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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Brief History of Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham Manor Published in 1963

The Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church is a magnificent cut field stone Gothic architectural complex that stands at Four Corners in Pelham Manor.  The complex is the successor to the famed "Little Red Church" that stood on the site from 1876 until early 1917 when the structure was sold and moved across Pelhamdale Avenue to a site on Boston Post Road just past the CVS Pharmacy that stands near Four Corners today (once called "Red Church Corner").  The cornerstone of the present sanctuary was laid on Children's Day, June 10, 1917.  

The history of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church is integrally intertwined with the history of the Village of Pelham Manor.  Accordingly, today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a brief history of the church that was published in 1963.  The text is followed by a citation to its source, as well as a list of (and links to) previous postings regarding the history of the Church.

Post Card View of "Huguenot Memorial Church Pelham Manor, N.Y."
Postmarked August 10, 1951.  

"Westchester Today!

Huguenot Memorial Church:  Beauty in Pelham

Visitors and passersby admire the beauty of 'The Huguenot Memorial Church In The Town Of Pelham,' as the edifice at the corner of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue in Pelham Manor is officially known.

The cut field stone and the Gothic architecture seem to symbolize the eternal values for which the church stands.  The spreading wings of the church house and the interestingly broken roof lines suggest the building was always there and just grew out of the ground.

This is an architectural illusion.  For many years the church which today numbers 1,650 members grew slowly.  Today the staff consists of a pastor, Rev. Dr. William C. Schram, 2 assistants, a full time secretary, two part-time secretaries, a full-time assistant treasurer, an organist and director of music, three full-time sextons and a part-time assistant to the pastor in Christian Education.  

There are four buildings, the Church or Sanctuary, the Church House or education and cultural center containing classrooms, a kitchen, library and nursery, and two manses.  

The Church's start was humble.  In 1689, Huguenot refugees assembled in New York and sought land on which to settle.  On their behalf Jacob Leisler, a businessman, bought 6,000 acres of Sir John Pell's land for 1,675 pounds sterling silver and one fat calf to be delivered each year.  The purchase price was the equivalent of about $1.40 an acre.  The Huguenots named this tract New Rochelle in memory of La Rochelle, France.

Lord Pell also gave acreage for a French church, which eventually became the First Presbyterian Church of New Rochelle.  

For nearly 200 years New Rochelle remained a small, quiet village, and what is now the Town of Pelham was still virgin forest, except for the tiny settlement of Pelhamville (North Pelham) and a few farms in the southerly portion (Pelham Manor) where Christ Church was built in 1843.

In 1873 a group including Silas H. Witherbee, formed the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association.  It planned to develop the Roosevelt Farm and adjacent properties as a residential suburb of New York City.  

At the center of the community it decided to erect a church.  The name was fixed as a commemoration of the Huguenot settlement.

On Oct. 30, 1874, the Association drew up Eight Articles relating to 'the character of this church enterprise, its estimated cost, and the services of the originator of the Huguenot Memorial Forest Church.  Rev. C. E. Lord, D.D.'

Although the articles stipulate that the new church should be Presbyterian, its charter members came from other denominations.  The present membership is drawn from more than a score of denominations.  

The new church seems to have been called 'The Centenary and Huguenot Memorial Forest First Presbyterian Church in the Town of Pelham, New York.'

The first service was held Sunday, July 9, 1876, the Sunday following the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Devotional exercises were led by the Rev. Mr. Roosevelt of Pelham Manor and the Rev. Prof. E. P. Thwing of Brooklyn.  Dr. Lord made an address on 'The Religious History of the Huguenots of the United States and Reasons for the erection of the Huguenot Memorial Church.'  

The following Sunday, July 16, the first session of the Sunday school was held, with Dr. Lord as superintendent.

On October 3, 1876, the Presbytery of Westchester approved a petition for the organization of the new church in accordance with Presbyterian usage.

Joseph Johnson was elected ruling elder, and his son, Joseph H. Johnson, deacon.  The later [sic] died in 1924 at the age of 82.  

The official minutes say the church was incorporated Sept. 29, 1877, R. M. Mitchill, E. E. Hitchcock and R. C. Black were the first trustees.

Dr. Lord remained with the church for about a year.  In 1877 the Rev. Henry Randall Waite was installed as the first regular pastor, and served until 1881, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Daniel N. Freeland.  

The Rev. Harris Ely Adriance was pastor from 1890 to 1895; the Rev. Joseph Haswell Robinson from 1896 to 1902.  During 1903 the pulpit was filled by the Rev. Charles E. Robinson.

From 1904 to 1907 the Rev. Dr. George William Knox, a professor in the Union Theological Seminary, served.  He and his family lived in the Manor.  The Rev. Dr. Lewis Gaston Leary was installed Oct. 24, 1907 and served until 1927.  In 1928 Rev. Dr. Willard P. Soper succeeded him.  He held the pastorate for a quarter of a century.  He was succeeded by the Rev. Dr. George E. Sweazey.

The cornerstone of the building costing $101,363, was laid June 1917, by the Senior elder, A. L. Hammett, and the youngest scholar of the Sunday School, Bruce Currie.  In 1918 the corporate name of the church was changed to 'The Huguenot Memorial Church in the Town of Pelham, New York.'  

In 1920 the manse adjoining the church was purchased for $25,000.  

In 1929 the vestibule was added to the church at a cost of $26,250.  This enlarged the seating capacity to 450.  An acre of land south of the church property and fronting on Pelhamdale Avenue was purchased for $35,000 in 1929 and the manse was moved to its present position.

Despite the depression of 1931, it was decided to erect a building to house the expanded Sunday School.  The cost was $215,000 and it was dedicated in September 1931.

Huguenot Memorial Church is still growing.  A $35,000 rebuilding of the organ has been completed and plans for a $325,000 fund raising drive have been approved for the spring."

Source:  Westchester Today!  Huguenot Memorial Church:  Beauty in Pelham, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Jan. 22, 1963, p. 25, cols. 2-5.  

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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

Thu., Mar. 06, 2014:  An Account of the Dedication of the Little Red Church at Four Corners on July 9, 1876.

Fri., Feb. 28, 2014:  Brief History of the Role Churches Played in the Growth of the Pelhams Published in 1926

Tue., Sep. 18, 2007:  Installation of the First Full-Time Pastor ofHuguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham Manor in 1877

Fri., Aug. 31, 2007:  Announcement of the First Services Held in the Little Red Church of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church on July 9, 1876

Thu., Aug. 16, 2007:  Biographical Data About Rev. Charles EliphaletLord Who Served as Acting Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church,1874-79

Tue., Jun. 19, 2007:  A Brazen Burglary at The Little Red Church in 1904

Mon., Jan. 1, 2007:  Dating an Undated Glass Lantern Slide Showing the Little Red Church (Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church)

Wed., Oct. 25, 2006:  A Biography of the Rev. Henry Randall Waite, Ph. D., a 19th Century Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church

Thur., Jun. 29, 2006:  A Biography of Lewis Gaston Leary, Early 20th Century Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham

Thu., Mar. 2, 2006:  A Lecture in 1877 to Raise Money for the New Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor

Fri., Jan. 27, 2006:  Lectures to Raise Money to Build the"Huguenot Memorial Forest Church" Building in Pelham Manor

Mon., Jul. 25, 2005: The Columbarium at Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor.

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