The following historical sketch of the First Presbyterian Church of Little Falls appears in Year Book and Church Directory,
published as a directory of church members for the 1931-32 church year. Included in this publication and displayed in this archives
section are the list of pastors who served the church from 1812 to 1932, the drawings of the Octagon Church and the Brick Church, and
the photograph labeled “OUR PRESENT CHURCH,” which was completed in 1880, dedicated in 1881, and taken down in 1972. This
archives section also includes photos of the demolition of that structure, which stood on the corner of Lansing and Jackson, as does
our present church building.
With two exceptions, this historical sketch is printed here just as it appears in Year Book and Church Directory. Some minor errors
in usage and punctuation have been corrected. Also, marginal annotations found in the copy in the church library have been added,
brief ones in brackets in the text and two longer ones at the end.
This sketch provides valuable information about the early history of the church and Little Falls, and also about the Depression
period, when it was written. Notice how amounts of money are figured to the penny and, in the first paragraph, for example, John
Porteous is described as a larger-than-life figure. And certainly the last paragraph of the sketch still applies today, when the challenge
to serve as Christians is as great as ever.
Historical Sketch of the First
LITTLE FALLS, N. Y.
The First Presbyterian Church of Little Falls enjoys the unusual distinction of being the pioneer or mother church of all the Christian
churches of this city. Its history goes back to the time when Little Falls was simply a scattered German settlement of a few rude houses
and the most Western habitation in the colony of New York. Here in the midst of the confusion of the Post-Revolutionary War days and
the crude life of a pioneer frontier settlement, a meeting was held, on September 26, 1792, for the purpose of raising money to build a
church. The moving spirit in the worthy enterprise was John Porteous, a Scotchman and the most romantic personage in the history of
Little Falls. He was pioneer and adventurer, politician and musician, surveyor and hunter, merchant and privateer, a man who could
write poetry and knew how to handle the bateaux men of the Mohawk River, a rather savage lot of citizens, either by the prowess of his
fists or by using the vast store of vocabulary which, as tradition says, exceeded on occasions all their combined profanity.
We have in our possession the first subscription list for this first place of worship in Little Falls. It contains many names which are
still familiar to us, such as Aldridge, Bellinger, Brayton, Beardslee, Casler, Cummings, Dygert, Eysman, Feeter, Ford, Fox, Gilbert,
Herkimer, Keller, Klock, Keyser, Loucks, Moyer, Miller, Neely, Porteous, Petrie, Pickert, Ransom, Schell, Smith, Thorp, Thumb,
Timmerman, Walrath, Woolever, and Windecker.
In the following spring at a meeting held in the tavern of John Morehouse on April 4, 1793, a Presbyterian organization was formed,
trustees elected, plans adopted, and the church named “Columbia Church.” The first trustees were John Porteous, Benjamin Hinman,
Jacob Petry, Evans Wharry, Melcher Thumb, Elihu Hall, and John M. Petry. April 4, 1793, is therefore the birthday of our church.
Work was soon begun on the church, which was located on
, near where the Church Street School now stands. By 1796 it was ready for use. It was always called the “Octagon” Church because of
its peculiar eight-sided construction. Standing on a hill high above the settlement, the river, and the canal, it was a conspicuous
landmark for many years. It was the place of worship for persons of all denominations and was last used by the Roman Catholics. It
1842 it was torn down. Thus passed away the old “Octagon” church, mother of all churches here, in itself only a cheap, flimsy building,
but originally the most Western church in the colony and on account of its odd shape and picturesque location, one of the sights of
America in its day.
On December 31, 1804, the “Columbia Church” was disbanded and a new organization known as the “Concord Society” was
incorporated. As its name implies, it was composed of persons of several denominations. However, like the “Columbia Church,” the
Presbyterians predominated and held control. Nevertheless, the work was carried on along non-denominational lines at all times. As
the town grew and many more people of other denominations came to live here, the Presbyterians decided it was now necessary to
organize a separate church which would be strictly Presbyterian. This was done in the summer of 1812.
In our first Session book of minutes still in existence, it is recorded that on June 27, 1812, a meeting was held in Little Falls at which
the Rev. E. J. Mason presided and five persons signed the Presbyterian covenant of faith and a separate church organized. These five
persons were: Mr. And Mrs. Abram Neely and Mr. Daniel Talcott of Herkimer, and Mrs. Robert Hinchman and Mr. William Girvan of Little
Falls. Soon afterwards Mrs. Enos Burt and Miss Eliza Farmer of Herkimer and Mrs. William Havens of Little Falls were added to the list
of members, so that eight persons were on the roll of church membership when Mr. Daniel Talcott was appointed on January 20, 1813,
as a delegate to Oneida Presbytery to ask that the new church be admitted into that Presbytery.
The first mention of this new organization appears on the record of Oneida Presbytery on February 2, 1813, when Mr. Talcott
presented his request and was admitted to a seat in the Presbytery.
In the church record of May 16, 1813, the name of the Rev. James Joyce appears for the first time as Pastor, and he was admitted to
the Presbytery on February 2, 1813. In 1842, the church was transferred to the Presbytery of Albany and in 1870 was attached to the
Presbytery of Utica.
The next regular Pastor was the Rev. Hezekiah N. Woodruff. He was called by the Concord Society on April 29, 1817. He was a
disciple of the Rev. Samuel Kirkland—that pioneer missionary among the Oneida Indians, and founder of Hamilton College. During his
pastorate the Octagon Church was repaired and rededicated. He also organized the first Sunday School, which met at nine A.M. in the
“Old Stone School Church” on
During the years from 1823 to 1825 serious difficulties and heated discussions arose between the members of the Concord
Society belonging to the Presbyterian Church and those inclining to the Episcopal Church. Finally the Episcopalians withdrew and
organized a church of their own in the year 1825.
The village grew very rapidly between the years 1820 and 1830. There was therefore a large influx of persons who were members
of various denominations other than Presbyterian. Naturally questions soon arose as to which group had the first claim on the Octagon
building and the ownership of pews. These at times very heated discussions and differences of opinion resulted in the withdrawal first
of the Episcopalians, then of the Baptists, and finally of the Methodists, who organized separate churches of their own.
The Presbyterians, under the leadership of the Rev. James I. Ostrum, bought lots on the corner of Albany and Ann Streets and built
a brick church there in 1831, just one hundred years ago. On April 11 [changed to April 16 in a marginal note], 1831, the separate
organization was incorporated as “The First Presbyterian Society of the Village of Little Falls.”
This brick church was a plain old-fashioned building, with very large windows and very small panes of glass. [Another marginal
note indicates that the dimensions of the new brick church were 42’ x 80’ and the cost was $4,000.] Originally it had galleries and a high
pulpit. It was altered and enlarged several times. There were no separate Sunday School rooms except for the Primary Class, which
met in the church parlor in the basement. For forty-nine years this building was the home of the church. The last years of the Brick
Church were full of blessings, showing a larger increase of membership than at any previous period in our church history—and this at a
time when the building was falling into decay and had little that was attractive about it.
The pastor during these happy years was the Rev. Arthur Potts, D.D., who served here from 1875 to 1881. One Sunday morning in
1876, after preaching a centennial historical sermon, which included much of this church’s history, he was met by Mrs. Thomas Burch,
who told him that she wished to give $5,000.00 for the building of a new church.
The next year, 1877, while a series of seven weeks of nightly prayer meetings was being held in the church, the plaster suddenly fell
from the ceiling. The meetings ended and the question of either repairing the old church or building a new one now confronted them. A
meeting was held in the church parlor and $20,000.00 was at once subscribed toward building a new church. On March 1st, 1878, the
congregation officially approved the building of a new church. The last services in the old Brick church were held on Sunday, February
29, 1880. The building was sold to Messrs. Whitman and Burrell. Part of its walls form now the office building of the Cherry-Burrell
Corporation on the south-east corner of Ann and Albany streets and some of the old pillars supporting the galleries can be seen in front
of the two small houses east of the Little Falls Felt Shoe Company. [These buildings are no longer standing.]
Mr. Harry Burrell was treasurer of the new church building fund. After his death Hon. Alphaxed [corrected in a marginal note to
Arphaxed] Loomis filled the vacancy.
Ground was broken on the corner of Jackson and Lansing Streets in 1878 and the building in which we now worship was
completed in October 1880. The architecture is Gothic, of Queen Anne style. The church was built to conform to the acute angle formed
at the intersection of Jackson and Lansing Streets. There is an originality in the construction of the building which makes it an object of
great interest to all who visit it. At the time of its dedication, on April 27, 1881, it was said that no finer church building could be found in
the whole State of New York outside of two or three of the largest cities.
The two most unusual features in connection with the building of this church were that the cost of the church finished and furnished,
including site, was only $48,558.57 and that the entire cost was subscribed and paid in cash before the building was dedicated. The
Building Committee was as follows: Frank Braner, W. I. Skinner, Watts T. Loomis, Isaac Small, and D. H. Burrell, Sr. The very efficient
Subscription Committee was as follows: J. R. Stebbins, Chairman; E. J. Burrell, Charles J. Palmer, D. H. Burrell, Sr., W. H. H. Lintner, J.
P. Sharer, W. T. Loomis, Irving Snell, J. S. Aldridge, A. H. Greene, Frank Braner, W. G. Milligan, James H. Ives, J. G. Snell.
This building and the parsonage were thoroughly renovated and redecorated during the summer of 1910, while the pulpit was
vacant between the pastorates of Dr. Charles S. Richardson and Rev. Arthur J. Wyman. The choir gallery was enlarged to
accommodate a large chorus; the pulpit was changed, a canopy being erected which greatly improved the acoustics of the building.
The whole church property was put in as good condition as possible at a cost of about $15,000.00 For this the church was indebted to
the generosity and oversight of Mr. David H. Burrell, Sr.
A very inspiring celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the organization of the strictly Presbyterian church was held from
October 6th to October 9th, 1912., early in the pastorate of Rev. Arthur J. Wyman. Among the speakers upon that occasion were two
former pastors, Dr. F. A. M. Brown, then of New haven, Conn., and Dr. Charles S. Richardson, then of Llanerich, Pa., and Dr. Robert E.
Speer of New York City and President W. Woolsey Stryker, L. L. D., of Hamilton College. Our present visitor’s book in the rear of the
church was placed here at that time for the registry of those attending from out of town and for the purpose of keeping such a record on
the years to come.
One of the saddest experiences of this church in more recent times was the untimely death of the Rev. Arthur J. Wyman, who began
his ministry here in November 1910 and died in the Manse March 19th, 1924. Through the lives and Christian influence of a great many
persons in this congregation, it can truly be said of him that, “He being dead yet speaketh.”
That this congregation loves its church and is determined that it shall be a place of beauty and usefulness is evidenced by the fact
that during the past six years two major programs of building repairing and redecorating have been successfully completed. The first
took place in 1925, when about $60,000.00 was spent in rebuilding the interior of the Chapel and enlarging the Sunday School
facilities. This large improvement took place during the pastorate of the Rev. James F. Riggs. The second took place last summer
(1930), when nearly $7,000.00 was spent on the interior of the Church auditorium. At the same time beautiful new lighting fixtures were
indicated in the church as a gift from Mr. And Mrs. Irving E. Stacey.
This in brief is the history of the First Presbyterian Church of Little Falls from its earliest beginnings until the present year. No one
can write the history of this church’s spiritual ministry to multitudes of people through all these many years, a ministry that has not been
confined to this congregation but has been carried on throughout the world. We who are the church of today have opportunities for
Christian service this year and the years that lie ahead that surpass any of the past and challenge us to greater efforts and devotion than
ever before in the history not only of this church but of all Christian churches.