Flies and Stench are Why We Built Our Church in 1929

May 2021
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

The New Paltz United Methodist Church building on Main Street is a well-known landmark in New Paltz. This is the first in a series of articles about the history of New Paltz Methodists’ current location. Prior to this building’s opening in 1929, the church occupied a building first constructed in 1840, located initially on the corner of Main and Church Streets before moving to its current location on Church St. It is now the Jewish Congregation of New Paltz Synagogue.

By 1920, the original church building had fallen into disrepair, and was inadequate for the burgeoning Methodist congregation. Significantly, the State Normal School (now SUNY New Paltz) had grown to 400 students, and many of the students’ parents wanted their children to attend church services while in college. In fact, students were a critical part of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Separate registers listing student attendees were kept by the church. It was largely to accommodate those students that the new church was built. According to a report in the New York Conference Journal in 1925:
“Both church and parsonage are located within fifty yards of a livery stable, the stench and flies from which are almost unbearable during warmer seasons of the year.”

Surely the families who sent students from New York’s genteel countryside aboard the train to New Paltz expected better. Besides bad odors, the church was overcrowded:
“The Sunday school has long since outgrown its quarters. The church is pitiably inadequate to accommodate the regular congregations and carry on the work that ought to be done. Increased attendance at the State Normal School and assurances of a still larger student body next year, make it very imperative of Methodism to do something worthwhile to help this society secure a suitable building.”

The church heeded those cries, and in 1929, on the brink of the Great Depression, opened its current building. If you are curious how the church fared amidst national economic crisis, stay tuned to this newsletter! More to follow.

Both quotations are from the New York Conference Journal, 1925, pp. 167-68.