History Corner

Stories from our Church History

The Cave Inn Coffee House

January 2024
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

One of the most significant and exciting things the New Paltz Methodist church did during the 1960s was to open a youth-oriented coffee shop called The Cave Inn.  It was located on the Church’s property at 143 Main Street, adjacent to the bus station. The Cave Inn, managed by the Student Christian Center, provided a place other than the local bars for young people to socialize on Saturday nights.

Speaking with enthusiasm, The Reverend Roy A. Hassell reported on February 5, 1967: “Probably the most exciting thing this year has been the opening of the Cave Inn coffee house. … …thus far the Cave Inn has been an astounding success. Upwards of 60 students a night have used the Cave Inn.”. William A. Greenlaw, the Campus Minister, added: “The Cave Inn has the atmosphere and entertainment students respond to. Folk songs which raise the basic issues of the meaning and purpose of life are very prevalent…” . (Report of the Campus Minister, Report of the New Paltz Methodist Parish Fourth Quarterly Conference, February 5, 1967) Roger Green, A visitor to the coffee house, reminisced in 2021 that he heard a singer perform “Alice’s Restaurant” and had a specific recollection of people singing “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles. (Ramblin’ with Roger, September 3, 2021)

The Cave Inn, therefore, provided a needed service to the community. My friend and New Paltz United Methodist Church member Millie Meyer remembers volunteering at the Cave Inn managing the venue for young musicians. She says they were a lively bunch!  The Cave Inn was still going strong twenty years later: “Sing Out at the Cave Inn: Sponsored by the SCC campus ministry … Refreshments, limited seating, so come early. Sing along or just listen.” (Highland NY Mid Hudson Post, Sept. 19, 1986) This was clearly a hot spot in the New Paltz community!

Besides music, the Cave Inn featured speakers from many places to offer inspiring messages for New Paltz youth. One such speaker was historian and parishioner Dr. Carleton Mabee. On April 7, 1967, the New Paltz Times reported:  “Guest Speaker at the Cave Inn Forum for College Students at 6 p.m. will be Dr. Carlton (sic) Mabee. His topic will be Non-Violence as a Tactic.” This speaks to the church’s and Dr. Mabee’s strong commitment to peace and non-violent solutions to difficult challenges. Mabee, a professor at SUNY/New Paltz and a long-time member of the New Paltz Methodist Church, was a lifelong pacifist and one of a handful of conscientious objectors during World War II. His message of peace no doubt inspired his audience of college students during the Vietnam War in the critical year of 1967.

The Cave Inn exemplifies the mission of New Paltz Methodists to uplift the community with entertainment and educational opportunities for local young people, particularly the local college students.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, Mid-Hudson Post, New Paltz UMC Church Documents, and Roger Green’s newsletter, Ramblin’ with Roger

New Paltz Methodists Celebrate Christmas with Famous Hymnist, Ira D. Sankey in 1875

November 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

The New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated Christmas “as only the Methodists know how” during the 1870s. The editors of the New Paltz Times reported on the annual celebration of December 24, 1875. The detailed description of the event noted that “on either side of the pulpit was a handsome Christmas Tree, laden with presents of all kinds, one for the children and one for the congregation.” Special guests punctuated the occasion. Celebrated hymnist, Ira D. Sankey, led the musical portion of the service. Sankey, “an exceptional baritone,” was a colleague of renowned preacher and revivalist Dwight L. Moody. Sankey composed moving hymns that continue to be sung in the 21st century. At the New Paltz Christmas service, Sankey led “Mr. Smith of Rifton, assisted by several ladies of the same place, and a few of this Village,” in singing some of the hymns he composed. Rev. Dr. Thomas Carter (appointed to New Paltz 1874-75) preached at the service, and after the hymns and preaching, gifts were distributed. “Each merry little heart made happy with a present, which in after years will refresh their memory of the pleasant time they had on the above occasion.” The merriment of this happy occasion no doubt owed not only to excellent planning by New Paltz Methodists but also the uplifting and historic hymns of Ira Sankey.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, December 30, 1875; Ira David Sankey, Obituary, The Emporia Daily Gazette, August 20, 1908.

Check out this link for more information about Ira D. Sankey

The Tombstone in the Attic: The Coxes and the New Paltz Methodist Church

September 2023
Kate Hymes

Not long after becoming a member of the New Paltz United Methodist Church, I was introduced to the great NPUMC mystery: why is there a tombstone in the attic?

Those who frequent NPUMC’s upper room testified that engraved on the stone were the names of, along dates of death, Fulton and Jane Cox. The stone was heavy, and mostly people worked around it to store stuff. They affirmed that it had been there for a very, very long time, longer than the memory of the church’s current membership.

Anna Bates, church historian, along with past Pastor Bette Somme, set out to solve the mystery. As they began their sleuthing, Susan Stessin was researching the history of the New Paltz AME Zion Church. Fulton Cox appeared as a prominent figure in each project. Bates and Stessin assisted one another to solve the mystery of who was Fulton Cox and answer the question of the tombstone in the attic.

Civil War Captain Peter Eltinge brought “a first-class darkie servant” with him home to New Paltz at the close of the war, 1865. Within three years of Fulton Cox’s arrival in New Paltz, he purchased a house, a one and one-half story structure still standing on Pencil Hill Road, where he and his wife, Jane, settled. Cox was elected to the position of roadmaster. Roadmaster work included blasting out rock, building bridges, putting earth upon the road. Despite the difficulty of the work and lack of help, Cox kept the roads in good condition.

Fulton and Jane Cox were founding members of the New Paltz African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1871. He was a member of the Board of Trustees. He and Jane hosted church socials, picnics, and prayer gatherings on his property across the street from the church building on Pencil Hill Road (structure no longer exists).

While a founder and supporter of the AME Zion church, Fulton Cox also became a member of the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church, then located on Church Street. Church records show that he was accepted into probationary membership, November 30, 1874.

The Coxes experienced friction with the AME Zion Church congregation because of either a dispute with the AME Zion pastor or worshiping with white people at the Methodist Church. It was reported that the dispute led to his expulsion from the AME Zion Church, 1877. Yet, he continued to host socials and remained a benefactor of the AME Zion Church.

Cox died in a wagon accident while hauling wood, barrels, and fruit crates. He fell from the seat of the wagon and was gravely injured, 1888. When his will was probated, he stipulated that upon the death of his wife – Jane died 1893 – the Cox estate, including the house and lot on Pencil Hill Road, were to be left to the Methodist Church, not the AME Zion church, a legacy of about $600.00. He was described as the Methodist Church’s principal financial benefactor. To honor these worthy persons: The church officers have placed a tablet in the vestibule of the church. (New Paltz Independent, June 15, 1894)

Mystery solved. The tombstone is a commemorative stone tablet once residing in the vestibule of the Methodist Church at its Church Street location. The tablet was moved from Church Street to the new church building, Main and Grove Streets, about 1929, placed in the attic and forgotten.

June 18, 2023 the stone tablet was brought down from the attic and re-dedicated as part of New Paltz’s Juneteenth Jubilee celebration. The tablet has been restored to a place of honor as was intended by the late nineteenth century congregation of the New Paltz Methodist Church.

This is not the end of the story, that is the story of the Methodist Church and people of African descent in New Paltz.

My recent project merges with that story. I serve as Vice-President of the Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis Center for Black History and Culture at the Ann Oliver House. Jacob Wynkoop – a founding member of the AME Zion Church – worked as a primary carpenter on the building of the Ann Oliver House, 1885. Wynkoop is known as “never was a slave,” because he was born free in 1829, two years past the legal end of enslavement in New York State.

Jane Deyo Wynkoop, Jacob’s mother, and her son, son John, are listed as members of the “Old Paltz Village” Methodist Church in 1848.

Recent research has also uncovered that Ann and Richard Oliver lived on property owned by the Methodist Church when they arrived in New Paltz in the early 1860s.

Every mystery solved, every question answered leads to another and another. There’s lots more research yet to be done to document and understand the ties between the New Paltz Methodist Church and the African-American community.

You may delve deeper into this history:

Anna Louise Bates, Fulton Cox – African American Methodist and a New Paltz Icon, https://newpaltzumc.org/fulton-cox-african-american-methodist-and-a-new-paltz-icon/

Susan Stessin, Fulton Cox – Tales of a Congregation: African American History through the Lens of the AME Zion Church of New Paltz, New York, https://omeka2.hrvh.org/exhibits/show/ame-zion-church-in-new-paltz/church-congregants/fulton-cox

Historic Huguenot Street, Jane Deyo Wynkoop – An Emancipated Life, https://omeka.hrvh.org/exhibits/show/jane-deyo-wynkoop/an-emancipated-life

Rev. John Keogan and the Grand Army of the Republic

September 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

As we approach Patriot Day, the memorial date designated to commemorate the devastation of 9/11/2001, it seems appropriate to celebrate the life of a patriot pastor who served the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. John Keogan of Sullivan County, NY, was twenty-four years old when he volunteered and was, on September 18, 1861, commissioned second lieutenant in the First Battalion of Mounted Rifles, New York State Volunteers. He was promoted to First Lieutenant the following year. He left the Army in November 1862 due to “rheumatism, contracted in the army.” (New York Conference, 1903, Memoirs, p. 115).

A lifelong Methodist, John had made the decision to pursue the ministry before his service in the Army. When he returned from the War, he continued his training and became a licensed preacher in 1863. He completed his studies at Concord Biblical Institute in 1866 and was ordained that year.  He served seventeen appointments in the New York Conference, including New Paltz.

His love for country and appreciation for members of the armed services shone through in several of the addresses he gave in New Paltz during his pastorship. The New Paltz Times reported that, in his speech at a Memorial Day observance in 1883, he commemorated “heroes, whose last resting places were on the hillsides and plains North and South … lying side by side, being treated alike on this Memorial Day.” (New Paltz Times, June 6, 1883, p. 3). 

Keogan died at his home in Kingston in 1903 and was buried with full military honors. Regarding his service to the Methodist Church, his memoir notes that he was “a man of deep religious experience and unspotted Christian character.” (Conference Journal, 1903). May Keogan’s example of fairness and simple faith inspire us all.

Children’s Day at the New Paltz Methodist Church, 1882

June 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

Children’s Day is a celebration first observed on the second Sunday of June in 1857 by Reverend Charles Leonard, pastor of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The Methodist Church adopted the holiday by general consent in 1865, “… for the double purpose of interesting the children and of setting apart a day upon which the church collections shall be applied to the support of Methodist Schools.

“ New Paltz Methodists celebrated Children’s Day to the fullest in 1882. The New Paltz Times reported that, on the second Sunday of June that year, the church”…was very prettily decorated with flowers and evergreens, where here and there throughout the church bird cages, with canary birds, were suspended, which added greatly to the attractiveness of the exercises.”  The afternoon was filled with activities in which children “bore a prominent part”, and the pastor, Reverend J.A. Keogan, delivered a special sermon to the children.  “The church was filled to its utmost capacity,” the Times reported. The reasons for this lavish celebration owe partly to the church’s pastor, a devoted Methodist who was already a Sunday School superintendent at age 15 and focused on the establishment and growth of Sunday Schools in all of the eleven churches he pastored before the New Paltz charge. More than that, Keogan was a recent arrival in New Paltz, replacing a pastor (John T. Hargrave) who withdrew from the New York Conference only two months prior. Keogan seemed determined to revive the church’s flagging enthusiasm, and what better way to do that than celebrate the church’s children? The New York Conference Journal for 1882 does not mention the number of Sunday School pupils in that year, but notes that 3 children were baptized. 

Since that time, dates vary from place to place, but in the United States, many churches observe and celebrate Children’s Day. On the second weekend in October, the United Methodist Church recognizes Children’s Sabbath, a time to reflect on God’s gift of children, and ways congregations and individuals can renew their commitment to care for, protect and advocate for all children. Perhaps the New Paltz congregation will plan a celebration for that date in a future year.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, June 14, 1882; New York Conference Journal 1903 (memoir for Rev. John Keogan), New York Conference Journal 1882, and www.umc.org.

Racial Equality in Church Education

March 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

New Paltz Methodists have a mixed record on race issues. While on one hand, the church had no qualms about hosting black-face minstrel shows during the 1940s and 50s, they remained committed to race equality in matters of church education.

The church had a flourishing Sunday School in 1940, with various classes for children and adults. The church also had a thriving relationship with the Children’s Aid Society, a national organization formed by social reformers in 1853, a time when the only social services available for poor and homeless children were almshouses and orphanages.  The minutes from the church’s Official Board in September 1940, included a request from the pastor, Rev. Elmer Bostock:  “Mr. Bostock stated that the colored girls from (the) Children’s Aid Society desired to come to Sunday School,” at the New Paltz church, and he encouraged the board to allow this.  Members of the board discussed the matter and responded affirmatively. The Board moved to “prepare the Sunday School for this event by giving a preliminary talk on the matter.” The motion carried. While we do not know the contents of the “preliminary talk,” we know that the children did indeed come to our Sunday School. How many came and for how long remain items for future research, but we know from the Board’s minutes that our church demonstrated a commitment to equal education for all children who wanted to attend our Sunday School.  Quotes are from the “Regular Meeting official Board,” September 9, 1940.

John Lee, A Dedicated Preacher Despite His Illness

January 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

As our church recovers from nearly three years of a horrific pandemic that shook our world, our church, and our community, we remember that health was a primary concern for early Methodist circuit riders. As they traveled their circuits, they were exposed to the elements and all kinds of other dangers. They also came into contact with microbes that transmitted “fevers and fluxes,” documented in multiple journals.

The story of one early preacher, John Lee, extols this young ordinand’s dedication despite debilitating illness. John’s older and better-known brother, Jesse Lee, was already an active traveling preacher when John was born in Virginia in 1770. John converted during a revival in 1787 and began accompanying Jesse on his circuits shortly thereafter. At the Baltimore Conference in 1788, John received his first formal appointment to the Baltimore circuit. The following year, he was appointed to the Flanders Circuit, which included the upper part of New Jersey and part of New York, including New Paltz. The young preacher performed admirably, according to Jesse’s journal: “his trials were great, being among a strange people, and between 400 and 500 miles from home.” In 1789, Jesse came to Newburgh to hear his young brother preach. He noted in his journal that John had “a rising on the side of his neck, which became very painful, and it was the opinion of many that it was the king’s evil.”

John probably had cancer, which troubled him for the remainder of his short but fruitful life. He complained of a cough and pains in his chest for the next ten years. In 1798, he wrote to his brother: “I have little hope of recovering my health. I had rather be in the circuit, seeking the good of others, than to have all the wealth of the world.” Though sick, he kept traveling. Jesse Lee noted in his journal in 1801 that his brother died on October 6 of that year.  This young preacher’s perseverance took him through eleven painful years on four challenging circuits. He preached in New Paltz and nearby Newburgh while riding the Flanders Circuit with his brother, Jesse, in 1788-89.

John Lee’s story is an inspiring one that reminds us that all our pastors and preachers share our health challenges. We thank them all for their service during COVID, and for their support and dedication during all of our pains and sicknesses.   (All quotations are from Jesse Lee’s journal)

Black Diamond Dinner: A New Paltz Methodist Tradition

November 2022
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

It’s November, and the excitement of election day is upon us. Members of the New Paltz UMC Community have fond memories of this time until COVID-19 disrupted our church’s routine. One of our best memories is that of the Black Diamond Dinner, which had, since the 1990s, been a fabulous affair scheduled on the second Tuesday of November. At the end of their busy day, New Paltz voters could come to our church for a satisfying roast beef dinner. Like other community dinners hosted by the church, members, their families, and people from New Paltz and its surrounding areas came together to share food and fellowship.   

The dinner was called Black Diamond because of its purpose in 1931 when the church depended upon coal heat. The dinner was held as a fundraising effort to buy coal for the furnace. Over the years, the dates of the dinners and the menu changed. A flier from 1946 advertises: “Fifteenth annual Black Diamond Dinner. Tickets are $1.75, to be held on Wednesday, October 30… [F]or a grand turkey supper and all that goes with it.”  

 The October 16, 1933, Kingston Daily Freeman included this ad for the dinner:

“The menu of the Black Diamond Supper to be served by the men of the Methodist Church Thursday, October 19, is Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, cabbage salad, apple sauce, rolls, brown bread, coffee, and apple pie a la mode. Supper will be served at 5:30 and 7 o’clock.”

Interestingly, it appears that only the church’s men participated in the dinner preparation that year. 

So popular was the dinner that in 1993 Pastor Roland French commented that the Black Diamond Dinner was “THE dinner of the year in New Paltz.  The 1993 church notes also indicate that Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were added to the church calendar, further extending the church and its fellowship to the New Paltz community.

The Black Diamond Dinner continued to be a much-anticipated event in New Paltz until COVID-19 forced its discontinuation in 2020.  Plans are now underway to reopen the church in various ways. Face-to-face services have resumed, and we had a successful outdoor community dinner in September 2022. Will the Black Diamond Dinners resume? No one knows. The church is finding ways to reconnect with the community. We know that food has always been a large part of that connection. We all hope the community dinners will return regularly, during the election or some other time during the year.  

Celebrating Juneteenth in New Paltz

July 2022
Sharon Roth

Pastor Limina Grace opened the celebration of Juneteenth at the New Paltz Rural Cemetery on June 19, 2022.  She dressed in white, which is often done at these celebrations remembering June 19, 1865, the day 250,000 enslaved in Texas celebrated their freedom by buying new clothing.

Kate Hymes-Flanagan read the names of the 200 African Americans buried in our local cemetery. Some children placed flowers on each of those gravestones or gravesites. Many of the names were those of the original New Paltz Duzine families: Lefevre, Dubois, Deyo.

A lesson in history that they too were slave owners, which was not openly acknowledged for hundreds of years. When the new dorms and dining hall were built at SUNY New Paltz in 1968, they were named after six founding families. In March 2019, those names were changed to Shawangunk, Awosting, Minnewaska, Mohonk, Ashokan, and Peregrine.

Fulton Cox is buried in the oldest section of the grounds, which was for Civil War soldiers. He was born about 1825 in Georgia. During the Civil War, he met Peter Elting who, after the war brought him to New Paltz. In 1868, Fulton and his wife Jane purchased a house from Edmund Elting for $400 on Pencil Hill, across the street from the future home of the AME Zion Church, which was completed it in 1871. In 1877, he was expelled from that church because he worshiped with Whites at the Methodist Church. In 1888, he died in a carriage accident. His will stated that his home would be donated to the Methodist Church after Jane‘s death, which happened in 1893. That house is still standing.

Pastoral Appointments Not Always Popular

July 2022
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

Methodist pastors are itinerant, appointed to their stations by the bishops of their respective Annual Conferences each year.  This has always been the practice of Methodist churches, and it is largely because of itinerant circuit riders that membership in Methodist churches grew rapidly during the early years of the American republic.  Today, the trend of regularly changing appointments continues.  Bishops struggle to meet the changing needs of Methodist communities and churches, trying hard to meet the needs of the churches under their charges. 

Are the appointments always welcomed by the pastors and the congregants?  Apparently not.  In 1881, the New York Times ran a story about an unwelcome appointment to the Johnson Street Methodist Church of Brooklyn.  The Trustees of that body, unlike most Methodist churches, owned their church, and felt entitled to choose their pastor.  Their choice was John T. Hargrave, pastor of the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church.  Hargrave, a resident of Esopus, had been a well-liked pastor in New Paltz.  He facilitated the purchase of a new organ and organized a choir, both popular accomplishments.  However, Hargrave apparently agreed with the Trustees of the Johnson Street Church that he should be their pastor.  Despite being reappointed to New Paltz by the New York East Conference in 1881, he showed up to preach at the Johnston Street church in Brooklyn on Easter Sunday that year.  The duly appointed pastor of that church, Rev. Barnabas Reeve, was also present, and he ascended the pulpit for that service and remained the appointed pastor for the duration of his appointment.  Hargrave returned to New Paltz.  Regarding the congregants at Johnson Street, “…though outwardly acquiescent are far from satisfied, and declare themselves firm in their determination, of which determination they have sent word to both Mr. Reeve and the Conference, not to pay Mr. Reeve any salary.” (New Paltz Times 1881)  More than that, Reeve said that he “… would not stay 10 minutes if he did not have the help and sympathy of the congregation.”  Reeve won in the end.  He remained at the Johnson Street church, and an article in the Brooklyn Union later in 1881 affirmed that he was “working hard for the church, “and was “very popular.”  (The Brooklyn Union 1881) 

Hargrave remained in New Paltz for the year, but clearly incurred the wrath of the Trustees.  The New Paltz Times reported on April 5, 1882, that Hargrave “preached his farewell sermon in the M.E. Church … on Sunday morning last.  We did not notice any of the Trustees of the church present.” (New Paltz Times 1882)  More than that, Hargrave “… asked by letter to withdraw from the Conference because his views of the polity of the Methodist Church had changed.” (New Paltz Times 1882)  What is annoying to me as a historian is because he withdrew from the connection, his pastoral memoir is not in the Methodist archives.  His successor in New Paltz, J.A. Keogan, preached his first sermon to larger than usual attendance, and the New Paltz Times reported that he “made a very favorable impression.” (New Paltz Times 1882) 

This is an interesting story to ponder currently when pastors of the New York Annual Conference are settling into their new and sometimes distributed churches.  Pastors returning to their churches find themselves juggling multiple appointments due to shifts in church membership and the scarcity of pastors.  We, as United Methodists, need to appreciate more than ever the careful discernment our Bishops make when deciding pastoral appointments.

Arylene DePew, Student Parishioner, 1934-36

May 2022
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

The Halmshaw Fellowship Club was an organization formed by women students at the New Paltz Normal School who worshiped and socialized at the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church.  Named for a beloved pastor of the church, the purpose of the club was twofold:  educational and social.  Club membership ranged from 12 to 40 young women during the years 1934-1938.

One of the most active members of this club was Miss Arylene DePew of Mamaronack, New York.  She graduated from the Normal School with honors in 1936.  During her time in New Paltz, she regularly attended Halmshaw Fellowship club meetings and facilitated the invitations of several remarkable speakers for the club’s events.  The club routinely invited speakers who were provocative and nontraditional for their day (this was the 1930s), covering topics such as “Mohametism” and evolution, all topics of interest to sincere future teachers at the Normal School. (Halmshaw Fellowship Club Minutes, NPUMC archive).

After graduation, Arylene taught grades one through eight in a one-room school called Bell Top in North Greenbush, 1936-1940. When all the one and two-room schools in the area became East Greenbush Central Schools, Arylene taught sixth grade at Genet School (now Genet Elementary).

In 1944, she married Paul W. McDonough. They lived on the family farm and raised eight children including two sets of twins. Arylene then made a career of being a wife, mother and caregiver.

Arylene DePew’s story stands out as an example of the close connection of the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church and the local college.  She often noted in the Halmshaw Club’s minutes how she believed education could change the world.  And change it she did – first with her teaching in public schools and then as a mother to eight children.  The imprint of her spiritual connection to our church came across in her teachings every step of the way, and she is a tribute to our legacy.

New Paltz Methodists Honor Veterans and Service Members

March 2022
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

The New Paltz Methodist Church historically celebrates and supports military veterans and active service members.  This is particularly clear in a news article from the May 30, 1946 New Paltz Times.  The article describes a celebration given by the church’s Service Flag Committee (which worked at spreading cheer to members of the church who were in the military) for those who served in World War 2. 

Honored servicemen each stood and gave their name, branch and division of service, to rounds of sincere and heartfelt applause.  Clearly, these service members meant much to the church community:

As each stood it was somewhat difficult to see in these seasoned veterans the young lads (and lass, there was one WAC, Dorothy McCormick) who came so faithfully to Sunday School and the Epworth League only a few short years ago.

New Paltz Times, May 30, 1946

Besides McCormick, honored veterans included George Smith, Edwin Curtis, Donald Wiseman, Leslie Oakley, Herbert Wyndham, Kenneth DePuy, George Lowe, William Lowe, Francis Hasbrouck, George Brannen, Harold Van de Voort, Maurice Miller, Herbert Van Sicklen, Jr., and Earl Crans.

The gala event featured a Virginia ham dinner and an impressive entertainment program that included group songs, skits, and vocal and instrumental solo performances. At this time of renewed hostilities in Europe in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we pray that things will not escalate to another devastating World War. We are also reminded of our congregation’s commitment to honor those who serve our nation. 

Snapshot of Methodism in New Paltz, 1800

January 2022
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

What does it mean to become a Methodist?  The answer to that question has changed drastically over time.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the Methodist church was new, it was perceived as an experimental church, wherein profound conversion experiences marked the entry of new souls to local churches.  Following that experience, often inspired by enthusiastic preaching by an early circuit rider, the newly converted would spend two years on probation, attending regular services and meeting with other “seekers” in weekly classes.  If, at the end of their probation, the resident elder and the local congregation welcomed them, they were admitted to full membership in the local church.

Those early conversion experiences are the topic of this piece.  Perusing the memoirs of early circuit riders in New Paltz, I came across this description of an incident at the home of a local family.  The story is in the journal of Elijah Woolsey, who preached in New Paltz in 1800. 

“One Sabbath evening I preached at New-Paltz, and after preaching went to my sister’s (Phoebe Deyo) to lodge but had not been there long before a young man came in great haste on horseback up to the door.  In an instant he dismounted, and hastened into the house, all in a flood of tears.  We were much alarmed, fearing some accident had happened in the neighbourhood.  … As soon as he could speak he said, “Do come over to my father’s – the Lord is there.” 

Woolsey followed the unnamed young man to his home.  Consider carefully the scene he encountered:

“… [A]s we drew near the house (we) heard the people crying and praying within.  … When we entered the house the first one we took notice of was a young woman named Elizabeth, who had been converted about three months before, lying on the floor, with her hands stretched up toward heaven, crying, “Glory,” as loud as she could.   The next was the young man who came for us.  He was kneeling by the bedside, and his brother, a lad of about twelve years of age, was kneeled down by his side praying for him.  In the middle of the house was the mother, and her daughter, a little girl of about ten years of age, with her arms around her mother’s neck, praying for her.  In the chimney corner was another daughter on her knees, crying for mercy.  When I beheld all this, I stood astonished for some minutes.” (Coles R. G., The Supernumerary: or, Lights and Shadows of Itinerancy Compiled from the papers of Rev. Elijah Woolse, 1845, pp. 64-65)

Satisfied that his preaching had borne fruit, Woolsey concluded his journal entry: “Thus the work of the Lord began in that place.”

To a reader in 2022, this sounds like a strange scene indeed!  In 1800, though, it was a sure sign of God’s presence in a family or community.  The story, I think, calls us to remember our own conversions.  Were our hearts strangely warmed?  Did we experience a kind of cathartic moment like the members of this local family?  I suspect not.  And reading this description today, huddled in my office where I seldom venture out to live church services for health reasons known to all of us, I wonder whether we can recapture some of that early enthusiasm. 

Historians, Halloween and Race at New Paltz Methodist Church

November 2021
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

In 2020, I published a story in the church newsletter about blackface minstrel shows performed by members of our church during the 1950s.  The article was based upon primary documents; in this case, programs from the 1951 and 52 shows.  The programs evidenced deep racial insensitivity among our congregation, including at least one pastor, The Reverend Willett Porter, and other high-ranking members.   This writing is a follow-up to that piece.  My purpose is to give readers a glimpse of what the work of a church historian is like.  We dig through boxes of old documents seeking fodder for our narratives. 

An interesting set of notes kept by an entity called the “Double Forty Club” provides a snapshot of our church during the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  Although the membership changed over time, it was intended as a club for older church members, specifically, couples more than forty years old.  Most of the club’s activities were admirable.  They hosted dinners, sales to raise funds and provided gifts and donations for various occasions such as weddings and bridal showers. 

Browsing their minutes, I found a description of one disturbing event.  The club hosted a Halloween party on October 31, 1940.  A deliberately anonymous description of the participants read as follows:

The hall was appropriately decorated with corn stalks, pumpkins, and candles … The old witch was there, also Farmer Brown and his milkmaid, the darky in his frock coat, a very enthusiastic fisherman all ready to reel in a big trout, the man about town in his white flannels and a gypsy who had stopped in on her way through town. … Games were played, including bobbing for apples after which the committee served pumpkin pie, popcorn, cider, and coffee. 

Sounds like a delightful and gay affair, except for one thing.  A “darky?”  We are not told who wore that costume, but the implications are obvious.  “Old Darky” was a stock minstrel show character:  A black-faced Uncle Tom in a frilly coat.  Do I need to explain how crassly insulting this is of African Americans?  I think not.

I will share, though, the significance of the document.  When I wrote the piece about minstrel shows, I had only two programs to work from.  I found a few articles in archival newspapers announcing those two shows, and a couple of other shows in the 1950s.  The Double Forty document provides evidence of minstrel shows at least a decade before the ones in the 1950s.

All of the minstrel show documents document our congregation’s insensitivity to racial issues, and to African Americans in general.  Now, at a time when we see daily evidence of racial strife in our country, we are called once again to examine our actions carefully.  It would be easy to pat ourselves on the back and say, “wow, we have come so far!”  But have we?  This is a time for some deep soul-searching.  However much good we do as a church, we need to ask ourselves whether we turn a blind eye to suffering in darker corners.  Do no harm.  Do good.  Stay in love with God.  Ours is not an easy path.

“Growing Pains” (of the best kind!) Lead to Action!

September 2021
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

In 1960, the New Paltz Methodist Church had occupied its new church building for more than thirty years. During that time, the congregation had grown from 370 members in 1932 to 413 in 1960. Besides Sunday services, the church featured multiple Sunday School classes for all ages from infants to adults. Those students crowded the church’s small spaces. For years, the church appealed to the New York Conference for funds to construct additional space for their growing Sunday School and multiple clubs and committees.

The Education Wing of the New Paltz United Methodist Church is a thriving example how a determined community can accomplish big things. Members and trustees knew in the late 1950s that the Methodist Church building had outgrown its capacity. The growing Sunday School had twenty teachers and 160 pupils. Church clubs such as the Epworth League, the Double Forty Club, The Ladies Aid Society, Women’s and Men’s clubs and many others occupied every available space at the church every night of the week.

The church began appeals to the New York Conference for expansion funds, but knew that most of the cost of the planned education wing would fall on the church’s membership. A Building Committee formed in 1958 to survey the needs of the church and Church School relative to inadequate building facilities. A highly successful Crusade for Funds commenced in 1959.

The church contracted the Schneider Brothers to build the new addition. The bulk of the expense for the new wing was covered by member gifts and pledges, amounting to more than $22,000. Of the $50,000 plus cost of the construction project. The New York Conference contributed $5,000. The balance was financed at the Huguenot Bank. (New Paltz Methodist Church 1962)

The new wing was consecrated on May 21, 1961. More than 250 people attended the ceremony.

The New Paltz Independent bragged that the new addition featured: “[A] two-story brick and cement block building … attached to the main church structure by a glass enclosed breezeway. It houses Sunday Class facilities, making available rooms in the church for a music room, church office and pastoral study.” (New Paltz Independent 1961) Besides the new wing, the church also purchased a nearby property that would eventually house the “Cave Inn,” a social gathering place for students. That building is now the New Paltz Hostel.

In 1962 the Sunday School teaching staff numbered nineteen, serving more than 160 pupils each week. By May 1962, a short year after the new wing opened, the church planned a canvass of its members to raise funds to pay off the mortgage on the new wing. “It is anticipated,” wrote the Kingston Daily Freeman, “that this campaign will see the complete retirement of the debt on the education wing completed last year.” (Kingston Daily Freeman 1962)

The education wing today houses a church-run play school. In 2018, the wing was dedicated to parishioner Helen Karsten, whose work helped initiate the play school in 1968.

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.

Blackface Minstrel Shows in the New Paltz Methodist Church

February 2021
by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

At a time when racial tensions run high in our communities, Christians are called to a heightened level of sensitivity to images in popular culture. Racially charged television shows, comic performances and commercials, though popular as recently as the 1990s, now come under intense scrutiny and appear infrequently. This is a positive sign. This has not always been the case, though. I learned an important lesson while perusing historical documents for our reputedly progressive and forward-looking United Methodist Church.

I came across two programs, dated 1951 and 1952, that stopped me cold. The programs, mimeographed on faded red and yellow cardstock with stapled crumbling newsprint pages, bore hand drawn images of white-gloved big-lipped smiling individuals with bowties. I recognized them instantly as minstrel show characters; figures from arcane racial productions that I associated with the post-Civil War American South during the rise of Jim Crowism.

I sat there for several seconds staring at them, trying hard to process what they meant. The New Paltz United Methodist Church with its rainbow flag and legacy of women pastors is among the most progressive in the region. In the years since my arrival in New York in the Fall of 2004 I have seen this church rally behind LGBTQI members and clergy, feed the homeless, and support mission efforts all over the world. Studying the church’s history, I found that it welcomed African American members during years when New Paltz remained reclusively white and middle class. Church records dating to the 1890s evidenced annual contributions to a Black College Fund, and the church offered multiple programs on race and equality over the years. Why, then, was I holding in my hands evidence of deeply insulting racism that demeaned and ridiculed African American people?

The two programs described in detail performances arranged according to the style of amateur minstrel shows. The 1951 cast included an Interlocutor (George Wicks) and End Men (Ernie Ahlberg, Harry Ahlberg, Doug Alverson and Cliff VanValkenburgh), accompanied by a chorus and several novelty acts. Songs included “Ah Wed Three Hundred Pounds,” “Walking My Baby Back Home,” “Here in my Heart” and “Swanee.” (The Men and Women of the New Paltz Methodist Church 1951) The 1952 program was similar, and included the pastor, The Rev. Willett Porter, performing a trumpet solo. The entire church contributed to the events in some way: “All members of the New Paltz Church have assisted if only through their friendly concern and well wishes.” (The Men and Women of the New Paltz Methodist Church 1952)

Articles in the Kingston Daily Freeman advertised the shows. “The Methodist Minstrel show is underway,” said the Freeman in 1952. “Last year the minstrel was held two nights. This year there is talk of expanding to three evenings because of the large crowds.” (Kingston Daily Freeman 1952) Ten days later, the Freeman updated the story: “The old time minstrel to be presented by the Methodist Church will have George Wicks as interlocutor. The end-men will be Doug Alverson, Clifford VanValkenburgh, Ernie and Harry Ahlberg. Special features will be Roger Thorpe, instrumentalist, Patty Burke, Tap Dancer, and a white quartet. A mixed chorus of church members will fill the stage. Mrs. Gertrude Upright will be at the piano. Bob Litt on the bass fiddle and the Rev. Mr. Porter on the clarinet. Tickets are on sale at Doug’s Auto Service. The dates are Nov. 13 and 14. Curtain time is 8:15 p.m.” (The Kingston Daily Freeman 1952)

There is a reason why I chose to name names in this article. The participants in these shows were members and contributors to the church and its programs. The New Paltz Methodist Church was a member of one of the most progressive Conferences in the denomination. The pastors of the church during the 1950s had reputations for social justice advocacy. Pastor Lee
Hampton Ball (1948-1950) edited the MFSA’s Social Questions Bulletin throughout the 1950s and 60s, and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s. “Whether the cause was the Vietnam war, women’s liberation or gay rights, Lee was able to see the justice issue clearly and to respond without equivocation or rationalization.” (The United Methodist Church 1987). Willett Porter, pastor from 1951-64, had a similarly progressive reputation, serving in various social justice positions, including the Bowery Mission Ministries Board and the New York Methodist Student Movement. (United Methodist Church 2016) And yet despite his stellar humanitarian reputation, Porter played trumpet in at least two Methodist Minstrel shows, in 1951 and 1952. Casts for later shows are not available, but it is likely that Porter participated in all the shows until the final one in 1959. Curiously, though, Porter also encouraged members of his
community to attend the film, Broken Mask, which had earned a “Golden Reel Award as the Best Religious Film of the Year.” Broken Mask is about race relations experienced by two college
student, one white and one black. (Imdb.com 2019) “It is a message we all need to hear and see,” said Porter to The Kingston Daily Freeman, for we all wear certain masks which ought to be
broken.” (The Kingston Daily Freeman 1958)

So, why were these progressive Christians performing minstrel shows? I learned that the minstrel shows at the New Paltz Methodist Church were not unique. A search for the term “minstrel”
from the years 1949-1960 in the Kingston Daily Freeman returns 1,055 hits. It seems these shows were remarkably popular during these years. References to the New Paltz shows appear, as well as ads for shows in various area churches and public service venues. And the shows were not unique to male adults. “Lutheran Youth Group to Give Minstrel Show Pre-Lenten Tradition” announces a show at the Church of the Redeemer on Monday, March 1, 1954, noting that the event “…has become a tradition.” (Freeman 1954)

Multiple minstrel shows punctuated local entertainment venues during the first half of the twentieth century. Gladys DuBois reminisced about the shows she and her husband attended during the 1950s:
“… by far the most popular entertainment of the time was the minstrel show. Local amateur entertainers performed at the college auditorium. They would sit in a row of chairs at the front of the stage and warm up the audience with jokes addressed to “Mr. Bones” and others. Singing and dancing followed as the blackface players entertained farmers and students alike for the entire evening.” (Beuf 2007, 4) Peter Beuf, author of the story about Gladys Dubois, explained the apparent racism of the minstrel shows apologetically. “Gardiner was no different from other towns in the northeastern United States before the civil rights movement: blacks were tolerated but viewed with suspicion. It is difficult for someone from a younger generation to see minstrel shows as a benign form of entertainment, but in Gladys’s time it was just another event.” (Beuf 2007, 4-5)

That means, as recently as 2007 news that minstrel shows appeared frequently in the area, and drew large crowds, was not taken seriously. It was a different time. Are we to conclude that, because it was the 1950s, racism was not only tolerable but entertaining? What does this mean for our church today? There are no easy answers. Perhaps my writing this article about historical documents that shocked me to the realization that my church participated in racist minstrel shows, in fact reveled in them, calls us to examine more closely the things we find amusing and entertaining. Are elements of racism still evident in the television shows, films, and social media that entertain us daily? Perhaps we need to examine our entertainment and how it aligns with our faith much more closely.

Methodism Arrives in New Paltz

“The world would come to an end…”

by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian
August 2020

How and why did the first Methodist preachers come to New Paltz?  The Rev. Elijah Woolsey, a Methodist circuit rider who preached in New Paltz in 1801, kept a journal and wrote a memoir about his life.  His memoir describes how his father, Revolutionary War veteran Captain John Woolsey, invited the first Methodist preachers to the towns of Marlborough and New Paltz in 1786.  Elijah recalled a conversation between his father, a trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Marlborough, and his mother, that he overheard when he was a young teenager. (Coles, 1845)  Elijah’s father claimed that the Presbyterian trustees were “out of humor” because they could not keep their minister any longer. “He … told them [the trustees],” recalled young Elijah, “… that there were sixty or seventy Methodist preachers in New-Jersey, and that they were great preachers ….”   Remembering his father’s apparent enthusiasm during that conversation, he reflected: “Having read in the Scriptures that the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world for a witness, and then shall the end come, I thought that those preachers were great and good men, and that they had begun at the southern extremity of the world, and were making their way to the north, and when they gained the northern extremity, the world would come to an end.”

Sometime after Captain Woolsey’s conversation with his wife, he invited Methodist preachers, who were working on a circuit emanating from New Jersey, to come and preach in Marlborough, located near the Hudson River, approximately twelve miles southeast of New Paltz.  Methodist classes formed in and around that area and travelling circuit preachers made Marlborough a regular stop on the newly  formed East Jersey Circuit. 

Regarding New Paltz, Captain Woolsey’s daughter, Phoebe, married Hendricus Deyo, a descendant of one of New Paltz’s oldest families.  We are not sure whether Captain Woolsey suggested that Methodist preachers visit his daughter’s family in New Paltz, or whether daughter Phoebe, or her husband, asked for them.  We know that they came, though, and that the world did not end, even after the Methodists expanded their preaching far north of New Paltz, into Canada and other places.

Fulton Cox – African American Methodist and a New Paltz Icon

By Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian 
November 2020

Four years ago, Laura Gust and Brianna Switzer,  two senior history students from Empire State College, completed an internship that involved sorting boxes of historical documents at New Paltz United Methodist Church.  In that process, they came across a faded, brittle newspaper that required special care to unfold without destroying.  Thankfully, they worked under the tutelage of Pastor Bette Sohm, an experienced historical preservationist and archivist.  Laura and Brianna copied and preserved the document, and it currently lives in an archival
quality box in the church library.            

The newspaper pages are from the New Paltz Independent, dated June 15, 1894.  The paper contains a story entitled “An Example of Two Ex-Slaves:” 

Sometime during the late Civil War or soon after, there came to New Paltz a man who had been a slave in the South. He found work among the farmers and got some money together and bought a small place.  He then sent for his wife, and on her arrival, they were regularly married and went into house-keeping. When they went to their home, they invited a number of their friends to a house-warming.  This they had in the form of a prayer meeting.  They were both pious, and this act shows great thoughtfulness on their part, and affords a good example for persons of other races who have had better opportunities to follow.  Fulton Cox, the husband, died in 1888, and left a will in which he provided that his wife should have the full use of the property, and, after her death if there was anything left it should go to the Methodist Episcopal Church, of New Paltz.  About a year ago his widow died, and after settling up the estate of legacy of about $600. comes to the church.  The church officers have placed a tablet in the vestibule of the church in memory of these worthy persons.  This money is to be invested, and the interest is to be used for the support of the minister.  In this way it will be a perpetual benefit to the church, and also a perpetual memento of them through all time.           

The Independent 1894

This article raises two important questions:  Why did Fulton Cox bequeath his estate to the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church, and what became of the Fulton Cox fund?        

Fulton Cox and his wife, Jane, lived in New Paltz in a house that Fulton built on Pencil Hill during two federal censuses, those of 1870 and 1880. Fulton’s birth place is listed as South Carolina, suggesting that he was born a slave in that state. Jane Cox was born in Virginia.  (Fulton and Jane were slaves in Virginia later on)  Fulton is listed as “farm laborer” in both censuses, and Jane’s occupation as “keeps house.”  Neither Fulton nor Jane could read, but apparently Jane could write. Fulton’s property value is listed as $800.00.  He is the only Black person of the seven listed who owned any property.  There is also a column in this census labeled “denied voting,” which Fulton Cox was not.  So, he was listed as a voter.  None of the seven Black people listed were “denied voting.”  The same goes for thirteen listed in the 1880 census. (Bureau 1870) (Bureau 1880) 

As a farm laborer, Fulton suffered several injuries as a result of the dangerous work that he did.  In 1882, while chopping wood, “…the axe slipped and struck the fleshy part of his hand, making an ugly wound, which will unfit Fulton for work for a week or two.” (New Paltz Times 1882)  In January 1886 , “while riding in a wagon … holding up a stove, accidentally fell out.  In falling Mr. Cox received quite severe injuries, from which he was confined to the house.” (New Paltz Times 1886) Later that year, he “…had one of his feet badly smashed at the time Abm. D. Relyea’s team fell off of Pencil Hill.” (New Paltz Times 1886).    

Fulton was atiKve politically.  Besides voting, he ran for Supervisor in 1887, but received only one vote. (New Paltz Times 1887)  He attended both the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, and his funeral procession in 1885. (New Paltz Times 1873) (New Paltz Times 1885)          

Despite his inability to read or write, Fulton clearly cared much about education.  He is listed among donors of items to the New Paltz Normal School several times, usually donating a slate. He also visited Dr. H.M. Bauscher, the former 
principal of the New Paltz Academy, after he retired and moved to Clifton Point, Long Island in 1882, although his connection to Dr. Bauscher is not clear. (New Paltz Times 1882)    

Fulton and Jane Cox’s connection to the Methodist Episcopal Church is made clear in the notes of the church’s Seekers Sunday School Class dated September 27, 1949.   Apparently,         
there was an annual fund-raiser to enhance the Fulton Cox fund.  The notes relate that the Coxes sat in the last pew in the old church,” and Fulton once said he would “be worth more to the church after I am dead.” (Seekers Club 1949) Indeed, by the terms of Fulton’s will, his house and the property it stood on became the property of the New Paltz Methodist Church upon Jane Cox’s death. (billiongraves.com n.d.) The house and its contents were sold at auction, and a fund created at the church.  It is not clear what became of the Fulton Cox fund.  It possibly became part of another fund, such as the Black College Fund, but this is not certain. 

What is clear, though, is that Fulton and Jane Cox  were committed Methodists.  While church records do not record the date they joined the congregation, it is possible that the church was served by various circuit riders during the Coxes early days in New Paltz.  The “old church” referenced by The Seekers was erected in 1881. That he willed his estate to the church speaks to     
his faithfulness to his denomination, and his church community.  It is my hope that the church will trace the Fulton Cox fund, and continue its tribute to this remarkable Methodist family.