When Rev. Gabriel Morrow rings the bell at the Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church on Lake Hill Road in the town of Ballston, he does it the old fashioned way.
"We still have a rope and we actually ring the bell with the rope," said Morrow, who took over at BH Calvary just a couple of months ago. "I do it myself, and I love to do it. We actually have two ropes, but one leads to the clapper and that doesn't work. Just having the one rope makes it harder, but I still love doing it. To me the bells are meant to convey something more than just this building. It's about the community here."
The building that houses BH Calvary was built back in 1848 and 1849 as soon as the congregation was formed. The church learned earlier this month that it's application to have the structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places was approved, and a ceremony marking the occasion will be held this Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
The Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church at 85 Lake Hill Road is just the second building in the town of Ballston to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Marc Schultz)
"I'm relatively new here, and it was a couple of years ago that Deanie McCarthy and some other people started this whole process," said Morrow. "It's quite an honor to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I know that 1849 may not seem that old to some, but we are the first public building in the town of Ballston to earn that distinction."
The first one was a private home built in 1889 that belonged to Ballston Spa attorney James Verbeck. Now an office building, the structure was placed on the National Register in 1983.
"In order to get on the National Register, you have to have had a significant person connected with the place or something significant had to happen there, or you can get on by being an example of significant architecture, or, as in this case, you have significant involvement with the community," explained town of Ballston Historian Rick Reynolds. "Calvary sits right on Lake Hill Road between Ballston Lake and Burnt Hills. I think of it as the tie the bounds them together."
A fire in 1966 badly damaged much of the interior of the Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church, but the congregation took the opportunity to enlarge the area while also retaining its original charm. (Marc Schultz)
Calvary Episcopal sits across from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Senior High School, but back in the middle of the 19th century it was mostly farmland. Just a quarter of a mile to the west of the church is where Kingsley Road and Lake Hill Road meet, forming what was originally the main intersection of Burnt Hills. A half mile to the east of the church is the hamlet of Ballston Lake.
"There was no Route 50 back in the 1850s," said Reynolds, referring to the major highway that runs north-south through Burnt Hills these days. "The stage route going through Burnt Hills was at Kingsley and Lake Hill, and down in Ballston Lake you had the railroad. Those were the two major transportation routes through this area."
According to a church history put together by Marjorie Hobday back in 1999, the Calvary Episcopal Church was incorporated on May 7, 1849 and held its first service on Christmas Day, 1849. Paper mills on the Alplaus Creek attracted immigrants to the area from England and subsequently a church for the transplanted Anglicans was necessary. Hobday writes that the first pastor of the congregation was the Rev. Edward Davis, who had resigned as rector at St. Paul's in Charlton, about five miles to the west.
A photo from the rear of Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church, now 168 years old, shows the old cemetery, which includes the gravestone of a Civil War soldier. (Marc Schultz)
According to Hobday's book, "Voices of Calvary: A History of Calvary Episcopal Church," the building cost $2,500. A name for the architect has never been found.
"Most of the actual sanctuary is the original one, and of course there have been some repairs and additions over the years," said Morrow, who moved to the Capital Region from Montana. "We have our original Meneely Bell from Troy and we do have an active cemetery although we have to limit our burials."
Morrow said Saturday's ceremony will attract a handful of politicians and local dignitaries, and he hopes to see other non-church members at the event.
"Burnt Hills isn't an official place, so I feel like our church and the school are the real epicenters of the community," he said. "So it's an opportunity for our community, right here on Lake Hill Road between Burnt Hills and Ballston Lake, to come together."