Marshall Historical Society
The Congregational UCC Church
By Janet Dangler, September 2021
The Deansboro Congregational United Church of Christ is an outgrowth of the Hanover Society, which was organized in Hanover on the east hills in 1797, with 14 members (it was thought that it was healthier in the higher elevations; Deansboro, then Deansville — the name was changed in 1894 to avoid confusion with Dansville in western New York — was called "fever valley.") This Society, active until 1851, was eventually disbanded as more and more people moved to the valley once the Chenango Canal was built in 1837, followed by the railroad in 1867, and joined congregations there. There was a Universalist Church in Forge Hollow, and a Methodist—Episcopal Church in Deansville, built in 1832. The ME Church burned in 1881 and was rebuilt in 1886, and is now the United Methodist Church, part of the Living Waters Parish.
The first recorded history of the present Congregational Church goes back to 1835, when a group of men met and drew up a constitution for the proposed church. The name chosen was the Society of Deansville, soon changed to the Religious Society of Deansville. For sixteen years, services were held in the Deansville school house on School Street (West Hill Road) and in the hall over Mr. Barker's store (now Ye Olde Antique Shoppe, where Joan Barker Benedict lives). Business meetings were held in private homes.
Ministers came from churches in Hanover, Augusta, and Clinton; occasionally there was a preacher from the Brothertown Indian Tribe, who settled in the area in the late 1770s. From the beginning, the group's aim was to build a proper church building with a resident pastor. In 1849, it was voted to build a meeting house, but this idea was abandoned due to lack of funds. In 1851, new names were added to the membership, increasing their treasury, and it was decided to start construction on their church. The specifications were to be not less than 74 feet long and 36 feet wide, and it was to ready by October 1, 1852. The church was built without a basement on a 5/8 acre lot purchased from one Harry Harrington for $150.00. This is where the church presently stands.
However, there were delays in building the edifice, and it was not completed until March, 1853. Coates and Hill from Waterville were the contractors. The pulpit, which was hand—made, was between the two doors as one entered from the vestibule. The pews were rather high—backed, with doors that fastened with a little brass catch, and they were rented to families to raise money for the minister's salary. Wainscoting, doors, and pews were all painted white, except for the railing on the back, which was of dark wood. The floor ascended gradually from the doors to the rear, where the choir loft and organ were, and there was a difficult step into each pew. The heating apparatus consisted of stoves, with stovepipes running the full length of the church. The windows had small panes and were shaded from the summer sun by green shades.
The church was dedicated on May 8, 1853, when 28 persons met. A year later, land where the church sheds stand was purchased for $3.00. The first pastor was Amos Tuttle, and he remained two years. He had a little land, and kept two cows, making butter to sell to augment his salary. Mrs. Tuttle organized the Ladies' Aid Society, which was mostly a sewing society. They made garments for sale in the store (now the Superette); and later for men who were serving in the Civil War. The Ladies' Aid Society was disbanded after a while, but resuscitated in 1882 as a missionary society, still called Ladies' Aid Society.
Three years later, the society became a branch of the Women's Board of Missions, and later joined with the Women's Home Missionary Union of New York State. In 1905 there were 40 members. This society still exists today as the Women's Fellowship, which meets occasionally and has contributed mightily with both money and energy, through rummage and bake sales, quilt raffles, bazaars, craft sales, and chicken barbecues, to help keep the church moving forward. The Women's Fellowship has pledged to help with church expenses by giving the treasurer $1,000 a year.
The Rev. Mr. Marvin was the next pastor in 1857, followed by the Rev. Mr. Albert Erdman who, in 1862, left to serve as a chaplain during the Civil War. William D. Hammond was next; then Mr. Thorne, Mr. Jerome, and Mr. Davis, who was actually a supply minister. The Rev. Mr. Samuel Miller was next, and served for 13 years. During his stay, it was decided to remodel the church building, because it had become in bad shape. During the remodeling, the outside doors were removed and replaced with a double door. The pulpit was moved to the west end of the sanctuary, which was shortened to permit a "sessions room" (Prayer Room) and kitchen to be built. A dining room was built on the second story, reached by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen. The present windows with the colored glass and the white ground glass were installed. The floor was leveled, and the present pews were placed. The choir loft was lowered, and rolling doors installed between the sanctuary and the sessions room. A basement was dug and a new furnace installed. During the time of the remodeling, about a year, the Congregationalists worshipped with the Methodists. The building was rededicated in October, 1891. Around this time, the name was changed from Religious Society of Deansville to Congregational Church of Deansboro.
The Rev. Mr. Clarence Mason became pastor in 1895 until 1904. During his pastorate, the method of raising money by the sale of the pews was changed to that of voluntary contributions. A yearly festival, featuring oyster stew, was instigated. As a matter of fact, oyster dinners were very common around those times. The semi—centennial was held while Mr. Mason was pastor with three services on March 17 & 18, 1903. Rev. Mason was described as a most genial man, popular with young people and children. He went on to become a sky—pilot, ministering to lumberjacks in the Adirondacks.
He was followed by several pastors who had shorter stays. Mr. Thomas Livingston (1904—1906) was said to be an eloquent preacher. During his tenure, the pews were fitted with uniform—color cushions (previously, the cushions were either in various colors or missing entirely). Mr. William Renshaw was next from 1907—1912, a pleasant gentleman from Massachusetts. Because at that time the church had no parsonage, the Reshaws stayed with one of the members of the church. The Rev. Mr. Charles Luce and his family were next. They were fine people, but stayed only a year (1914—1915). The Rev. Mr. E.J. Ruliffson preached from 1915 until 1925. He was a gifted speaker, a good organizer, and active in the community. A men's club was formed, and a YMCA organized. A group of Minute Men was formed to help during World War I. Mr. Ruliffson was given a leave of absence to serve as chaplain. During his stay, he oversaw the building of the Church House, which was first used for a Christmas supper in 1923. A basketball team was formed, and other games were played in the Church House basement. It has been used for dinners, meetings, shows, Sunday school and youth activities. During World War II, its use was curtailed because of a shortage of coal.
The next minister was the Rev. Elwyn Merrian, who stayed for six years, from 1925—1931. During his time, a bell was hung in the belfry, with money donated by Mr. Ralph Lumbard for that purpose. It was obtained from a Congregational Church in Port Leyden. He was followed by The Rev. Mr. J.W. Davies in 1931, who organized a Bible study. He stayed until 1939. In 1935, a Wicks pipe organ (still in use today) was installed. After Mr. Davies the Rev. Mr. Van Zanten came from 1939—1942. He is remembered for his sermons and his ability to work with young people. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Mellot, who followed, each contributed much to the church program. The Rev. Roy Sheffield acted as interim when Mr. Gardner left. At that time, there were three Sunday Schools: one for the children of the church; one for young adults, single and married; and one for older adults.
The special Centennial Service was held May 10, 1953, with Dr. Ralph Schmidt, Interim, presiding. Dr. Lester Start, who followed Dr. Schmidt, acted in the same capacity, as interim. Both these gentlemen were from Utica College. In 1950, the sanctuary was redecorated through a gift from Claude Hinman. A new oak floor was laid, and runners were installed. A new heating plant was also installed. The Rev. Mr. Harold Fryday was pastor from 1954—1957. He stressed mission work, and later he and his wife went to the Philippines as missionaries. The church joined with the Methodist Church in sponsoring released time education for public school children. Mr. Fryday was followed by the Rev. David DeMeza, who came with his family from Bournemouth, England (south of London) in 1957. Social justice was very important to Mr. DeMeza, and he was active in the local migrant program. He stressed education for the children of the migrants, and offered the premises of the church as a school for those children. A spiritual man, Mr. DeMeza also encouraged prayer groups. He labored for a close and warm unity in the Congregation, and is quoted as saying, "No one should be a stranger twice." A Youth Senior Canteen was started, and was held on Friday nights, attracting many young people in the community. An affiliation was started with the Augusta Church, which lasted only a few years. Swinging doors were added inside the vestibule so that the outside door could be left open as an invitation to attend services.
The Rev. Mr. Darrell Westlake was pastor from 1961 until 1964. He led an active Youth Fellowship group, and during his tenure, the church joined the Federation of Churches in 1961, and was known as The Congregational United Church of Christ. Also during this time, several young people attended the conference center of the New York Congregational Christian Churches at Lisle, New York, just north of Binghamton. While he was pastor, the parsonage underwent extensive remodeling.
The Rev. Mr. Edgar Pearson was the next minister. He arrived with his family from Bangor, Maine, where he was a member of the Merchant Marines before being called to the ministry. He served from 1965 until 1978. He encouraged Bible study groups and stressed spiritual growth of the individual. He was an accomplished carpenter, which came in very handy for repairs and especially for remodeling the sanctuary, which occurred in 1976, dedicated to the memory of John Morris, one of the leading members of the congregation.
In 1973, the 50th anniversary of the church house was held, and a new back porch and steps were built to replace the ones which had given out. Following Mr. Pearson's retirement, the Rev. Thomas K. Thompson came for one year, until 1979. On May 7, 1978, the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the meeting house was held, with a special worship service in the afternoon. After Mr. Thompson, who returned as an interim from time to time, the Rev. Miss Mary Bennett served from 1980—1982. At that time, realizing that dwindling membership and low church attendance made it financially impossible to afford a full—time minister, it was voted that the Deansboro Congregational United Church of Christ adopt an austerity budget and yoke with Paris United Church of Christ in Paris, New York.
Miss Bennett was called to a church in Arizona, and the Rev. Dr. Alan Peabody, of the Council of Churches in Utica, filled in. He and Mrs. Peabody, who were members of the church, were very active, encouraging the following of the teachings of Jesus. They instituted giving to the Food Bank, and organized the Crop Walk for area participants.
Next to occupy the pulpit was the Rev. Rayann Burnham (later Burnham—Cummings). She served from 1984—1989. The 150th anniversary of the dedication of the sanctuary was held on April 28, 1985. A 150th Anniversary pictorial directory was published, and a maple tree was planted on the church lawn to honor William Bishopp, long—time member of the church. Ms. Burnham—Cummings also encouraged Bible Studies. Ms. Burnham—Cummings left in 1989, and the Rev. Mr. David Love served until 1995, first as interim pastor, and then was installed permanently. The newsletter was started every other month to keep members and friends informed of church happenings. Mr. Love stressed harmony, and encouraged everyone to work together to create a strong church.
Once he resigned, he was succeeded by the Rev. Allan Dickinson, from 1995—1998. Mr. Dickenson oversaw yet another renovation of the sanctuary, with the floor being refinished, the walls repainted with decals around the windows (the decals were painted out later) and new siding on the church. Floodlights and a post lamp in front of the church, in memory of Michael Doing were installed. The Rev. Mr. James Turtorro came next, from 1998 until 2006. He was also chaplain for Marcy Correctional Facility, and later for another facility toward Cobleskill. Mr. Turturro, in spite of the other calls on his time, was an energetic minister, who instigated many changes in the order of service. During that time, a new hymnal — the New Century Hymnal — was introduced. He was serving when a busload of around 50 Brothertown Indians visited from their homes around the country to where their ancestors once lived, and attended church. When he left, the Rev. Jennifer DeWeerth served from 2006—2008, when she resigned, due to family obligations (a new child at home). Ms. DeWeerth's sermons were always worth listening to and learning from. She is a kind person, genuinely caring about other people.
The Rev. Mr. Ed Townsend, pastor of Three Steeples United, which was a church formed from the Paris UCC, Waterville Presbyterian church, and Sauquoit Union Presbyterian church, was installed as part—time pastor on February 22, 2009. Although the church had shared a pastor with the Paris UCC before, especially when they were yoked during Mary Bennett and Rayann Burnham—Cummings' time, and when Dr. Peabody served, this marked the first time the church shared a pastor without being yoked. The two churches combined many times for services, including the summer service at the Pavilion in Deansboro shared also with the Methodist Church. On August 20, 2015 the sign in the front of the church, which was given by Chuck Morris and Mark Gordon in loving memory of Chuck's mother and father, John and Alice Morris, was dedicated. During the months of January, February and March, 2018, Ed Townsend was on Sabbatical. Many different people filled the pulpit during that time. Rick Cowles, retired minister with the New York Conference, met with the congregation about the future. Mr. Townsend had announced he would go to 3/4 of his present time (about one-quarter for Deansboro) in July, 2018 (it stretched out until October 2018) and it was a valuable opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation. In the fall of 2018, Marjorie Purnine of the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ met with the congregation to further explore what the church is looking for in a pastor.
As the year 2019 opened, the church had been without a minister since October 2018, and was still grappling with the concept of what kind of spiritual leader would be best to serve the small congregation. During that period, many people filled in on a supply basis, including Jennifer DeWeerth and Letty Umidi of Clinton, a lay pastor. In June, 2019, the Council decided to call Letty Umidi to be our permanent part—time pastor, and she accepted. There have been many changes to the church structure over the years, but one thing has never changed and will always be the same: the Deansboro Congregational United Church of Christ's dedication to God and His word. We will continue to work together to worship Him, with Letty's help.