Trinity Episcopal Church is the oldest Episcopal Church in Ulster County.
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 grandfather was the Rev Thomas Barclay, born in Scotland 1664. M.A. at St Andrews 1688, After ordination by the Bishop of London in 1707, he came to Fort Orange (now Albany). He was the first rector of what is now St. Peter’s Cathedral in Albany. His son Henry (b. 1712 Yale 1735) studied in England and was ordained there. He returned to the colonies an, as his father had, preached in their language to the Mohawks before moving to Manhattan, where he was the Rector of Trinity Church Wall Street 1746-1764.
A son of the Rev. Henry Barclay was Thomas (1753-1830), who 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, being a Colonel in the British army. He elected exile/deportation/banishment. Thus Henry, born in New York, 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 changed 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 across the river 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 lived nearby.
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. Abigail was the daughter of Theodore Barrell, a stalwart church member whose house still stands 250 feet north of the church. 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 1832 !
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 townspeople.
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 Society.
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 until 1916.
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 air-pumping.
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 E. Rising.
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 north, by now known as the Isle of Capri Hotel. This three-story frame house had been built around 1832 by William Young, President of the Ulster Iron Works. It was later bought and added-to by Cornelius Battelle, a local factory owner and warden of Trinity Church, then had further improvements by the Whiting family, whose daughter, Mrs Seaton, was a long-time parishioner. The view of the Catskills over Barclay’s millpond from “Mrs Seaton’s” was internationally famous though today second-growth trees obscure it except in the winter. After Mrs Seaton moved away, the building was converted into a hotel called Hill Crest House which was renamed in the 1940s. The erstwhile Isle of Capri was renamed Trinity House but proved too costly to maintain as a Sunday school and conference building. Sad to say, it was razed a few years after the purchase.
In 1960 Mr. Sheldon Fuller was elected to the vestry, on which he served (often as Treasurer) for most of the next 49 years! That June, the Rev. Mr. Hill accepted a call from St. Luke’s, Saranac Lake. In September Trinity Church welcomed its fourteenth rector, The Rev. Richard Shepherd. Fr. Shepherd and his wife, Ruth, remained until his retirement in 1993. He was followed in 1994 by the Rev. Herbert Florer until the arrival in 1997 of the Rev. Jeffrey Turczyn and his wife Kathleen. Fr. Turczyn resigned in 2008 and Fr. Fred Cartier stepped in as interim until in 2010 the Rev. Jeanette Tweedy was called to Trinity. After her departure in 2011, the Rev. Michael A. Phillips and his wife Sarah came to our church from Poughkeepsie in mid-2012 and have been here since. From 2014 to 2016 the Rev. Susan Auchincloss was Assisting Priest.
By Diocesan rules, Fr Phillips, who is already retired but acting full-time nonetheless, cannot continue past the end of 2019. In the very near future, Trinity Church Saugerties will be looking to call our eighteenth rector.
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 of the years to 1960 are Batelle, Clum, Kingsford, Mason, Sheffield, Spalding and Washburn. Many other names should be to cover the years 1960 to now, so many that we don’t venture to make a roll of honor here.. All of us today are very grateful to those named and their unlisted colleagues who have steered the parish so well for (now) 187 years.
The first 130 years of this chronicle 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.