Church to host celebration Saturday

A local church, steeped in history, will celebrate a significant milestone this weekend.
The congregation of the Hartford Baptist Church will celebrate its 225th anniversary on Saturday, June 28. The celebration will include a community picnic at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a short program detailing the history of the church.
The story of the church, which is located on Main Street (County Route 23), reads like a case study in American history.
The congregation was formed in 1788 and met in a small farmhouse not far from where the present day church is located. Originally called the Westfield Baptist Church—many of the early settlers were from Connecticut—the church changed its name in 1793 after Hartford was set off from Westfield.
The congregation tripled in size over the next decade and a new church was built in 1805. The building, however, quickly proved inadequate in 1815 and new church was erected on property deeded to the church of DeWitt Clinton. The church was large enough to sit 1,000 people.
“In the earlier days many of the people around were church goers. Sunday was always meant to be a day of rest and many of the people would spend the day at the church,” David Cornell, a member of the church and organizers of Saturday’s celebration, said.
However, in the 1820 a rift began to grow over opinions on social issues.
“There was some controversy over the Masonics,” Cornell said.
Members passed a number of anti-Masonic resolutions even though the congregation’s membership included several Masons. The differences caused several dozen members to leave the congregation and establish their own church.
“It was a very interesting time,” Cornell said.
After a little more than a decade, the two factions reconciled their differences, reunified the church and found a new cause: the abolition of slavery. The church barred slave owners from sitting at its communion table and when the Civil War broke out 10 years later, some of the younger men in the congregation joined the Union troops.
During the late 19th century tension among members once again rose up, this time over the temperance moving.
Advocates of the movement were successful in 1887 in making Hartford a dry town and the church’s women formed a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. However there were members who didn’t approve of prohibition.
“In May of 1890 there was a fire of incendiary origin that burned the church down,” Cornell said. The Granville Sentinel reported the fire had been set by someone who was upset the arrest and prosecution of liquor dealers.
Members began collecting, in earnest, funds for a new church and in 1891 the construction of the current church was completed. Since the new church was built very little has been to the building and in 2004 it was included on the New York state and National Registry of Historic Places.
In 1961, the church formed an alliance with the South Hartford Congregational Church and became known as the Hartford Yoked Parish.
Cornell said the current congregation includes between 50 and 100 people, depending on the time of year. Services are held at the church throughout the year and members of the parish attend services at the South Hartford Congregational church in the summer.
Saturday’s celebration will explore some of that history.
“The program isn’t strictly religious,” Donald Cornell, a member of the church and organizer of the celebration, said. “We’ll be recalling the good times and the tougher times the congregation has experienced over the years. There will also be speakers, including some former pastors, who will talk about their memories of the church.”
The public is invited to attend Saturday’s celebration and food will be provided at no charge.
For more information, or to RSVP, call Cornell at 632-5391.

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