By Jolene Hawkins
Looking back to 1816 — what was happening?
Well, James Monroe was elected president, it was known as the year without a summer, Indiana was admitted as the 19th state and, here in Springville, Father Spencer and nine others created the Congregational Church.
The first meetings were held in a log schoolhouse. By 1821 the membership had increased to 21 members, making it necessary to change meeting locations. The services were held temporarily held in the woolen factory on South Buffalo Street. John Russell, one of the deacons, arranged for dinners to be provided for all who attended services.
In 1827, the Methodists started construction of their first church and they were generous enough to allow the Congregational Church to meet in their new unfinished building. At the time, they sat on slab seats laid on blocks of wood. The windows were not in yet, so boards had to be removed to provide enough light for the singers. Thinking of this past winter, can you imagine how cold that it was?!
By 1829, the Congregationalists were meeting in the newly built Springville Academy; later they met in the Johnson Bensley Hotel and, later still, in the Springville House. In the summer of 1831, the group began the erection of its first church building. The logs were drawn out from the swamps of East Otto and aged by being cured in a drier. Unfortunately, the logs acquired during the first winter were almost completely burned in the drying process, thus necessitating the second winter’s labor.
The church was completed and dedicated on June 6, 1832. It was considered “comfortable and commodious” and served for nearly 20 years. By 1839, the membership had grown to 153 people!
In January 1839, Rev. Hawley was installed as the pastor. He was well liked; however, in the winter of 1840, he was disabled by the fall of a tree and never recovered. Augustus Little John filled in and was known to be a little “eccentric.” He led a revival which added 66 more members to the rolls.
Since the Congregationalists had no district organization to service their churches in Western New York, they decided to change affiliation to Presbyterian. This was done on Feb. 6, 1841 and there were 232 members at the time.
Construction of a new building commenced in 1847, where there was a tower that contained the town clock with Roman numerals and a bell that would chime each hour. There were four rows of pews on either side and all the pews had doors on them. Most of them were sold to members, with only a few being reserved for guests. The windows were rectangular with 25 panes of clear glass set in each of the three sashes of each window with green blinds outside.
In 1875, there were major renovations to the church. The walls were furred out, curved at the ceiling, lathed, replastered and frescoed. There were new windows, gallery seats and pulpits — even a steeper roof was erected over the old one, which was too flat. A coal furnace was installed, taking the place of the wood stoves; all these repairs came to a total cost of $6,000. While the remodeling was being done, the Presbyterians met with the Baptists in their church. The ministers preached to the united congregation on alternating Sundays.
During the late 1890s and early 1900s, the Ladies Society raised money with frequent “socials” and annual “chicken pie eats,” afternoon teas and sometimes suppers. It would be announced in the local newspapers and everyone was invited to attend. Entertainment was occasionally provided.
In 1906, a pipe organ was procured, the first in town! It was made by A. B. Felgemaker Company and had a handsome case of quartered oak with richly decorated front pipes, 12 stops and 689 pipes!
Sadly in 1921, a fire burned the main part of the building and steeple of the church. The firemen were handicapped by the double roof, as it made a very hot fire to fight. The steeple fell and the organ was destroyed, but firemen were able to save the lecture rooms and church parlor. The pulpit, platform chair and communion table were the only items salvaged from the auditorium.
There was a dedication of the new building on June 11, 1922 with its six columns at the front entrance and 12 large stained glass windows that are very artistic and delightful in their colorations. The pews and interior woodwork were a dark oak finish and there was a new toned pipe organ.
Now there is one event the Presbyterian Church does that started in 1946 and continues to this day. Who knows what I am talking about? It is Fried Cake Friday! Homemade, delightful doughnuts or doughnut holes, rolled in cinnamon sugar, fresh out of the fryer, with coffee … oh my, a little taste of heaven! During the fall and winter, you can see the cars in the parking lot as folks run in to grab a few or more to take with them, or enjoy at the tables that are provided.
What a history this church has — starting in 1816 and still going strong in 2018. That’s 202 years!