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A Brief History of the Rockwell Falls Presbyterian Church


On June 26, 1837, a group of men met to subscribe money for the purpose of building a Union Church on property described as, "located on the land between the north river bridge and the house now occupied by Orrie Martin, in the town of Luzerne."  The building was to be 35 feet by 24 feet and it was to be free to all religious denominations of Christians. Jeremy Rockwell was the first subscriber, giving $15.00 for a "necessary," followed by some 80 pledges. For the next three years subscriptions were made periodically to build a tower and to pay off indebtedness. The towns were heavily Methodist, probably because the only regular preaching available was by a Methodist circuit rider, but Baptists, Presbyterians and Universalists also used the Building.


Pastors William Benedict and William Myers

In 1852 the Rev. William Benedict came to Luzerne, followed by the Rev. William Myers in 1854, and they preached to the Presbyterians, probably in Conklingville as well as Luzerne. In 1855 the Presbyterians took control of the Union Church Property, which was in a dilapidated condition, they refitted it and remodelled it at a cost nearing $500.


Pastor Charles H. Skillman

The Rev. Charles H. Skillman was instrumental in this undertaking, and on Jan. 17, 1856 the church was formally organized by the Albany Presbytery and dedicated to the worship of God. The church was known as the Presbyterian Church of Rockwell's Falls.  Rev. Skillman was pastor in both Luzerne and Conklingville. The first elders were William Scofield and Charles Rockwell, and the charter members were Mr. & Mrs. Charles Rockwell, Mr. & Mrs. William Scofield, Mrs. Catherine Wells, Mrs. Anna Younglove, Miss Susan Benedict and Mrs. Jane Ann Barnes.

Two weeks later eight persons from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland were admitted to membership. They were Mr. & Mrs. Robert Ramsey, Mr. & Mrs. William Ramsey, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Gayely and Mr. & Mrs. John Dougherty. A few days later seven trustees were elected, Newton Aldrich, Jefferson Jeffers, B. C. Butler, William Scofield, W.W. Rockwell, George T. Rockwell and Telum Dayton.  It was not necessary to be a church member to be a trustee, and this custom continued for 100 years. The duties of the elders were spiritual, concerning themselves with admitting people to communion and membership, while the trustees had charge of all temporal affairs. Shortly after church organization, the trustees went to court to dispose of the property of the then defunct Corinth Presbyterian Church, and to get permission to transfer any remaining funds from the sale of the property to the Church of Rockwell's Falls. Many of the former Corinth worshippers were now associated with the Luzerne Church. The history of the church seems to be one of "where do we get the money." The first year the members subscribed $253.50 for the minister's salary, but only  $227.50 was actually collected. Two years later when it came time to decide the salary the trustees decided to leave the amount blank until they knew how much was subscribed "by Saturday night. Rev. Skillman left the church in 1860.  The country was soon to be embroiled in a Civil War, and the country's hard time was reflected by the difficulties in the church. Ministers came, and ministers went.


The Ministry of a Multitude of Pastors

John H. McLean-stated supply for 4 months.  He was from Washington County.

C. A. Patterson-stated supply for 1 year.

F. B. Hall -- ordained and installed Feb.1862. In November he entered the army and did not return to Luzerne.

David Herron, stated supply, spring 1863.

Joseph Duryea, stated supply, summer 1864. He was from Brooklyn.

Elihu Sanford, stated supply, 1866, 1 year.

Walter Nichols, stated supply, 1867, 3 months.

George Craig, stated supply, 1868, 3 years.

William Durant, stated supply, 1871, summer.

William Whittlesly, stated supply 1871, fall.

Then the fortunes of the church took a turn for the better.


Pastor Dr. Alexander Rankin

In 1872, Dr. Alexander Rankin was installed pastor. It must have been a happy relationship, for Dr. Rankin served the church for 22 years, until 1894, and after that frequently moderated the session when the church was between pastors. Shortly after Dr. Rankin's arrival the subject of a parsonage was raised and in March 1875 the trustees met to lay several options before the congregation.  These included building near the Rockwell property in Hadley, buying a previously built home, or building in Luzerne. The congregation voted unanimously to buy and build on "a lot just north of the house and lot owned by Mrs. Thurston, said lot now belonging to Mrs. Wallace and measuring 66' front and 150' out back." It was mortgaged for $700.00 to pay off the indebtedness. This property and house were used as the manse until shortly after the turn of the Millennium.


Although Sabbath School was run from time to time in the early days of the church, it was organized as a primary school in 1878 with 7 classes. 120 members were enrolled with an average attendance of 53. Some of the pupils were registered as attending more than one Sabbath School in the community. The school had a lending library, which eventually grew to some 443 volumes. Some of the titles were "Burden Bearing of Jennie Ellis," "Alice Clifford and Her Day Dreams," What Changed Guy Dennis" and "Ruth Allerton, the Missionary's Daughter." One year in a Bible verse contest, Alfred Webster memorized 303 verses and Ernest Dayton 302.

By 1881, the need was felt for a new church building, and in 1882, building was begun. Although the ministers salary had now advanced to $500.00 a year, money was still difficult to obtain and of the original pledges only $1427.00 came from church members, the remaining $5825.00 was from non-members.  The ultimate cost of the new church was about $10,000. The church was built of these same stone walls, and the interior design was essentially the same as it is today, although the windows were real stained glass and there was more wood ornamentation.


The first services were held Dec. 1, 1882 and dedication was held the following July 28th, 1883. The old church was later sold to George T. Rockwell and later was used as a store. Since the church rarely could meet its expenses solely by subscription, ingenious ways of raising money were found. An excursion trip to North Creek brought in $25.00 and the same year a concert in the church cleared another $80.00. Many years later, Ice Cream Festivals were a major benefit. When financial problems arose, the men turned to the ladies of the church, and in 1886, with the new church built, but being $300 in arrears on the pastor's salary, they asked for their help and advice in organizing a "donation party" to try and clear up the indebtedness. The Ladies Mission Band was organized in 1888. Their projects were to contribute to a student in Ceylon and the Home Industrial School in North Carolina. The beloved Dr. Rankin left in 1894. Later he was to be honored with a plaque in his memory, and as recently as 1954, the offering plates and candlesticks on the communion table, were given as a memorial of the first public confession of faith, under Dr. Rankin in 1884 by Rev. Wilber A. Wagner. The Rockwell family was a large and prominent family in the towns of Hadley and Luzerne. Besides giving their name to this church, they were generous financial supporters and many served as elders and trustees.


Pastor Willard P. Harmon

Shortly after Dr. Rankin left, the church called the Rev. Willard P. Harmon, at a salary of $700.00 and free use of the manse. It didn't take long for Mr. Harmon to meet the Rockwells, and in 1896 the new minister married Miss Edna Rockwell, granddaughter of George T. Rockwell, and daughter of George H. Rockwell. Her sister, Elizabeth, who married Henry Windsor, was a member of this congregation for 78 years, until her death in 1972. The church of Rockwell's Falls was a busy place during Mr. Harmon's tenure. Sunday School conventions, Albany Presbytery and Christian Endeavor conventions met here. Mr. Harmon was described as having preached an eloquent and scholarly sermon that was thoroughly appreciated and was a means of spiritual help and blessing to all who had the pleasure and good fortune to hear it. One Sunday, according to his notes, when the Methodists had no service, he preached to about 200 people at the morning service, 60 people at the 3 p.m. Conklingville service, and came back to preach to 175 in the evening.


Pastor R.C. Mitchell

The Rev. R.C. Mitchell served the church from 1900 until 1902.


Pastor A.E. Weston

The Rev. A.E. Weston followed in 1902 and was called by both the Conklingville Church and Luzerne. Conklingville agreed to pay $250.00 of his $600.00 salary.


Pastor John Calvin Knox

On February 2, 1905, the Rev. John Calvin Knox was installed as pastor. From the formation of the church it had been the custom to hold communion 3 or 4 times a year, always preceded by a Preparatory Lecture held on Friday evening before communion Sunday. Rarely was this service eliminated, but in February, l908 it had to be cancelled because the church was cold and the chimney smoky. The Preparatory Lectures were apparently discontinued after 1918. The Ladies Aid got their first official recognition in 1909, when they began earning and spending money on the church. Mr. Knox was interested in the community and served as treasurer for the Regatta's held on Lake Luzerne during the summers of 1908, 1909, and 1910. Mr. Knox's pastorate ended with his untimely and accidental death on the Conklingville Road in 1918.


Pastor Ralph E. DeKay

There were apparent misgivings about the call to the Rev. Ralph E. DeKay in 1920.  Of the 25 votes cast at the congregational meeting, 15 were affirmative and 10 negative.


Pastors F.A. Hawley and Ray M. Busler

Between 1921 and 1924, the Rev. F.A. Hawley and Rev. Ray M. Busler served the church alternately. During this time the Presbyterians and Methodists held joint Sunday Evening services during July and August..When Mr. Busler left the church in Sept, l922 after 3 months, he inserted a personal note in the session minutes, declaring "no church could have shown greater kindness to their minister and his family, than this church has done, and this kindness will be remembered  with the greatest gratitude.


Pastor Paul R. Hoppe

Rev. Paul R. Hoppe was pastor from 1925 to 1927, and during this time tragedy struck, for on Dec. 21, 1926, fire demolished the church. All that was left were the stone walls.  As an outgrowth of this disaster, the Van R. Rhodes Volunteer Fire Co. was formed.   Only a month later the congregation met, and by a show of hands voted unanimously to rebuild the church. Insurance money collected only paid off a mortgage still held by National Missions on the church, but a house on River St., owned by the church was sold for $2000.00 and with a grant of $750.00 and a loan of $750.00 from National Missions, the building fund started off. Due to economic conditions which soon engulfed the country, paying for a new church was a long and difficult task, accomplished only with faith and great sacrifice. Using the remaining stone walls, the church was rebuilt, often using inferior materials. Furnishings came from other churches which had discarded or unused things to offer. The beautiful stained glass windows were replaced in similar design, but with colored glass. They were given as memorials to the persons named below.


The Windows of Our Sanctuary - in Memory and Honor of:


Brace M. Gallien - The Gallien family was from Albany and spent their summers in Luzerne. While here they stayed in the Fisher Cottage, now the home of Ted Clemmons on Lake Ave. Mr. Gallien was an elder in his church, and on occasion served Communion here.  Their son was mentally handicapped, and the window was given in his memory. Mr. & Mrs. William  Ramsey - were admitted to this church on Feb. 1, 1856, Lydia from the church of St. Johnston, Ireland, and William from the Trustou church in Ireland. William was elected a trustee in 1875 and ordained an elder in 1887. Lydia died in 1872 and William married Anna Gilroy the next year. She died in 1892 and William was dismissed to the Glens Falls Church in 1897.


Mr. & Mrs. John Dority Sr. - John and Susannah Dority were admitted to this church on Feb. 1, 1856, from the Presbyterian Church of St. Johnstone, Ireland. John died in 1901 and Susannah in 1902. Their granddaughter, Eleanore Dority, now married to Philip Gardner, was formerly a member of this church.


Beatrice C. Young - Joined the church on Dec. 21, 1919. As a small child she attended all the suppers and Ladies Aid Meetings with her mother, Lena Scoville Young. She died at an early age.


A.J. Woodard and Helen Woodard - Were admitted to this church in 1894 from the Corinth Methodist church where they were members for 17 years. Arthur was elected a trustee in 1895 and was reelected successively until his death in 1934.


George H. Rockwell and Caroline Rockwell - George was elected a trustee in 1921 and became a member of the church in 1922. He died in 1925. His granddaughter, Miss  Miriam Harmon <as of the time this was originally written> worships here during the summer months when she lives in the house of


Elizabeth Windsor - her aunt, and daughter of George H. Rockwell.


Mrs. Alice Jeffers - was born in 1849 and died in 1927.


William Snell - was admitted to this church in 1868. He was elected a trustee in 1873 and held this position until the late 1890's. He was ordained an elder in 1887 and continued until 1918. He died in 1923. His daughter Anna, gave the Pulpit Bible in 1964, in his memory and her husband's (John Chilson).


William J. Chilson - was received into the church in 1896 from the Methodist church in Luzerne. He was a member of Co.B 14th N.Y. Infantry in the war between the states.  His son John, a teacher in the school where the firehouse now stands, married Anna Snell. He died in 1913.


Van R. Rhodes, Inez, Edwin and Phoebe - Van R. Rhodes was a lumber and Real Estate man. He was elected a trustee in 1926. Inez, his wife, was elected trustee in 1929, and later that year joined this church. She died in 1930. Edwin and Phoebe were his parents.


Alice Harris - Alice was a long-time active member of our church community.  She served in many ways, in her community and in our congregation.  As another long-time member said, "When something needed to be done, she was there willing to help."


Pastor H. Borden Adams

On December 4, 1927 it was voted to call the Rev. H. Borden Adams for a 6 months trial period, with a salary of $31.25 a week. According to Mrs. John Fowler, his first sermon used the text, Matthew 10:14, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet."  Mr. Adams arrived as a rather shy young bachelor, who boarded in several homes before moving to the manse. In 1931 he married Miss Constance VanVliet and she became a tireless worker and supporter, of both his ministry and the church itself.  The church continued in its precarious financial condition, receiving aid yearly from National Missions. The minister's salary was cut several times, and frequently wasn't paid at all. Church attendance was not large, but the Sunday School thrived. During this time of rebuilding both physically and spiritually, the church was incorporated under the name " Rockwell Falls Presbyterian Church." The trial period was apparently successful, for in 1935 the session voted to request he stay on as stated supply and finally on May 8,1940, after 13 years of service, Mr. Adams was installed as pastor.  During two weeks in July 1939, the Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians joined in sponsoring a Vacation Bible School, held in the IOOF Hall. About 75 pupils attended and a special offering was collected, in each church to defray expenses. The sum of $10.56 was collected, and it was deemed "more than enough."


Once again war disrupted the world. The church sent many of its young men off, most of whom had grown up in the Sunday School and in Cub Scouts with Mr. Adams. Four of them did not return, Richard Fowler, in whose memory the cross was given, William George, Harry Gillis, and Cleon Swears. During the cold weather months, worship services were held in the Sunday School rooms and this continued for several years. The ministers salary gradually increased, and if he was fortunate and the treasury showed a balance in December, in some years he was given a Christmas bonus. In 1947 the pastor was finally able to proudly announce that for the first time in 16 years the church had not asked for aid from National Missions, and he said, "we have stood on our own feet."  The next year a new organ was purchased. The Jr. Hi -Sr. Hi Lenten suppers began, being held in the manse, and young people were sent to church camp at Troy. One-year plans for two of these youngsters were cancelled, because of the fear of polio. Although money continued to be a problem, and the minister found it necessary to give a budget talk from the pulpit because "too many are finding it only too convenient to ignore their obligations," the church was redecorated and the minister's salary rose to $2700.00 a year.


In 1956 a special service was held, commemorating the founding of this church 100 years earlier. In the first one hundred years of the church, election as elder was tantamount to being elected to a lifetime job.  Charles Rockwell served 33 years and 20 or more years was not uncommon. During that time, only 28 persons held the position of elder. In 1957 the church adopted the rotation plan whereby elders and trustees could serve no more than 2 consecutive 3 year terms being out of office at least one year before reelection. As a result of this policy many more of our members have exercised their gifts as ordained leaders in our church.


Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Lena Leavens Jeffers, who left the church a sizable legacy, an addition was built to the church in 1958. It housed the Church School classes, kitchen, office and bathrooms and was known simply as "The Jeffers." It was dedicated June 28th, 1959. Because of this addition a church time nursery was established so that young parents could attend church. During the 1950's and 60's the Couples Club flourished providing many happy hours of sociability and service to the church. The Ladies Aid continued to provide the money for many church and manse repair jobs, as well as contributing to the church support. In 1965 the congregation, reluctantly and sorrowfully, voted to grant Mr. Adams the retirement he so richly deserved. By unanimous vote and in recognition of his 38 years of service, he was given the title, "pastor emeritus."


Pastor Glenn Dimmitt

The search for a new pastor began, and the Lord answered our fervent prayers with the call to the Rev. Glenn Dimmitt in the spring of 1966. A recent graduate of Louisville, Kentucky Seminary, he was installed on April 26. His was a difficult, transitional pastorate, but he handled it with grace and an easy, outgoing Midwestern charm that brought many new people into the church. He left in November 1969 to answer a call to the ministry in Sandusky, Michigan.


Pastor Ronald N.H. VanSchenkhof

The Rev. Ronald N. H. VanSchenkhof was installed as pastor in the summer of 1970.  During his tenure the church grew numerically and the role of laity was strengthened.  The congregation voted to have a unicameral governing board so that both the duties of elder and trustee could be discharged by the same persons. The session was increased to 9 members with 3 being elected each year, and 2 youth delegates also serve. In 1972 the former Sunday School room in the rear of the sanctuary was remodeled into 3 class rooms and a large overhead storage area. This was made possible by the legacy of Miss Bet Garner. The programs and policies initiated by Mr. VanSchenkhof are of course very much with us today, as his pastorate ended as of July 31, 1976, when he entered the Army as a Chaplain.


With this look at the past, we now turn our faces to the future.


note:  This history was prepared by William Meyer and Carolyn Towers and read by Elder Helen Powers during a church presentation sometime in 1976 or 1977.  Church School children represented the various pastors, wearing placards with the name and years of service on them. Various members represented the persons named on the windows and read the biographical sketch. Bruce Levett made posters listing all the elders and trustees.   


Pastor Tom Parsons

In 1977 the Rev. Thomas Parsons began his ministry at our church.  It was his first - and only - Call as the installed pastor of a church.  As he later noted, "I told God that I would serve him anywhere - except in New York."  Jonah said much the same thing!  So much for telling God what we will or will not do!  Tom served our congregation until the fall of 2005 when he retired from service to our grateful congregation.  Tom led our congregation in reaching out to each other, our community and our world.  He still lives and serves in our community, attending worship at the Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George (when he and JoEllen, his wife, aren't serving in disaster relief efforts around our country or in Haiti).


Pastor Michael R. Burkley

Michael began his service to our congregation in September of 2007.  He had served as the pastor of three other Presbyterian Churches over the previous twenty-one years.  He and Susan have been married for thirty-two years as of June 2011 and have two adult children, Ben and Liz.  Ben lives in Pittsburgh, PA while Liz moved to Lake Luzerne with her parents and married one of our native sons, Austin Guenther, in June, 2009.  They currently live in Grove City, PA.  Michael loves to teach and to care for people (and he makes lots of home-made bread), and he says, "I get to be the pastor of Rockwell Falls Presbyterian Church! Things aren't much better than that!"


--Easter, 2012


The history of our church continues ever onward.  Come join and help make it a blessing to our God, our community and our congregation!