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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The First Service in the Nation's Only Centennial Church: Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church

When the Little Red Church, then known as the "Huguenot Memorial Forest Church," was first opened on July 9, 1876 (the first Sunday after the nation's centennial on July 4, 1876), the picturesque little sanctuary building designed in the Norman style of architecture sat in the midst of an old growth grove of spectacular primeval chestnut trees and elm trees.  The quiet solitude, according to accounts of the time, was broken only by the sounds of birds and chattering cicadas during warmer months.  

The new congregation loved to worship in the church on lovely days with the windows open to allow the sounds of the birds and cicadas to mix with the sounds of their hymns and prayers.  Accounts indicate that the shady grove setting was chosen quite carefully.  Indeed, one account stated "The groves of Pelham suggest quiet rest and homely comfort."  The setting also was quite practical.  Another account emphasized:  

"The beauty of its situation is in elegant and striking contrast with some of the country churches, which are placed on shadeless eminences, apparently to see how much heat a congregation of summer worshippers can stand."

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.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

From its very beginnings, the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pelham Manor was a special -- some said "unique" -- place.  Always using superlatives, Pelham Manor residents in 1876 claimed that the church was the "only" church in America at the time dedicated to the Huguenots.  Local residents also claimed that the church was -- and remains to this day -- the nation's only "Centennial Church" opened in celebration of the nation's centennial celebrated on July 4, 1876.  

The church hosted an initial service on Sunday, July 9, 1876.  The dedication service was a beautiful affair about which I have written before (see list of links below).  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog includes the text of an article I previously have posted about the first service at the church, and collects brief accounts of the scheduling of that initial service held in the Little Red Church at Four Corners.

*          *          *          *          *

"--The new Huguenot church at Pelham Manor is now finished, and will be opened with public services of great historical interest on Sunday, the 9th of July.  The Rev. Dr. Lord will assume the pastorate.  The church is a beautiful building of Norman architecture, standing in a grove of primeval elms and chestnuts.  The beauty of its situation is in elegant and striking contrast with some of the country churches, which are placed on shadeless eminences, apparently to see how much heat a congregation of summer worshippers can stand.  The groves of Pelham suggest quiet rest and homely comfort."

Source:  [Untitled], The Sun [NY, NY], Jul. 2, 1876, p. 4, col. 7 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required).  


There will be opening services on Sunday next in Pelham Manor in the Huguenot Memorial Forest Church, by the acting Pastor, Rev. C. E. Lord, at 10:30 o'clock.  Subject, 'The Religious History of the Huguenots of the United States.'  And in the afternoon at 5 o'clock there will be addresses by different clergymen from Mount Vernon, New-Rochelle, and Pelham Manor."

Source:  WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. Times, Jul. 7, 1876, p. 8, col. 5 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required).  

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 main land of Pelhamm 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. Budington, 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 hill, 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 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, the city being the second stage in their long flight from persecution.  Soe 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, purchase fro 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 in 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 mmajority of the Huguenots conformed to the Church of England, and the next year they ereccted 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 of New Rochelle, and a long flat stone in the foundation is said to have formed the doorstep of the Huguenot predecessor, every other vestige of which has disappeared.  The present Presbyterian Society of New Rochelle professes to be the final 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 God'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 of clergymen from the churches in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and other surrounding villages.  A peculiarly beautiful effect was pronounced  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 [NY, NY], Jul. 10, 1876, p. 3, col. 4 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access link.)

*          *          *          *          *

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., Sep. 03, 2015:  Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church Celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 1936.

Thu., Dec. 18, 2014:  Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church Celebrated Its 25th Anniversary In 1901.  

Fri., Nov. 07, 2014:  Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church Migrated to a "Free Pew" Seating System in 1919.

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

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home