CAPITAL REGION — Churches and cemeteries are living museums of community history. They hold pieces of local ancestry, which may or may not be available on sites like ancestry.com.
Their spires, basilicas and stained-glass window panes can reveal details of the Capital Region’s history that’s been long forgotten.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, sacred sites from across New York will open up to the public for tours, some providing special events or discussions.
As part of the Sacred Sites Open House Weekend, which is run by the New York State Landmarks Conservancy, over a dozen churches in the Capital Region will participate.
The Niskayuna Reformed Church will be presenting “A Legacy of Faith,” a lecture on the church’s beginnings and how it relates to the present day. Presenters will include the Rev. Norm Tellier, historian Scott Haefner and the Rev. Jason Fulkerson.
This interest in church history is new found for many members of Niskayuna Reformed and it began with the discovery of a few church documents from the early 20th century. Volunteer members of the church were cleaning out the parish one day in 2015 when they came across the documents.
“It’s surprising that all of that survived,” Haefner said. He helped the members to form a History and Archives committee and the group has been working to preserve the documents ever since.
Luckily, some of their work is cut out for them.
“We’re trying to create an electronic database for the archives now," Haefner said.
Although the building that the church is currently in dates to 1852, the church holds documents that discuss the formation of the Niskayuna Reformed Church going all the way to the 1750s. Its formation eventually led to the formation of the Vischers Ferry Church and others in the area.
Haefner will be discussing some of the architectural history of the Reformed Church, as well as some of the interesting documents that have been found in the building.
“There are old families that are still associated with the church that pop up. . . . My mother’s family went to the church for the past five generations,” Haefner said.
Some of the documents that the archives committee has looked through are written in Dutch.
“Niskayuna was one of the last churches in the state to switch over,” Haefner said. It wasn’t until 1775 that the sermons were delivered in English and church records were written in English.
Fulkerson, the current reverend at Reformed, will end the presentations with a discussion on the meaning of stained-glass windows, especially those found in this church.
Following the presentations, there will be a reception with Dutch desserts and an unveiling of a representation of the church by local watercolorist Charles DeMarco.
Several other Capital Region sites will also be open. Most are open only for self-guided tours, but visit http://sacredsitesopenhouse.org/ for the full schedule.
- Niskayuna Reformed Church, 3041 Troy-Schenectady Road: 2 p.m., Sunday May 21. To register contact the church at email@example.com or call 785-5575. Registration is preferred.
- Christ Episcopal Church, 132 Duanesburg Churches Road, Duanesburg: 11 a.m.-noon on Sunday May 21. Special Activities: Guided tours, organ demonstration and self-guided tours.
- Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 125 Eagle St., Albany: 1 to 3 p.m. Sun. May 21.
- Israel AME, 381 Hamilton St., Albany: noon-4 p.m. Saturday, May 20.
- St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Albany, 10 N. Main St., Albany: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday, May 20.
- Cathedral of All Saints, 62 S. Swan St., Albany: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 20.
- Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St., Albany 3 to 5 p.m., Sunday, May 21.
- Bethesda Episcopal Church, 26 Washington St., Saratoga Springs: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20, and 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sun., May 21.
- Grace Church, Waterford, 34 Third St., Waterford: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20, and noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21.
- Burnt Hills Baptist Church, 193 Kingsley Road, Burnt Hills: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 21.