In Schenectady, the name Eliphalet Nott is synonymous with Union College. In Albany, however, the first thing the name brings to mind might be the large brownstone, romanesque structure that occupies the corner of State and Willett streets.
The First Presbyterian Church of Albany, celebrating its 250th year, will be the subject of a talk given by retired state legislator Jack McEneny on Sunday at the Albany Institute of History & Art. A portion of his presentation will be about Nott, who spent six years as pastor of the church in Albany before he began his long reign as president of Union College.
“You can’t mention Eliphalet Nott’s name without thinking of Union College,” said McEneny, who just last month finished his 10th term as the Democratic Assemblyman from the 104th District. “In Albany, you can’t mention his name without mentioning First Presbyterian. So, I’m going to talk about him for a while, and then I’m also going to talk about why there was a need to create this church 250 years ago, and the church’s influence in Albany over the years.”
‘The City and the First Presbyterian Church’
WHAT: A presentation by Jack McEneny
WHERE: Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany
WHEN: 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free with $10 admission, $8 for students and seniors
MORE INFO: 463-4478 or www.albanyinstitute.org
Along with being a pastor and an educator, Nott registered more than 25 patents, including one for the first-ever anthracite coal stove.
“The lines were blurred back then between disciplines and vocations,” said McEneny. “Today, scientists are more specialized. But Nott truly was an impressive individual. He was a proficient individual in so many different ways.”
Nott spent more than 60 years (1804-1866) as president of Union College, but for six years before that he was the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church. One of his final times before leaving the pulpit and moving to Schenectady, he delivered a famous sermon about the hazards of dueling, which greatly enhanced public opinion against the practice. Just a week earlier, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who had both attended First Presbyterian while in Albany, had engaged in a duel with Burr shooting Hamilton dead.
“It was a very famous sermon that received wide publicity all across the nation,” said David Wood, the church historian at First Presbyterian. “We don’t know if Hamilton was actually a member of the congregation, but he was here regularly and he was a good friend of Nott’s. All we know about Burr is that he at least visited the church.”
Diorama and new painting
To help commemorate the 250th, the church is lending a few artifacts to the Albany Institute to be on display through April. Among the items to be unveiled Sunday are a restored diorama of the church created just prior to World War II, and a brand new painting of the building by Albany artist David Hinchen.
Hinchen is a member at First Presbyterian, and along with the original painting he’s producing, he also worked on restoring the diorama with Richard Gascoyne, Bob Stevens and John Myers.
“The diorama was a combined effort of four people, and we tried to refurbish it as best we could without changing the character of it,” said Hinchen. “It was originally done in the 1930s, so we restored the structures, put in some more contemporary lighting, and added some new foliage and people.”
As for his painting, Hinchen is remaining mostly silent. “It’s not done yet, but it will be by the end of the week,” he said. “It’s a very beautiful church building, and I have set it in the late summer or early fall.”
Along with McEneny’s talk, the church will donate two items to the Albany Institute’s permanent collection. One item will be an 18th century artifact known as the Albany Church Penny, a historic coin minted not too long after the creation of the church in 1763, and a subscription list of pledges for the construction of the congregation’s second building in 1795. Included on the list of names is Hamilton’s and that of former New York Gov. John Jay.