Oak Hill & Vicinity: Preston Hollow Methodist Church, then and now


By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

A postcard of the Methodist church building in Preston Hollow. Contributed photo

I imagine a number of you have driven through Preston Hollow on Route 145 and wondered about the Methodist church building next to the cemetery. I am not referring to the Baptist church that is still in fine repair and active on the other side of the cemetery.

The Methodist church has not been used as a church for some time. Windows have been broken and the interior vandalized, but it was once a lovely church. 

For a number of years, it has been for sale through the Albany County Land Bank, a non-profit organization established in 2014 to facilitate the process of acquiring, improving and redistributing tax-foreclosed, vacant or abandoned properties.

The Land Bank works in partnership with local and state government, non-profits, residents and community groups. I called the number listed on their sign on the door and was told that the property was in the process of being sold and they hoped the closing would be soon. I have no idea who the new owner is and what they will do with the building, but I wanted to tell the story of the church.

According to the “History of Albany County Township of Rensselaerville,” the Methodist Society of Preston Hollow was organized about 1840 by a group of devout Methodist men and women who met for worship in what they called “The Meeting House.”  

In August 1845, the trustees of the M.E. Church (as it was then called) purchased the Church of Nathaniel Rider of the Town of Rensselaerville Albany County. The account, which is also published in the book “People Made It Happen Here,” does not say if the church was on the present site or was moved there from somewhere else in the town.

“A meeting of the male members of the Methodist church and society in Preston Hollow [was] held pursuant to public notice on the last Saturday of February 1847 at 6 o’clock p.m. at the store of M Smith [this was Melancton Smith] for the purpose of electing Trustees in said society. The Rev. Charles Gorse was present as moderator & Melancton Smith as clerk. It was resolved by a majority of votes that Melancton Smith, John W. Couchman and Phineas Holmes serve as Trustees for the ensuing year.”

And it was resolved that this meeting be adjourned until the last Saturday in February 1848. In those days only male members were trustees.

Melancton continued to serve as trustee for many years. Other trustees and officers included John W. Couchman, Phineas Holmes, Wm. C Smith, John W.P. Rivenburg, William Haines, William Elsbree, Lewis Craw, Harvey Brown, Danie Deyo, Robert Arnold, William Morison, William Haines, James Conyes, Peter Hess, Valentine Cook, A. E. Hinman, Smith Hess, Elisha Cook, C. T. Haines, Levi Conyes, Alger Clerk, Levi Alger, Edgar Matice, Andrey Tiffney, Elisha Cook — all prominent men in the area.

In February 1867, Melancton Smith was directed as clerk to transfer the records of the M.E. Church in Preston Hollow from files on paper to a book — the book was 8 x 6 1/2 and has handwritten on the fly leaf: “Register of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Preston Hollow Albany Co. NY.” [The information was copied in May 1974 by Clarissa E. Ketcham of Greenville, who wrote that the present owner of the book is Clifton Hess of Preston Hollow. I do not know who might have the book today].

Mrs. Potter A. Scott wrote a historical sketch of the church for its 100th anniversary on Aug. 8, 1945. The sketch is also found in “People Made It Happen Here” and probably elsewhere. Mrs. Scott tells us that in 1884 the church was remodeled. The gallery was removed and an arch was erected in back of the pulpit. A new desk and altar rail, both hand carved, were made by John Burhans, one of the carpenters, and presented by Thomas Scott. These were still in use in 1945.

In 1896 or 1897, the church was again repaired by the pastor, the Rev. George Tompson, and helpers. A belfry with a 606-pound bronze bell was added. The interior was redecorated, the present [1945] windows, seats, chairs for pulpit and chairs for session room were placed. Dedication services were held, with an unusually large congregation present.

In 1915 or 1916, the Rev. Metzger was “on the Charge.” Mrs. Scotts tells us: “A new Organ was installed which was quite an event. Electric lights have been added to the beauty and convenience of the Church. Heatrolia has been installed to the comfort of the Congregation.”

David Avitable in his recent story on the church in the Mountain Eagle explains that a Heatrolia is a coal-burning, warm-air stove.

In 1941, a “kitchen was added with the necessary equipment. Sideboard, sink, shelves, tables making it convenient for those who worked on committees for suppers etc.  July 1945 after a board meeting, as we were having lunch, the floor gave in due to water under the floor, Mrs. Scott remarks. Concrete is being put in. In 1945 we are again redecorating our church both interior and exterior.”

“The 8th day of August 1945 we are observing our 100th Anniversary. Our Pastor Rev. Starr has charge of the Program. Anniversary Sermon is by Rev. Conrad Metzger, a former pastor. Rev. Bro Seamon only visiting pastor. Offering of $105.03 was given,” she concludes.

As part of the Methodist Church, Preston Hollow had relationships with other congregations.  Ministers frequently stayed only two years at one church and then were moved to another church. Some ministers served more than one church.

The Preston Hollow Church and the Oak Hill United Methodist Church are an example as the registry book illustrates: 

“We have enjoyed the different Pastors and Dist. Spt. as they have come among us. Some of the Pastors are Earl, Gaylord, Gorse, Ackerley, Leadbeater, Burkins, Gritman, Keagan, Spencer, Ferris, Bullen, Crawford [who also served at Oak Hill 1905-1907], Metzger [who served at Oak Hill 1914-1916], Zinck [who served in Oak Hill 1919-1921], Price, Lockett [who served at Oak Hill 1926-1928], Weber, McGrain, Garrett [who was at Oak Hill in 1928 when their church was remodeled], Seaman, Magee [served at Oak Hill 1938-1944. It appears that Arthur Magee might have been serving both churches when he died.]”

Mrs. Scott wrote: “We were very much grieved at the passing of Rev. Magee March 26, a man of sterling qualities. He had been with us nearly seven years. [Arthur Magee was at the Oak Hill Church from 1938 to 1944] Rev. Harder of Greenville very kindly finished Bro. Magee’s years which we appreciated very much. District Superintendent Rev. Bro. Carrol has supplied our church this year with a STARR of great magnitude and we are delighted with his choice.”  [She is referring to the Rev. Starr, who was also the pastor at Oak Hill and many others churches over the years.]

There is also an account of a special meeting Oct. 3, 1888, to talk of purchasing the dwelling now occupied as a parsonage in Oak Hill and of annexing it to the church property, Oak Hill to pay 2/3 and Preston Hollow 1/3. The meeting was not fully represented and a motion was made to adjourn for one week. I do not believe the two churches entered into that agreement, but they had made an Inventory of Parsonage Furniture in March 12, 1887.

Bought by H.W. Ackerley, pastor: “March 30, 1887: Report of Parsonage Furniture read and copied into the minutes submitted by C. Original reported pasted inside of back cover. Carpets for parlors sitting room 46.50; Oil cloths 7.84; matting for two bedrooms 2.70; stair carpet rods and border 3.75; shades and fixtures 5.20; 1 kettle .90; 1 lounge 9.00; 2 stands 6.00; graining and painting 5.00; chair rocker 2.25: $89.14. Amount paid for the above: Oak Hill paid $60; Preston Hollow paid $12; Medusa paid $8.; boy orator receipts $8: Total $88.00.” [So there were three churches involved.] Further listed were “One hanging lamp; one stand lamp; three hooks. 4.30.”

Also included was an Inventory of “Old Furniture: [which I assume was in the parsonage] 20 chairs, 2 rockers cane bottoms; 4 bed steads; 2 stands; 1 desk old; 1 secretary; 1 extension table; 1 square table; 1 cook stove; 2 base burners; 2 carpets upstairs ingrain; 1 rag carpet on kitchen; 1 spider; 1 old cook stove; 1 old base burner.”

While these lists are not always clear, I find it fascinating to know what was in the houses and what the items cost.

Some further information that I found of interest included mention of a committee to investigate incorporation of the church. Jan. 16, 1915: Jennie Cook, organist, Stephen Brazee, Charles Alger and W. H. Thorne, committee to estimate building a church hall over the shed. Miss Florence Kline 1920 organist for 1 year. Mrs. Florence Hale, organist one year. 1924 Mrs. McBain, assistant organist. 1928 Adalbert Whitbeck elected trustee for three years. Feb. 1929, motion made to have electric lights in the church — committee for lights are three trustees with Lucina Dingman and Mr. G. H. Wood.

There was a special meeting Oct. 23, 1940, when the trustees were authorized to sell and transfer the property known as the Cook Farm and described in a deed as conveyed to the church by John O. Elliston and others. Deed recorded in Albany County Clerk’s Office, 1934, to Rudolph Bittner for the sum of $900. 

The last recorded meeting in the ledger stated: “A special business meeting of the church was held on Nov. 12, 1950. Rev. Garrett brought before the meeting the matter of the future of the church in regards to its finances and meetings. Rev. Garrett pointed out a list of obligations that should be met by the Church Board. Proctor Scott made a motion and was seconded by Olin Haskin that the Church keep going as long as we can meet our financial obligations. Clifton Hess, Recording Secretary.”

On Feb. 1, 1953, the first wedding ever in the church was that of Robert Dingman and Rosemary Provan at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Attendants were Mr. and Mrs. David Elsbree.

On April 25, 1957, aw church window was broken by a truck.

In 1963, the church was sold to William McMahan who held services for a while.

The church has been sold several times since. It was an antique store for a bit. Hopefully, the new owner will give it a new life.

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