(Retyped without editing and submitted on behalf of Larison’s Corner Presbyterian Church)
Brief History of
The United First Presbyterian Church of Amwell
Religious persecution, war, devastation of the land, hunger, and poverty in the late 17th century and early 18th century contributed to people leaving the then German provinces. Some went to Holland or England briefly, but all eventually found their way to the New World. Germans became the third largest component of immigrants to America, following the English and Dutch in the 1700’s.
Our German ancestors took measures to have a church of their own, but because of a lack of ministers and no communication with the Reformed Church in Germany, there was no formal church. Tradition speaks of and old log house, but there is nothing certain concerning it. The first recorded date is November 1747 when the Rev. Michael Schlatter, who was sent to Philadelphia in 1746 to oversee the German churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, visited Amwell and administered the rights of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism to thirty members.
The next date is January 21, 1749 when an acre of land was purchased from James Whittaker for 10 pounds. The deed was made to William Kase, Peter Hofman, and William Bellowsfelt, Trustees to and for the Calvinistical High Dutch Congregation. This is the first recorded name of our church.
The congregation was unable to raise all the funds needed to build a church. The Old Dutch Church in New York City paid fifteen pounds to the “High Dutch Reformed congregation in Amwell for Christian help in building a Church”. The Old Stone Church was built in the cemetery.
The church was supplied by pastors from both Holland and Germany. Morning and afternoon services were held, the services being held in the German language and food was sold at the noon hour. In 1800 the German language was superceded by the English even in the German families. The children were supplied with English teaching, it required but a generation to supplant the German language altogether. They also had to withdraw from the German Synod, and become identified with an ecclesiastical body at hand, Presbytery of Newton.
In 1800, the trustees, acting under the State law, filed a paper, setting forth the name “German Presbyterian Church of Amwell”. In 1809 it became the Amwell Dutch Reformed Church.
In the year 1810 the First Presbyterian Church of Reaville and the Old Stone Church united together and were incorporate under the name of “United First Presbyterian Church of Amwell” but having two places of worship. The funds of the First Church and the German church were kept separate. It was the plan to worship in their own churches as long as the buildings were suitable and then build a combined edifice.
The one great difficulty in the history of these churches was to come to a harmonious agreement in this matter, and this led to the division in 1818 when the Church separated into its original standing.
The stone house was too small and uncomfortable for the congregation and a motion was made to build a new house. The new church building was erected in l818 on a plot of land given by Joseph Kugler adjoining the ‘Stone House’ on the opposite side of the Wertsville road. The building there erected is the one in which we now worship. It was named United First Presbyterian Church of Amwell. Some years after, the spire and vestibule were added. The steps to the galleries were in the corners each side of the pulpit and the right side was reserved for the colored people. Charcoal foot stoves were used for heating. Later on chimneys were built, and wood stoves installed. At a later period, the stairs to the galleries were changed and built in the vestibule and the high pulpit lowered.
It is well to note here a brief history of Rev. Dr. Jacob Kirkpatrick. He graduated from Princeton in 1804 and expected to become a lawyer. In 1807 during a revival service his views on religion were changed and he devoted himself to the Gospel ministry and was licensed by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In the year 1809 he made his first visit to Amwell and was ordained in the “Old House” in 1810. At the expiration of the five years mentioned in the first call, the call was renewed for life.
Dr. Kirkpatrick’s field of labor extended from the Delaware River to Somerset county. Six Presbyterian Churches besides a number of other denominations were under his charge. In this long period 700 were admitted to the churches under his care on profession of faith; he preached 11,000 sermons, conducted 900 funerals and married 705 couples. He died May 2nd, 1866 and is buried in the cemetery.
The old German parsonage was near Copper Hill at Hampton’s Corner. A tract of fifty-two acres was purchased in 1767 from Abraham Kise for two hundred seventy pounds. After the last German speaking pastor, the Rev. John Jacob Wack, left the tract was sold. Ministers after him then bought or leased their own homes. In 1833 a parsonage below Ringoes was bought of Tenis Quick. The lot contained eighteen acres but the house was small and old. It was rebuilt in 1847, the old building forming the rear portion of the house. About fifteen acres of the lot were sold to meet the expenses incurred. Dr. Kirkpatrick was the first minister to live in that parsonage. It was sold and the present parsonage purchased in 1899. In 1846 when the church needed repairs it was proposed to move to Ringoes, but the motion failed by a vote of more than three to one. Since then the village had increased in size, and there was a Chapel for Prayer Meeting and Sunday School. But it was claimed that the village would be more convenient for those without conveyances to reach Larison’s Corner. Although there was a very strong attachment to the spot where for 120 years the worship of God had been celebrated, several members applied to Presbytery and a new church was built in the village in the year 1868 and called the Kirkpatrick Memorial. Forty-seven members including three elders were dismissed to the new church.
The year 1870 is noted in our history for the great Revival, evening services were held for eight weeks. Eighty-nine were received on profession of faith. In 1873 the ladies organized a Missionary Society and carried on a successful and noble cause. About this time an organ was purchased. Mr. William Bellis, Jr. was the organist and choir master for many years.
The Rev. Charles s. Converse was ordained and installed as pastor May 8, 1876. We are indebted to him for writing the early history of our church and compiling in one place what old records remain. Membership of the church increased under the pastorates of Rev. E.K. Donaldson, Rev. W.M. Wells and Rev. Samuel H. Potter. After a period of student supplies the congregation felt the need of a resident pastor. The Rev. J.Q. Fullerton came in April of 1904 and served as the regular pastor until 1913 when he became the Pastor Emeritus and was relieved of active duty by Rev. George Baker in 1914. Mr. Fullerton’s health had forced him to give up larger charges, but he was used by God to bring a golden age of development to Larison’s Corner. He was ably assisted by his wife and daughter, Jessie Fullerton. Under Miss Fullerton’s direction the choir was
reorganized and many musical activities were undertaken. In 1916 during Rev. Baker’s pastorate the “Billy Sunday” revival spread throughout the Amwell Valley. Special meetings were held, and a branch Sunday School was conducted for a time at Wertsville. Mr. Baker moved to Stony Brook in 1926, and during the next ten years the pulpit was supplied by the Rev. T. Montgomery, Rev. Charles Wideman and Rev. Bruce Widman. In 1937, under the latter’s pastorate the congregation was divided. A portion of its members organized the Calvary Orthodox Church. The members remaining, through prayer and faithful attendance have carried on successfully under the leadership of ordained and student pastors among whom were Horace Ryburn, Arthur Harries, Robert Shields and Franklin Hinkle. Rev. George Moran came as a student, was ordained and installed as pastor in 1945. He left in 1946, and the pulpit was filled by Rev. Daniel Baker, Charles Hooker Robert Scott, Carl Luthman and Robert Wirth. In 1949 the Church edifice was completely renovated and a new heating system installed. On June 5, 1949 a rededication and celebration of the 200th anniversary of this old church was held. Mr. Robert Wirth was serving as student pastor.
There followed a period when the pulpit was filled by stated supplies who were Donald Gibson, Bertram Rutan, who was ordained in the Church on February 27, 1953, Harry A. Morgan, Walter Mehl, PhD., Robert Murphy, Richard Anderson, and William P. Anderson, who was also ordained in the Church June· 13, 1964.
At this time the congregations of the Amwell First and United First had diminished and there was again discussions of a merger of the two churches. So, it came to be near the end of the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Anderson on April 3rd, 1967 that these two churches were joined together again in a Yoked-Parish. One minister serves each church, preaching at each church on Sunday and attending to the needs of all the parishioners. Each church has retained their own building, maintains their own finances, have their own Boards of Elders and Trustees, as well as Sunday Schools and Women’s organizations.
Stated Supplies for the new Parish were Raymond Weigel and David Tomlison until June 30th, 1968 when the Rev. Steven J. Bodnar was ordained and installed as the first Pastor of the Yoked-Parish. Rev. Bodnar left in 1971 and was followed by Rev. Linda
Jaberg and C. Raymond Troute. The Rev. John Ginter, retired from the Hopewell Presbyterian and Moderator of the Church took over the pulpit in 1973 until his death in December 1975.
The Rev. John F. Potter was installed as Pastor on October 3rd, 1976 and is our Pastor at present. Today as we celebrate 240 years may we be ever grateful to our founders, whose hardships of that time so long ago we cannot truly understand. We must acknowledge their many difficulties to raise up a church where they could worship God according to their consciences. This brief history cannot do justice to all those who came after that first band and who labored in their time to pass it on to the generations to come. May this Church, standing on the Amwell Ridge, visible to resident and traveler alike, remain a constant reminder of God in our midst.
Compiled and written from history written in 1881 by Rev. Charles S. Converse, a pamphlet written in 1949 by Mrs. Howard C. Sutphin and existing Church records.
Jane Bellis Duffy
*If you have historical information about Larison’s Corner Presbyterian Church, whether it is an old church bulletin, a letter from a former pastor, baptismal record or news clipping from a local paper, please contact us using the Email Us here or at the bottom of the front page of our website, and, if appropriate, we would be delighted to include it in this section.
Here are some interesting photos of the church, one from 1909 and one from 1946:
While we have lost our steeple to a recent storm and the blue spruces to age and disease, the church and the manse are little changed over a period of time lasting more than a century, one which has seen two world wars, the rise and fall of empires–the British and the Japanese–the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the invention of the jet, the landing of man on the moon, the invention of the transistor, the computer, the and the cell phone.
An invitation to dine at the White House in 1909 would have found you shaking President William Henry Taft’s hand. Bess Truman would have greeted you in 1946, and you might have asked Harry Truman about his decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan.