Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

An Account of the Dedication of the Little Red Church at Four Corners on July 9, 1876

I have run across a lovely account of the dedication of the Little Red Church (known as the “Huguenot Memorial Forest Church”) on July 9, 1876.  The church building that was dedicated that day was the predecessor sanctuary to the magnificent stone sanctuary of today’s Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church on the southeast corner of the intersection of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue. 

A Glass Lantern Slide Created by Pelham Town Historian 
William Montgomery Between December 10, 1916 and June 10, 1917.  
It Depicts the "Little Red Church," the Predecessor Building to 
Today's Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church Sanctuary.
The Little Red Church was a "Centenary Church" Opened in 
July 1876 in Part to Commemorate the Centennial of the 
Signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

While some of the “historical” information about the founding of the Manor of Pelham in the account below is erroneous, the account is significant in at least two respects.  It contains one of the few descriptions I have seen of the interior and the layout of the lovely Little Red Church.  Second, it describes the first service held in the newly-dedicated church. 

I have written extensively about the Little Red Church and have included a series of links to such postings at the end of this posting following the article transcribed immediately below. 


The Dedication of a Commemorative Church in Westchester County. 

There was dedicated at Pelham Manor, in Westchester county, yesterday, the only Huguenot memorial church in America.  It is called the Huguenot Memorial Forest Church, stands on ground that belonged to Huguenot refugees nearly two hundred years ago, and is surrounded by a pleasant grove of forest trees.  The edifice is wood, with a picturesque tower in the Norman style of architecture.  Its interior is plain, with neatly-carpeted aisles, oak and pine panelling and pews, with walnut trimmings, and a richly-carved walnut pulpit and communion table.  A small study and vestry are in the rear of the audience room.  The low, pointed windows have panes of beautifully-stained glass, and their effect is heightened by the checkered lights that fall through the surrounding foliage.  There are seats for between 350 and 400 persons, and the total cost of the church was about $8,000.  Its construction was begun about two years ago.  Previously there had been no church on the mainland of Pelham except the Episcopal connected with the priory.  Several years ago land was reserved for a church edifice at Pelham Manor, and the Rev. Dr. Lord of the Brooklyn Lay College originated the idea of erecting on this historic spot a church in memory of the Huguenots, to be under the Presbyterian denomination.  Pelham Manor until within four or five years, has been virtually inaccessible to New Yorkers who wish suburban residences, but recently railroad improvements have opened it to the outer world.  The idea of Dr. Lord was warmly seconded by Dr. Reed, Dr. Storrs, Dr. Bucington, and other clergymen, and the residents of Pelham and the Pelham Manor Association contributed to carry it out.

The church is designed to commemorate the Huguenots, who, in the early days of the province settled among these groves and hills, and named the village of New Rochelle, after their own beloved and devastated city of La Rochelle, in France, from which they were obliged to flee in order to enjoy the religious freedom with which they afterward helped to inspire the institutions of this country; but it is not a distinctive Huguenot church, intended to preserve or perpetuate any particular creed or form of worship.  It’s [sic] doors are open to everybody who desires to worship God after the Christian fashion.

The Huguenots of Westchester county, whose descendants compose about half of the population of New Rochelle and Pelham Manor arrived first in New York from the West Indies and Great Britain, between 1686 and 1689, this city being the second stage in their long flight from persecution.  Some of them seem to have come direct from England to the shore of the sound near New Rochelle, which they founded, and they landed at Bonnefor Point.  That was their Pilgrim’s Rock, and there is a tradition that they habitually went to the place of their first landing every evening, led by a white haired patriarch, and, turning their eyes toward France, sang one of Marot’s hymns, and joined in devotions.  The land on which they settled belonged to an immense tract which Thomas Pell had procured in 1654 from an Indian chief, Ann Hook.  In 1669 this tract, the possession of which Pell had to dispute with the Dutch, descended to John Pell, who held the title of Lord.  In 1680 Jacob Leisler, the unfortunate self-appointed Governor of New York, who was afterward hanged for alleged treason, in order to provide for the Huguenots, whose devoted friend he was, purchased from Lord John Pell 6,000 acres of land, which he gave to the Huguenots, many of whom removed from New York city to settle upon the land, which includes New Rochelle and Pelham Manor.  According to the terms of Leisler’s agreement, the Huguenots for many years, on the festival of St. John the Baptist, presented a fatted calf to Lord Pell in token, according to feudal custom, of acknowledgment of his lordship of the manor.

During many years the Huguenots, numbering about two hundred families, had no church building, and Sunday after Sunday men and women, barefooted, walked all the way to New York and back, to worship in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Pine street.  In 1709 the majority of the Huguenots conformed to the Church of England, and the next year they erected a stone church thirty feet square in the highway at New Rochelle, near the site of the present Trinity Episcopal Church.  There appears to have been a split among the Huguenots in regard to conforming to the Church of England, for another small church was built near the site of the present Presbyterian church at New Rochelle, and a long flat stone in the foundation is said to have formed the doorstep of its Huguenot predecessor, every other vestige of which has disappeared.  The present Presbyterian Society of New Rochelle professes to be the lineal representative of the original French church.

The Rev. Dr. Lord assumed the pastorate of the new church and delivered the opening sermon yesterday.  The services began with music and the singing of ‘Rock of Ages.’  Prayer was offered by the Rev. Mr. Roosevelt, a descendant of the early Huguenots, and then an original hymn by Prof. Twing, was sung to the tune of ‘Old Lang Syne.’  Prof. Twing prayed for Gold’s blessing on the new church.  Dr. Lord’s sermon sketched the history of the Huguenots.  At 5 P.M. other services were held in the new church, consisting of music, and addresses by clergymen from the churches in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and other surrounding villages.  A peculiarly beautiful effect was produced while the congregation was worshipping, in this forest church, by the songs of birds and the chattering of cicadas floating in with the pleasant breeze through the open windows.”

Source:  A Memorial of the Huguenots – The Dedication of a Commemorative Church in Westchester County, The Sun [New York, NY], Jul. 10, 1876, p. 3, col. 4. 

As noted above, periodically I have posted items to the Historic Pelham Blog regarding the fascinating history of the church known today as Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham Manor.  For a few of many such examples, see:

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