Reformed Church, West Copake, New York.

On September 21st, 1903, a call was extended to the Rev. F. V. Van Vranken of Philmont, New York, and being duly accepted, the eighteenth pastor was installed October 28th, 1903. In October, 1905, the old building on the lot purchased in 1893 was sold and removed, and a new building erected, also through the efforts of the Society, in its place, commemorating the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of our Church organization, which will be appropriately observed in the year 1907.

Thus the Church which was organized a century and three-quarters ago, and the only one between Albany and Kingston at that time, still exists, having had a long and faithful line of pastors, and is a constant witness to the power of the Gospel of Christ in the salvation of men and the extension of the Kingdom of our Lord.

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