Lightning strike, fire destroy 1826 Mayfield church

The village lost part of its heritage early Thursday morning when a lightning bolt struck the steepl

The village lost part of its heritage early Thursday morning when a lightning bolt struck the steeple of Mayfield Presbyterian Church on North Main Street.

Residents reported hearing a loud crack and observed a fireball in the steeple, Mayfield Fire Chief Chris Mraz said.

Village Mayor Jamie Ward, who lives a short distance away on School Street, said the thunderclap was so loud his son ran from his bedroom.

Ward said he arrived at the scene minutes later, about the time the first firetruck pulled up. Firefighters were called out at 6:50 a.m.

The steeple was engulfed, Ward said, and with the open structure of the church sanctuary, the blaze quickly spread. Though the fire department is only a block away, the fire in the 1826 church could not be contained.

“It’s a huge loss, that’s for sure,” Ward said. By Thursday afternoon, church officials had contacted their insurance company and Ward said village and church leaders will be meeting soon “to put our heads together” to discuss rebuilding.

Ward called the church, with its food pantry and outreach programs, “the nucleus of our community.” The church hall and offices, added to the church in 1920, are expected to be salvageable, a church official said.

Spectators lined North Main Street as firefighters from 11 companies — including Gloversville and Johnstown — were called in.

Among those observing from the sidewalk were many members of the congregation including the church elders who sit on the church session.

The pastor, the Rev. Bonnie Orth, was visiting family in Texas. The Rev. Kirianne Riehl, pastor of the Northville Presbyterian Church, was summoned to assist the Mayfield flock. Riehl’s husband, Marcus, a member of the Northville Volunteer Fire Department, was fighting the blaze.

Rev. Riehl and the members of the session stood in a circle and joined hands as they said a prayer.

With the fire well under control by 10 a.m. and the Johnstown Fire Department ladder truck sending cascades of water down upon the remnants of the roof, Chief Mraz informed the session that village building and fire officials were recommending deploying a trackhoe to push in the remaining walls.

The rain was falling hard as the elders, standing on the sidewalk, took a vote to approve the demolition plan.

Ward, commenting on progress on the site by mid-afternoon, said firefighters were able to enter the building to recover artifacts including a Bible and an Easter flower — both intact. A memorial plaque was found in good condition on the front wall of the church. The plaque, inscribed in memory of Betty Lorey, mother of Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey, was presented to Lorey at the scene by Mraz.

A prayer service for the 120-member congregation was set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mayfield Methodist Church, located directly across the street.

“I think the congregation is going to be so grateful for people’s prayers,” Riehl said.

Georgia Dutcher, clerk of the session, said, “We’re thankful to our neighbors for opening their doors to us. It’s extremely emotional.”

Elder Libby Van Nostrand said, “We’ll move forward … we’re going to do something.”

Dutcher added, “It’s just a building … we are the church.”

Mayfield Historian Betty Tabor was on vacation Thursday, but Fulton County Historian Peter Betz said a commemorative pamphlet published by the congregation in 1926 to commemorate the church’s 100th anniversary discusses the founding.

“It’s a beautiful piece of architecture,” Betz said, reflecting on the fact that the greater loss for the community may be all the emotional connections to the structure, the scene of countless weddings, baptisms and other events.

“For the people of Mayfield, it’s an extremely sad day,” Betz said.

As old as the Presbyterian Church is, Betz said, the Methodist Church is even older. A date for that building was not immediately available Thursday, but Betz said the Mayfield Methodist congregation formed in the 1790s and built their church sometime thereafter.

Categories: Schenectady County

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