This overview of the church’s history was compiled several years ago by
Stephen Shafer, a long-time parishioner. It is largely based on notes
made by an unknown writer – probably for the centennial celebration of
1931 – and ends around 1960.
In coming months, other
articles/talks/pieces of history and photos will be added to this page.
History of Trinity Episcopal Church, Saugerties New York: the First 130
Trinity, the oldest Episcopal parish in Ulster County, was organized in
1831. . The founder and early guiding spirit was Henry Barclay
(1778-1857), a businessman from Manhattan who with his wife, Catherine
(1782-1851) had come to Saugerties about 1825 in a daring career change
from importer to industrialist. Barclay would probably have thought it
undue to get more than passing mention in an account of our Trinity
Church; that said, his family, his life, his work, and his religion
deserve a place in history not only of Saugerties but of this country.
Henry Barclay’s great-great grandfather was John Barclay (1659-1731).
John’s more famous brother, Robert, the Laird of Urie, was one of the
original Scottish proprietors who promoted the settlement of the coastal
and northeastern sectors of what is today New Jersey. Robert was an
influential and well-connected Quaker in Kincardineshire, Scotland of
whom the historian John Pomfret writes “Among the Friends, Barclay ranks
with Fox and Penn.”
The proprietors of East Jersey at inception in 1682 numbered twelve. All
but one were Quakers. The next year they added another twelve, mostly
Scots and mostly Quakers. As shares of land rights were sold and split
the group of “fractioners” grew larger. Some in this larger body were
basically speculators, some pragmatic utopians who tried to combine
freedom of religion with economic opportunities for emigrants. Certainly
Robert (of his brothers John and David I know less) was of this latter
Henry Barclay’s great-grandfather Thomas, the nephew of Robert, was a
minister in Albany. Born in the colonies, he studied at St Andrew’s in
Scotland and was ordained in England in 1707 before returning. Henry’s
grandfather Henry (1712-1746), also a minister, preached to the Indians
in their own language before moving to Manhattan. He married Mary
Rutgers. He was the Rector of Trinity Parish, Wall Street, and also
owned a fair amount of land in what is now Soho. Henry’s father, Thomas
(1753-1830) married Susannah DeLancey. The DeLanceys were the most
famous of the founding families of New York to be Loyalists during the
War of Independence, as was Thomas himself. Henry was born in New York,
but spent most of his childhood in Nova Scotia before returning (the new
United States was fairly quick to forgive and repatriate Loyalists.)
Henry Barclay’s wife, Catherine Watts, descended from another notable
Scottish emigré, James Alexander, the first surveyor general of New
Jersey. As a young man James had a strong claim to succeed eventually to
the title of Earl of Stirling, not to the lands. Having left Scotland
after the failed 1715 rising in the Stewart cause, he gave up interest
in the title. His son William, however, earnestly pursued the claim;
thus came the oddity of a Brigadier General in Washington’s army known
by most as “Lord Stirling.” His daughter Mary, the mother of Catherine
Barclay, was therefore often addressed as “Lady Mary.” Her remains are
in the crypt under Trinity Church, Saugerties.
Henry Barclay caused to be constructed the dam on the Esopus Creek by
today’s 9W bridge. Its water power he harnessed for the iron mill (the
Ulster Iron Works) and
the paper mill he soon built alongside. Both of these operations
advanced the state of the art for their time. To staff them Barclay
imported from England skilled workers and engineers. Descendants of some
of his employees still live in Saugerties. He strove to make Saugerties
thrive. He saw, and worked personally to fill, development needs like a
good hotel, a bridge over the Esopus, a road west to the Catskills,
reliable honest boat service. He had business relationships with Robert
L. Livingston, who in the 1820s owned much of what is today the village
of Saugerties, and with Livingston’s son-in-law, William Bayard
Clarkson. Barclay was neither a ruthless entrepreneur nor a naïve
visionary. He was an astute, scrupulous man shepherding a community of
proud and satisfied artisans to whom religious faith was central.
The first services (with a lay reader, often Henry himself) and Sunday
school of the future Trinity Parish Ulster were held in the Barclays’
house, beginning in the late 1820s. Through his connection – ancestral
and ongoing (he was a vestryman there) –with Trinity Church, Wall
Street, Henry Barclay raised a thousand dollars for the building fund in
Saugerties from the older parish. In gratitude, the new church
overlooking the Esopus Creek was named the “Parish of Trinity Church,
Ulster.” (At that time, the locality was known as “Ulster.” It reverted
officially to “Saugerties” soon after.)
On June 10, 1831, Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk laid the cornerstone of the
church building. The Rev. Reuben. Sherwood, who also had the Episcopal
church in Tivoli, began to hold services at the Barclays’ house. The new
church, two years a-building, was consecrated on June 13, 1833. It was
smaller than today’s, measuring 60 feet east-west, including the
portico, and 36 feet north-south. It had no steeple. The heating system
was minimal: two woodstoves under the stairs to the choir loft which
supplied embers for portable footwarmers and two longitudinal heat
ducts. Music was voices only until the arrival of a donated old organ
from “the late church du Saint Esprit of Pine Street [Manhattan].”
There was a rectory, immediately west of the church building. It was too
small for the Sherwood family, however, and was leased out while they
Financial support came mostly from pew rents; there was no endowment,
and no pledging. A sketch of the pew layout, hard to read after many
reproductions, tells us some of the early members. Names legible,
besides Barclay, include Barrell, Bigelow, Clarkson, Elmendorph,
Hammaken, Henderson, Kearny (Barclay’s brother in law) and Livingston.
The first couple married were Abigail Barrell and Isaac Winslow. The
first baptism was 20 May 1832, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Ripley. The
first funeral and interment from the church was that of Miss Mary Bowden
in 1831. The first of since-innumerable fund-raising “fairs” was held in
The Sunday school established in 1831 mustered on its first anniversary
120 “scholars present” out of 160 on the rolls! A benevolent association
formed by Mrs Sherwood, Mrs Ripley, Miss Mary Kearney, Mrs Barclay, Mrs
Pierre Irving and Miss C. Hammaken visited the needy. In an ambitious
start, the parish opened a boarding school for boys and a day school for
girls. These schools were scaled back when in 1835, the Rev Mr. Sherwood
gave over his cure of souls at Trinity, explaining that the horse and
ferry commute back and forth to Tivoli he had been making on days of
worship was becoming too much for him. He was succeeded the same year by
Cicero Hawks, who was ordained in 1836 but moved to Buffalo in 1837 (and
later became Bishop of Missouri). The Rev Ravaud Kearny was called in
1837, but soon resigned, writing to the vestry that his strong stand
against “the many vile tipling shops” had set him at odds with too many
The second-hand organ began to falter and Mr. Charles Ripley paid for a
replacement to be built in New York and sent up “by the time the river
opens” in 1836.
This instrument stayed with the church for many years.
The Rev. Hiram Adams was Rector from 1838-1848. Early in that decade a
steeple and spire were built by donation from Mrs Barclay. In 1840
Henry’s brother George wrote he had selected “a fine bell weighing 460
lbs” to be shipped upriver.
The Rev. Edwin A. Nichols followed the Rev. Mr. Adams in 1848.
Unfortunately his health was not perfect. Early in 1856 Mr. William T.
Beach, the diligent and long-serving Senior Warden, wrote to a diocesan
official for money to allow the incumbent to move to a warmer clime.
That same year, the Rev. William John Lynd came as an interim, then
agreed to stay. In 1859 he resigned. The Parish called the Rev. John
Jacob Robertson to be its seventh Rector. This may have been a risk
given his age, but was a good step for the now 30-year old parish.
The Rev. Mr. Robertson had been a missionary in Greece from 1829-1842.
At his installation he would have been close to 60 years old. His wife
showed her spirit, too, by requesting replacement of the weathercock on
the spire. She remarked that nothing on the church should shift with
every wind. By her own knitting, she raised the funds to replace the
weathervane with a gilded cross.
A fire in 1867, due probably to the old woodstoves, damaged much of the
south end of the church building. Definitive repairs and renovations
were slow to come. The Vanderpoel family, who had joined the church a
few years before, helped greatly to fund improvements, one of which was
the window by William Morris that is behind the altar to this day. This
work of art still draws students and admirers of Morris from all around
the world. In 1873 parishioners subscribed to a furnace system, and the
next year gas lighting was laid on to take the place of candles. The
church re-opened completely on Sept 5, 1874. That same year, Miss Annie
F. Springsteed proposed constructing a building for the Sunday School
and subscribed a third of the estimated cost herself. Opening services
for the new building were in October 1875.
By 1879, the Rev. Mr. Robertson was in declining health, and the vestry
engaged a curate to help him. There was in those days no pension fund,
and ministers often served until death. The Rev. Thomas Cole came as
curate, but soon the vestry had a better plan. They contrived to make
Mr. Robertson Rector Emeritus without much reduction in salary and with
continued use of the parsonage while calling the Rev. Mr Cole as the new
Rector. Mr. Robertson died in 1881.
The Rev. Mr. Cole, a son of the artist Thomas Cole (generally seen as
the founder of “The Hudson River School” of art) was a graduate of St
Stephen’s College (precursor to Bard) and of General Theological
Seminary in New York. Ordained only in 1874, he was to be the minister
at Trinity for the next 40 years, with one five-year leave of absence
1889-1894) during which the Rev. John W. Craig ably substituted. The
Rev. Mr. Cole was also interested in geology and paleontology, and his
personal collection of specimens is today at the Saugerties Historical
By 1881, the second organ of the church was aging fast. Mr Charles
Spalding, a vestryman, offered a new organ in memory of his mother. This
instrument was built by Helborne L. Roosevelt. Pieces of it would be
incorporated into its successor, a Hartman Beaty.
A new rectory was on the drawing board in 1883. Several years later
designs enlarge the church building were put forth, but not realized
The wardens opted to buy additional land for the cemetery in 1892. In an
important decision to start the new century, the Vestry set aside $4000
from the accumulated building fund to start an endowment for the parish.
A notable hire of 1910 was Mr. Frank E. Fuller as organist. Mr. Fuller’s
son Sheldon (“Shad”) was later vestryman and treasurer of the parish for
many years. He and his wife “Bobbie” are in mid-2009 pillars of the 8
o’clock service. This represents in just two generations a century of
devoted membership in our parish. Shad recollects that the organ his
father played had a motor driven by water. This motor was provided in
1906 to take the place of the “organ boy” who had previously done the
Ominously, in 1913 during a heavy wind “the steeple started from its
foundations.” Much later it would have to be taken down.
The year 1916 brought the renovations proposed long before. The old
sanctuary was removed, thirty feet added to the length of the building
and a new sanctuary built.
The Rev. Mr. Cole died on November 5, 1919. The Rev. Kenneth R. Buchanan
succeeded him in 1920. The pulpit in the church is a memorial to Mr
Cole. The Overbagh family proposed in 1922 a window in the parish hall
to be in memory of John Caldwell Overbagh. Designed by Louis Comfort
Tiffany, this window is a second gem of ecclesiastical art along with
the Morris window. The two windows are together one of the reasons that
Trinity Episcopal Church and associated buildings are on the National
Register of Historic Places.
The Rev. William T. Renison succeeded Mr. Buchanan in 1924. In 1926 came
the Rev. Emery Louis Howe. .
Important additions to the parish endowment came in the crash year of
1929: $1000 from the late R.B. Overbagh and $2000 from the late Harriet
In 1930 M.r Benjamin F. Crump compiled a centennial book and Mrs Eva
Sidman “has agreed to write the history.”
The Rev. Mr Howe died in 1934 and in January 1935 the Rev. William T.
Renison returned to the Parish as its twelfth Rector.
The cemetery, which had started in 1831, doubled its area in 1938 with
the addition of 175 by 420 foot piece just east of the older section.
After forty-eight years in the Ministry, The Rev. Mr Renison announced
his planned retirement in 1946. His successor was the Rev. Peter W. O.
Hill, a Canadian, who arrived with his family just before Easter 1947.
In September 1957 the church, with due permission from the diocese
negotiated for and bought its next-door neighbor to the east, the Isle
of Capri Hotel. The structure was renamed Trinity House.
In 1960 Mr. Sheldon Fuller was elected to the vestry, which he served
for most of the next 49 years. That June, the Rev. Mr. Hill accepted a
call from St. Luke’s, Saranac Lake. This narrative of the parish history
will stop for now with 1960, as the detailed notes from which it is
excerpted come to an end. We will pick up the story again, drawing on
other records and on the memory of Mr. and Mrs. Fuller.
It is not possible from documents at hand to name all the parishioners
over the first one hundred thirty years, nor even all the persons who
gave their work, wisdom and wealth in extra measure as vestry, wardens
and loyal supporters. Some names in addition to those above that should
be mentioned in a non-exhaustive listing are: Batelle, Clum, Kingsford,
Mason, Sheffield, Spalding and Washburn. Other names should be added.
All of us today are very grateful to those named and their unlisted
colleagues who have steered the parish so well for (now) 178 years.
This history is based very much on about a hundred pages of meticulously
typed text for which no writer, editor or typist is named. The doer says
that she (probably ) or he drew on the materials prepared for the
Centennial in 1931.
History Of the Trinity Episcopal Church -