Categories: Life & Arts
Most people looking for a fresh start in the New World wouldn’t have picked Currie’s Bush to call home. But to Scottish immigrants coming to upstate New York more than two centuries ago, the hilly terrain in what is now the town of Princetown made them feel right at home.
“This place was a wilderness back then, but when the Scots came upon the hills here it reminded them of Scotland,” said Irma Mastrean, the former town of Princetown historian and a life-long resident of the area. “Many of them settled in Galway first and then came here. They were mostly Scots, and they were Presbyterians.”
Those first Presbyterians put up a log structure in 1770 as their place of worship and later a stone building in 1790. Then, in 1816, they began building Currie’s Bush Church or what later became the First Presbyterian Church of Princetown on Currybush Road near the intersection with North Kelly Road and Skyline Drive. On Saturday, Aug. 20, the current tenant of the building, Community Fellowship at Princetown, is commemorating the 200th anniversary of their building, and inviting everyone to come and join the celebration. The festivities begin at noon and end at 4 p.m.
“This is not a celebration of our church, it’s a celebration of our building,” said Community Fellowship senior pastor Lawrence Cornaire. “We’ve only been here for 40 years. The cornerstone for our building was laid 200 years ago, and what we’re doing is celebrating 200 years of this building serving the community as a house of worship. We’re inviting the entire community, including the two other churches connected to this one, to come and celebrate the occasion.”
The First Presbyterian flourished for years. It was Mastrean’s family on her mother’s side, the Turnbulls, who sold a section of their 300-acre farm to the church so it could erect the building.
“I was baptized there when I was 12 and my parents are buried in the cemetery there,” said Mastrean. “It was a real meeting place, and way back in 1816 the whole community would go there and spend the day. It was the only church around.”
Later in the 19th century, Presbyterian churches popped up in Mariaville just across the town line in Duanesburg and in a northern part of Princetown called Scotch Bush. In 1971, however, dwindling membership forced the Albany Presbytery to merge the three churches.
“Since the Presbytery wouldn’t supply each of the churches with a pastor, they decided to merge the three churches into one,” said David Brown, pastor emeritus at Community Fellowship. “They took on a new name, Christ Church of the Hills, and then the issue became which building are they going to meet at. It got rather contentious for a while, but they finally agreed to meet at the building where we are now.”
But only for a while. The new enlarged congregation raised enough money in 1973 to build a new church over on Route 159 where it meets today as Christ Church of the Hills. Mastrean is a member of that church, and will be at Saturday’s event, while the other church Cornaire is inviting is the Duanesburg Reformed Presbyterian Church, where he attended as a young boy growing up on the Schoharie Turnpike in Duanesburg.
It was Brown, meanwhile, along with his wife, Judith, who bought the empty building at 3616 Currybush Road in 1974 and started their own non-denominational congregation.
“It’s a very interesting building in that it was post-and-beam construction with these huge timbers,” said Brown. “We’ve left a lot of the features visible so people can appreciate the amazing feat of construction this building was, with all its original, detailed and beautiful woodwork.”
One of the building’s most impressive features is a large chandelier in the main sanctuary manufactured by the Albany Brazier Foundry. Another is the bell tower, constructed to be perfectly aligned with the four directions.
“It had something to do with the Masons and Presbyterians here back then,” said Cornaire, who has been associated with Community Fellowship since 2000 and took over for Brown as senior pastor six years ago. “The church itself is also constructed that way, in a true north-south-east-west direction.”
Before the Presbyterians started showing up in what is now rural Schenectady County, George Ingoldsby and Arent Bradt were the two principal landowners in Princetown.
“Both men sold their land to William Corry in 1750 and the area became known as Corry’s Bush,” said current town of Princetown historian Robert Jones. “In 1755 Corry sold out to John Duncan of Schenectady, a Scotsman, and many of the early settlers were indeed of Scottish or Irish-Scottish extraction, but most didn’t come to Corry’s Bush directly, rather from other established Scottish and Irish-Scottish communities in the region. Nonetheless, the town remained sparsely settled through the late 18th century.”
Kicking off Saturday’s event at noon will be the singing of an old church hymn, followed by a history of the church and surrounding area, and a dedication of the building as a historical landmark. Tours of the property will begin at 1:30 p.m., and a picnic catered by Brooks BBQ will begin at 2 p.m.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]