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Scotia church celebrates 200 years

Scotia church celebrates 200 years

First Reformed grounded in connection to community
Scotia church celebrates 200 years
The First Reformed Church of Scotia was formed in 1818 and this building, overlooking Collins Lake, was built in 1952.
Photographer: marc schultz

At the First Reformed Church of Scotia, people appreciate the value of history, tradition, music and family.

"I would say there is a strong commitment to family here at our church," said the Rev. Megan Hodgin, who has been the pastor at Scotia for a little more than a year now. "And I don't just mean the nuclear family. I mean family in the sense of community, the sense of coming together to care for one another."

This morning at 9:30 a.m., Scotia's First Reformed will celebrate its 200th anniversary. Rev. Hodgin and associate pastor Jason White will lead the service, which will include comments from outgoing Scotia Mayor Kris Kastberg and Reformed Church in America General Secretary Eddy Aleman. The church choir will perform a new song commissioned just for the occasion, "Now Thank We All Our God," composed by SUNY Schenectady County Community College professor Brett Wery.

While the congregation was formed in 1818, the current church building was opened in 1952 after a fire near the same location destroyed what had been the main sanctuary. Hodgin said she will address the long history of the First Reformed and its rebirth after the devastating fire of 1943.

"We will consider the stones of the church and talk about the story they tell, and I will also talk about how we are also stones that have helped build the kingdom of God in this part of the world," said Hodgin. "Our long history has included a lot of caring for this community. We care for our neighbors in this village and the surrounding area, and through our mission work we help care for people around the world."

While the history of the church tells us that the congregation was incorporated on Nov. 21, 1818, it was Gerald Beekman's prayer group that really got things going a few years earlier. A member of one of Scotia's most prominent families -- he was the son-in-law of John Sanders -- Beekman moved back to the area in 1812 from New York City to avoid any British attacks during the War of 1812. A deeply religious man, Beekman felt the need for a church in the small village, and along with men named DeGraff, Toll, Cramer, Sanders and others, started planning for its construction. 

The cornerstone of that first church -- about 100 yards away from the current building -- was laid on July 4, 1817. The structure was dedicated and opened to the public on July 14, 1822. The building was remodeled in 1882, then incorporated into another new structure in 1903-1904. That building then burned to the ground in 1943.

"On Tuesday, Dec. 28, 1943, at 2:45 a.m., the fire alarm summoned our people and residents of the village to witness the destruction of our beloved church by fire," said Scotia Reformed sexton Lee Poremba, reading from the consistory minutes.

"The really sad thing," added Poremba, "was that they had just finished paying off the church. They were debt free, and then the church was totally destroyed by the fire."

Not everything that belonged to the church was ruined. A large red journal that dates to 1717 and a church Bible donated by the Sanders family in 1848 were in safe hands across the Mohawk River.

"These two items just happened to be on loan to the [Schenectady County] historical society," said Poremba, "Everything else they had burned to the ground, but these two historic books were saved. The red book has notes about the church and much of the first part of it is written in Dutch."

Following the fire, the congregation purchased land from a neighbor, Helen L. Mynderse, that was a bit closer to the bluffs overlooking Collins Lake. On that property was the former home of Dr. and Mrs. Herman Mynderse, called Lake Hill House, and it was there the congregation held its meetings for nearly 10 years following a brief stay at the old Scotia High School immediately after the fire. The current church building, just a few yards north of the Lake Hill House, was dedicated April 27, 1952. The Lake Hill House, falling into disrepair, was demolished, and the current office space and Brink Hall replaced it in 1968.

That same year, Don Keefer produced a booklet commemorating the 150th anniversary of the First Reformed Church of Scotia, and the former Schenectady County historian started by taking his readers all the way back to 1658. That was when Alexander Lindsay Glen became the first white man to settle on land north of the Mohawk, and while he was a Scot, many of his descendants were instrumental in the formation of the Dutch church on both sides of the river.

Beverly Clark, currently the village of Scotia historian, says there was a lot going on in the community in 1818 when some members of the Schenectady First Reformed decided to start their own congregation on the north side of the Mohawk River. What is now the village of Scotia was actually two communities -- Scotia and Reeseville -- and what is now the town of Glenville wouldn't be formed until 1820. Originally called the North Branch of the Reformed Church of Schenectady, the congregation changed its name in 1826 to the Second Reformed Church of Glenville (West Glenville already had its own church). It was 1908 before the name was again changed, this time to the Second Reformed Church of Scotia.

"The Burr Bridge was about 10 years old and the dike had been constructed soon after, raising up the road west from the bridge a bit, to help alleviate flooding from the river," said Clark. "The Western Turnpike had been improved in the early 1800s to accommodate the increased traffic, and Scotia and Glenville wouldn't be separated from Schenectady until two years later."

The broom corn business was just beginning to take off, said Clark, but Scotia wouldn't officially become a village until 1904.

"Scotia and Reeseville were hamlets, and Scotia was basically centered around the Sanders farm and Ballston Avenue, and Reeseville around the Mohawk Avenue and Sacandaga Road intersection," said Clark. "The Reformed church was the first and the Baptist church was built in the 1840s. The area between the two hamlets started to get filled in and Scotia was eventually incorporated in 1904."

As the village of Scotia grew, so did the Reformed Church. Sunny Baldwin, chair of the anniversary committee, joined along with her husband in 1980.

"When we first bought our house in Scotia, somebody told us to try the First Reformed Chuch," remembered Baldwin. "It's a church that has also focused on its youth ministry and that was important to us because we were raising a family. I had also met my husband in a college choir at Hartwick and we still sing together here in our choir. The music component was also very important for us."

Louise Gregory and her husband, Harrison, were married at the church on June 1, 1947. It was four years earlier that she first began attending services there, and she loves how the church's history and traditions have remained important to its members. There is one tradition, however -- the Easter sunrise service -- that is often a bit disappointing, said Gregory -- at least if you're there just for the view.

"We have that beautiful location up above Collins Lake and every year it seems like there are too many clouds," said Gregory. "Either that or it's just so cold or wintry. It just isn't that memorable."

There was one Sunday morning in April quite a while ago, however, that Gregory says was well worth the early arrival.

"There was one Easter service where we watched the sun come up over the lake and it was just incredibly beautiful," she said. "A lot of people have grown up at this church going to that Easter sunrise service. It really is a wonderful tradition."



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