Middle Island Presbyterian Church


Presbyterian Church, north of Middle Country Road, east of Church Lane. Photo from the Queensborough Public Library

1766 - 1970 by Thomas R. Bayles

The first settlement in Brookhaven Town was made at Setauket in 1655, and a church was built there in 1671 which for a great many years was the only church in the town. About 1740 a church was built at South Haven, and in 1766 the first church in Middle Island was erected under the leadership of Rev. David Pose, pastor of the South Haven church. This was located on a piece of ground four rods by five rods at the corner of Church Lane and the Middle Country Road, which was purchased from Selah Brown for sixteen shillings.

That first "meeting house" was a plain box like structure about 26 feet square. Logs from the nearby forests were hauled to the sawmill at Yaphank to be sawed into boards and timbers, and labor was furnished by the men of the church. No heating facilities were provided, and the women brought "foot stoves" to warm their feet.

The church was organized in the fall of 1767 by the Presbytery of Long Island as the "First Presbyterian Church of Middletown, as this section was known in those days. It was not until about 1829 that the name of Middle Island was adopted.

Rev. David Rose, who was pastor of this church and the one at South Haven was born at Branford Conn., on December 11, 1736. He prepared himself to be a doctor and graduated from Yale in 1760. He decided to turn to the ministry, and studied theology under Dr. Samuel Buell, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Easthampton.

The parish of the South Haven church covered an immense territory in those days, from Moriches to Blue Point, and with the addition of the parish here, gave him a large field to cover which he covered on horseback. He combined the three most prized functions of that day, preacher, doctor and teacher, and must have been an interesting figure as he covered his parishes on horseback, his saddlebags filled with books, drugs and a Bible. He lived in South Haven where he conducted a farm also, and the earmark of his cattle is recorded in the town records.

Remarkable was the influence of these two churches in the surrounding communities, and the South Haven church sent into the political world of that colonial day, distinguished men who have been recognized and remembered as leaders in the early life of our nation. Among these were Gen. William Floyd, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull, who became one of the first notable martyrs to the American cause; Col. Josiah Smith, who led a regiment in the Battle of Long Island; and Judge William Smith, Lord of the Manor of St. George.

"Priest Rose," as he was affectionately called by the members of his congregations, served in the army under Col. Josiah Smith, during the Revolution, and his family was sent to Connecticut for protection. The Setauket church was made into a barracks for the British soldiers, and the South Haven church was used as a horse stable by them, but there seems to be no record of what happened to tie Middle Island church during those long, dark years when Long Island was in the hands of the British soldiers. After the war "Priest Rose" returned and commenced the difficult task of restoring the two churches of his parish, which had been without a pastor, and with no services held during the war years. He continued as pastor until his death on January.1, 1799, and was buried in the churchyard at South Haven The Session record states that he was held in great esteem by the members of his congregations.

Any record of the first thirty-four years of the history of our church has been forever lost, and the first record appears under the date of June 1, 1800, which reads: "About this time Apollas Wetmore was appointed clerk to keep a record for the church." This further states that: "In the spring and summer of 1800, God was pleased in a wonderful manner, to pour out his spirit upon the people of this place. Prayer meetings were kept up from two to five nights a week." Nineteen members were on the church rolls in the early part of the year 1800, and twenty-two more were received in June of that year.

On September 15, 1800, Rev. Robert H. Chapman was called to become pastor of the united churches, but he only stayed until the following May. His compensation was 70 pounds sterling, and half his firewood from each congregation. On October 20, 1801, Rev. Herman Daggett was installed as pastor of the united churches and remained until 1807. He was a literary man of great ability, and wrote and had published the "American Reader" in 1841, which was selected for the use of schools. The writer has a copy of this book.

The diary of Miss Cynthia Hutchinson in 1809 contains the following item: "The singing school on Sunday afternoons at the meeting house was so crowded that those who came late could hardly find seats."

On the 28th of May 1810, Rev. Ezra King came as stated supply, preaching here and at South Haven on alternate Sundays. He was installed as pastor of the united congregations in May 1814. (He was the great grandfather of the writer) "Priest King," is he was called, was born in East Marion on July 24, 1784, and his ancestors came over from England in 1654. He received his education in Southampton and completed his study of theology under Rev. Lyman Beecher, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at East Hampton. It was an active life that "Priest King" led during his ministry here. The South Haven parish was a large one, in addition to the Middle Island parish, and he covered it all on horseback most of the time. He played an active part in civic life, and for many years served as inspector of the town schools, and also taught pupils in his home on the corner, west of the church, before the public schools were opened about 1813.

The autumn of 1833 was a time of sorrow for Pastor King, as he was called to part first with his aged mother on October 15th, and on December 21st with his wife Eliza, then in the 41st year of her age, and he was left with the care of six young children, the youngest only a year old.

During the spring of 1836 it was decided to build a new church on the same lot, but about eight feet in the rear of the old one. A committee was appointed by the parish, consisting of Mordecai Homan, Lester H. Davis, and William Sidney Smith, who made a contract with Isaac Hudson in June to build a new church for the sum of $1600.

Under date of April 30, 1837, we find the following record with regard to leaving the old "meeting house": "This day we take our farewell of the old Meeting House, a house venerable for age and its character as the House of God. We perform this last service under the happy conviction that the bread of life has been here broken to many souls who have truly hungered for the Word of God. May much seed that has here been sown, yet spring up and be abundantly realized in a glorious harvest that shall wave in immortal beauty over the dust and remains of this demolished temple". The first service was held here on May 14, 1837, thirtysix members were received into the church during that year.

The following resolution was recorded in 1836: "Whereas the money which has been subscribed to build the Church was subscribed upon the condition that the seats in said house should be free for everyone; therefore, resolved, that the seats shall ever remain free, otherwise the money shall be returned to the subscribers."

When Rev. King came here, he bought the home of Rev. Herman Daggett and the farm extending up Church Lane on both sides of the road to what is now called Pine Lake.

In April 1839, Mr. King asked Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relations between the united churches and himself, which was granted, and the union which had existed between this church and the South Haven church for 73 years was dissolved. The combined membership of the two churches at this time was 184. "Priest King" remained as stated supply of our church until 1843, when failing health prevented him from serving any longer. He afterward moved to Miller Place, where he lived until his death in 1867, and as was his wish, was buried in the cemetery opposite the church here which he had served so long and faithfully.

The great esteem with which he was held by the members of his two congregations is shown by the monument which they erected, through the efforts of William Sidney Smith, which carries the following inscription:

"Grateful friends have erected this monument in memory of their beloved pastor, who for thirty-four years devoted the vigor of his life to the united parishes of Middletown and South Haven. By his ardent piety, eloquent preaching arid fervent prayers, his warm affection, true friendship and courteous dignity, he has left an enduring example to both church and the world."

After the resignation of Rev. King, a call was given to Rev. James S. Evans, and he served the Middle Island Church as pastor until 1850, when he accepted a call to the Setauket church. His salary was $350 annually, with a house, garden and firewood.

The manse and four acres of land were purchased in 1848 from Strafford Hallock.

A call was given to Rev. Winthrop Bailey in the spring of l850, and he was installed as pastor in June and served for two years. The first Sunday School was organized on June 16, 1850, under his leadership. In 1851 funds were raised by subscription and by the Ladies Sewing Society, which had been organized in 1846, and a chapel was built in the southern part of the parish (Yaphank), which was to be governed by the Middle Island Session but with separate trustees. The chapel was dedicated on Christmas day, 1851, and services were held there every second Sunday afternoon.

The Presbyterian Church of Yaphank was organized by action of Presbytery in October 1871. It was composed of 60 members from this church, which left about 70 members on the rolls of the Middle Island Church. The session record for 1851 states that ''two regular weekly prayer meetings were held on week day evenings in different parts of the parish, and a female prayer meeting weekly; also) during the winter season a weekly lecture. A bible class was maintained during most of the year; also Sabbath schools during the open season in five of the school districts of the parish; also a monthly concert, alternating among the five school districts, most of the year.''

Rev. Francis Drake was installed as pastor in 1853 and served the church until he resigned in January 1863. During his ministry, 59 members were added to the rolls, and 63 deaths occurred.
Rev. Charles Sturges began his service here as stated supply in May 1863, and served until he resigned in June 1872. This was during the Civil War period and only eight members were received during those years.

An item of interest during this period is a letter dated August 5,1863, to Mrs. William Sidney Smith, from the Women's Relief Association of Brooklyn, a branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission which we understand was the forerunner of the American Red Cross. This letter thanked the ladies of Middle Island and Yaphank for supplies sent, and we quote a part: "The fruit, jellies, etc., will he particularly acceptable now that the severe heat of the weather must so greatly augment the suffering of our wounded soldiers, who truly claim all the aid and sympathy we can give them, while paying the penalty of their bravery in our behalf."

Among those who served their country in this conflict from this church appear only the names of Albert and Edward Bayles, of the 139th New York Regiment. These two young men were both killed in the terrible fighting at Cold Harbor, Va., on June 2, 1864. They were uncles of Thomas Bayles and were both members of this church.

The following was written by my father, Richard M. Bayles: "I recall the singing class of 1864 that met in the Coram Church and part of the time in the Middle Island Church. The instructor was a Mr. Crane, who lived in the vicinity of Setauket, about ten miles away. He used to walk out at night, attend the class exercises, and walk back home at ten o'clock through the lonely woods. His pay was $2.00 a lesson and it was a rough condition of the weather when he didn't come out. We had a large class of fifty or more."

A public burying ground was opened opposite the church about the time the first church was built in 1766, and in 1867 the Union Cemetery Association was incorporated with the addition of five acres of ground, and opened to the public. This cemetery has no connection with the church organization, and is open to everyone, regardless of race, creed or color.

The steeple was added to the church in 1863, and the bell was given as a memorial offering by the congregation in 1870.

Rev. John Woodruff was installed as pastor on December 10, 1872, and the following is in his language: "During the Week of Prayer in the winter of 1874 it was evident that the Lord was moving the hearts of the people. Meetings were continued for weeks and months in different parts of the parish, and all confessed that God was in this place, and rejoiced over many souls born into the Kingdom of God."

Rev. Woodruff delivered a historical address in two parts, on July 2nd and 9th in accordance with instructions from General Assembly.

Rev. Frederick E. Allen was installed as pastor of this church in May 1879. He married Miss Ada Swezey in 1889, who was a descendant of one of the first settlers here in Swezeytown. On January 16, 1887, the Presbyterian Church at Selden was reopened, which was organized there in 1868. Mr. Allen preached there on alternate Sunday afternoons. During the years from 1871 to 1894, there were 75 members added to the church rolls.

Rev. Allen resigned his pastorate in the autumn of 1892, and after leaving here was pastor of the Congregational Church in Griswold, Conn., for several years. From 1906 to 1926 he was pastor of the South Haven Presbyterian Church. He died in 1930 and was buried in the cemetery opposite the church here.

For several years after his death, Mrs. Allen worked hard in the field at Selden, and was instrumental in organizing the Community church there, which at first was supplied by the minister from the Setauket Presbyterian Church. The original church had been sold and made into a dwelling.

Rev. James Bassett was engaged as stated supply in May 1894, and served the church until September 1900. The church was very active under his leadership, with Sunday School at 9:30 Sunday mornings, preaching at 10:30, and preaching in the Ridge Schoolhouse in the afternoon. The Christian Endeavor Society met at the church at 6:30 p.m., with preaching again at 7:30p.m. Prayer meetings were held twice a week in different parts of the parish; also a weekly lecture, and a monthly concert most of the time.

The individual communion service was adopted on September 10, 1910 and has been in use since that time.

The only members from this church serving in World War I were Charles J. R. Davis in the Navy, submarine chaser service, and Homer W. Davis, Ordnance Department of the Army.

Rev. Jacob Norris was installed as pastor on September 1, 1903, and served as pastor until his resignation in 1916, after which he remained as stated supply until 1921. It was the privilege of the writer to have been in the Sunday School class of boys, conducted by Mr. Norris, and his memory will always be cherished with the greatest affection and respect. He was a scholarly man of keen intellect, with a great sense of humor, and served our church faithfully for nearly eighteen years.

During World War I, evening preaching services were discontinued and the Christian Endeavor Society disbanded, and from that time to the present only one preaching service on Sunday morning and the Sunday School has been held.

Rev. Eugene Gray was engaged as stated supply in 1922 and was installed as pastor in May 1924. In addition to his services here, he also preached at Yaphank on Sunday afternoons. Mr. Gray made many friends while here, and was very active and always ready to give help anywhere in the community when needed. Mrs. Gray worked hard in the Sunday School and all the branches of the church and was beloved by all who knew her. Their daughter Beryl (Mrs. William C. Koschara) was very active and was organist and director of the choir for many years.

Mr. Gray resigned as pastor in the summer of 1925, and with Mrs. Gray moved to Litchfield, Conn., where Mrs. Gray was taken sick and passed away that same autumn. Mr. Gray in later years lived at the home of his daughter in Coram and died in 1945 at the age of 85. He was laid to rest beside his wife in the cemetery opposite the church they had both served so well.

Rev. J.R. Vaughn was engaged as stated supply in the spring of 1926, and continued with us for about a year. He was active and formed a young men's club, which was very popular. In later years he served the Shinnecock church for several years.

Rev. William Stewart was engaged as stated supply in May 1929 and served our church until his death on March 6, 1950. An arrangement was made by the Presbytery in 1933 for Mr. Stewart to act as stated supply to the Manorville church in addition to his duties here, and in 1937 he also commenced to preach on Sunday afternoons at the Yaphank church. Preaching services were held at Manorville at 9:00 a.m., and Middle Island at 11:00 a.m. and Yaphank at 2:00 p.m.

During the difficult years of the depression and the years of World War II, Mr. Stewart served faithfully the three churches of his Stewart, and was active in promoting the welfare of the church. Mrs. Stewart was very active in the work of the church, and was organist and choir director all the years they were here. She also trained several teenage junior choirs of boys and girls.

The following members of this church served in the armed forces during World War II. All returned safely to their homes and only one was injured: Donald Bayles, who was wounded on the Island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, in July 1945.

LeRoy Albin, Alfred R. Faron, Donald M. Bayles, Norman W. Stewart, Edmour J. Gagnon, Everett H. Pfeiffer, John Q. R. Davis and Joseph Brenner served in the Army, and James D. Eagle and Raymond P. Still in the Navy; Judson P. Davis in the Coast Guard and Miss Frances E. Stewart in the Spars.

An addition was made to the rear of the church in 1935 containing a social room and kitchen downstairs and a room upstairs, at a cost of $2200, or $600 more than it cost to build the church in 1837. A new Hammond organ was purchased in December 1945, which is still in service in the church at Longwood.

A call was given to Rev. Robert Sargent in November 1950, and he, with his wife and two small children moved into the manse on December 28th of that year. Mr. Sargent was very active in carrying on the work of the churches of his parish, Middle Island and Yaphank, with the addition of Manorville. Preaching services were held at Manorville 8:30 a.m., Yaphank at 9:45 a.m., and Middle Island at 11.00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. The Sunday Schools of the three churches were very active.

A monthly church paper called the "Visitor" was started by Mr. Sargent which grew to include the seven churches of the Central Suffolk Protestant Parish, a cooperative movement organized in the autumn of 1953, which was very successful for a few years. Mr. Sargent resigned as pastor in July 1954, and was succeeded by Rev. Waiter C. Voll from February 1955 to November of that year.

Mr. A. James Barton of the Stony Brook School for Boys conducted services here and in Yaphank until Rev. Car Silver was installed as pastor in July 1956 and he resigned in September 1958. About this time the Yaphank church decided to have a separate minister of their own, so since that time the Middle Island church has been a separate parish with preaching service and Sunday School on Sunday mornings.

In November 1958, Mr. Edwin C. Townsend came as stated supply and was ordained and installed as pastor in June 1959, and has been actively carrying on the work of the church since that time. In 1959 the present manse on Church Lane was purchased and within a short time the old manse and property of four acres was sold. This had been in use over 100 years since 1848. Mrs. Beryl Koschara was organist for about 15 years until they sold their farm and moved to Florida in 1967, and since that time Mrs. Townsend has been the organist of the church.

The record states that the Presbyterian Church of Middletown was incorporated on October 1, 1805, and again reincorporated in 1837 as the "Presbyterian Society of Middletown." In the summer of 1953, by vote of the congregation, it was again reincorporated as the "Middle Island Presbyterian Church."

The Women's Home and Foreign Missionary Society was organized at the home of Mrs. Benjamin T. Hutchinson on May 22, 1884.

The Ladies Sewing Society was organized at the manse in January 1846 with 82 members. Mrs. William Sidney Smith of Longwood was elected president and secretary, and held these positions for 46 years until her death at age of 87 years. This afterward became the Ladies Aid Society.

The new Christian Education building was built by a vote of the congregation, in 1966, on a six-acre tract of land at Longwood, across the road from the Longwood High School. This tract was donated by Elbert C. Smith and the first worship service was hold in the new building on September 11, 1966, and a service of dedication was held on September 18th. The 200th anniversary of the church was celebrated in that year. The church built in 1837 has served tie community for 130 years, and at this writing no disposition has been made of the building, which remains vacant.

In 1968 the Schulmerich Carillon was installed in the church at Longwood, as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. William C. Kischara.

As we bring this history of the Middle Island church to a close, and think of those who have gone before us, let us look back to that long ago day in 1766 when a resolute group of early settlers built that first "meeting house." Only a few years before, they had carved their first homesteads from what was then a wilderness, inhabited only by the Indians. For over two hundred years this church has served the community through the efforts of those faithful men and women, who through the years live have worked for it because of what the church has meant to them. May it so continue in the years to come.


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