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, November 07, 2014

Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church Migrated to a "Free Pew" Seating System in 1919

It may seem odd to some, but scholars have devoted much effort to studying the history of the pew, the evolution of that seating arrangement, and the impact of that seating arrangement on the social hierarchy of churches in America and elsewhere.  It turns out that even as late as the early to mid-twentieth century, it was still common practice in Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian churches to rent pews in churches to families or individual as a way to raise revenue to support the church.  There were, of course, myriad versions of such pew "rents."  For example, in some churches pews were assigned based on the amounts that a family or individual donated or pledged to donate to the church, with higher donations warranting assignment of pews closer to the pulpit.  Other churches assigned pews to members of the congregation, leaving open pew space available for visitors.

Plan of Pews in St. Paul's Church, Eastchester, New York 1790.
Source: Coffey, William Samuel, Commemorative Discourse Delivered
at the Centennial Anniversary of the Erection and the Sixtieth of the
Consecration of St. Paul's Church, East Chester, West Chester Co., N.Y.,
October 24th, 1865, p. 43 (NY, NY: Perris & Browne, 1866).  To Read More
About the 1790 Pew Diagram of St. Paul's Church, see:
Wed., Aug. 15, 2007:  Plan of Pews in St. Paul's Church, 1790.

From the opening of the Little Red Church, the first sanctuary of today's Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church that stood where today's sanctuary stands at Four Corners, pews were assigned to members of the congregation although no "rent" or donation was required.  As the size of the congregation outgrew the little church, assigned pew space virtually crowded out free pew space and a decision was made to build a larger sanctuary.

The cornerstone for that larger sanctuary was laid on June 10, 1917.  Only a few months after that larger sanctuary first opened, however, the church was so crowded on Sundays that it became necessary, for the first time in the history of the church, to abandon the pew assignment system and resort to a "free pew" system where any available open seat was available to anyone who entered the church.

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes a brief article published in 1919 that described the church's transition to the free pew seating system.  The transcription that appears below is followed by a citation to its source.   

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

"Crowded Into Free Pew System -- Huguenot Memorial church at Pelham, Rev. Lewis Gaston Leary pastor, has been fairly crowded into the free pew system.  Although seats in the church have not been rented, pews and sittings have always heretofore been definitely assigned to families and individual members.  Before the present edifice was erected, however, seats in the 'old Red church' were entirely inadequate for the rapidly growing congregation.  But even the new and much larger commodious building was outgrown in a few months and in order to make room for strangers and visitors the session has found it necessary to remove all restrictions and allow people to sit wherever there is a vacant place."

Source:  Crowded Into Free Pew System, The Continent, Nov. 6, 1919, Vol. 50, No. 45, p. 1345 (NY, NY:  The McCormick Publishing Co., 1919).

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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

Fri., Aug. 22, 2014:  Brief History of Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham Manor Published in 1963.

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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