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Presbyterian Church of Hobart

By Helen Rich and Ola Cowan
Written in October 1975

1941 Folk ArtOur deepest roots in this country go back to August 1773, when Alexander Leal, John McKenzie and Daniel McGilverie left their homes in Scotland to seek a better life in the New World. They left their families in New York and came to Kortright to see the place they had chosen.

At that time, the country here was an almost unbroken forest of hemlock. Of course there were no churches. These pious Scotchmen refused to bring their families to live without the privilege of religious services so they gathered a few other individuals who had settled here previously and organized a religious society. The service was led by a Mr. Blair, who read, in connection with other religious exercises, the 35th chapter of Isaiah: “the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing; —They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellence of our God.”

The next week, these men returned to New York and brought out their families. In 1774, a supply preacher was sent by the Associate Reformed Presbytery of New York and Pennsylvania. There was preaching off and on until the settlement was broken up and the people scattered by the Revolutionary War.

Many of the men entered the army and their families went somewhere else and few ever returned.

Among those who did return were Alexander Leal and Daniel McGilverie. In 1784, new settlers from Washington County arrived, and they again applied for a preacher. At first, services were held in homes but as these were small, need for a church building was felt. They built a log church and roofed it with bark. This was near where the Gilchrist Memorial Church is now.

In 1794, a new church was built and a regular preacher, the Reverend William McAuley came. This man was very important to us for he established a preaching station in South Kortright soon after he settled. He walked every Sunday to preach to the people in this area.

From this beginning came the United Presbyterian Church in South Kortright. The Hobart United Presbyterian Church has close ties with the South Kortright Church, although it didn’t officially start there.

In 1824, a union Sunday School was started by the Reverend Forest from the South Kortright Church. It met in the school house diagonally opposite where the Methodist Church is today.

At one time, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was the only church in the Hobart area. It was organized in 1794 and the church was consecrated in 1819. A Methodist society or class was organized in Township in 1794 and a church built in 1823. The Hobart Methodist class was organized in 1835.

A group gathered in the Hobart Town Hall on August 23, 1829 to organize a religious society in the Village of Hobart. The moderator for this meeting was the Honorable Martin Keeler, Esquire, and N. Smith, Secretary. Mr. Keeler was of some importance in Delaware County. He had been a sailor, mill-worker and teacher. He entered politics and became county sheriff, judge and a member of the State Assembly. While he was a county judge in 1819, he hanged a man convicted of poisoning his wife -the first hanging in Delaware County. Judge Keeler lived in South Kortright where the Boys’ Training School is now.

This group met again on August 31 and organized “The Presbyterian Society of the Village of Hobart.” The minutes of this meeting were recorded in the County Clerk’s office. Duncan Grant and Edward Meigs were inspectors of election. Martin Keeler, Angus McDonald, Barrach Taylor, John Lamport, Titus Hermon, Patrick Hughes, Novatus Blish, Isaac Wilcox and James Clark were elected trustees. The names of elders, if elected, were not recorded. There was apparently no connection with any Presbytery.

When the church celebrated its One Hundredth Anniversary in 1929, the pastor at that time, the Reverend Joseph Scofield, preached a sermon on the history of the church. He was able to talk with Rodney Hughes, the eleventh of the twelve children of Patrick Hughes who was elected a trustee in 1829. He told the following account of his father:

Patrick Hughes’ father, John, was born in Wales and moved to Ireland where he married an Irish girl. His brother went to England and his son (Patrick Hughes’ cousin) John became an Archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church and built St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Patrick Hughes came to Middletown, Connecticut in 1817 when he was about sixteen. He apprenticed himself to a wheelwright for seven years. His wages were ten dollars a year and two suits of clothes. The wheelwright was a Methodist so Patrick went to church with the family and was soon singing in the choir. When he had learned his trade, he was given one hundred dollars and a new suit, and started west to make his fortune.

Many New Englanders were coming through this section at that time and Patrick Hughes soon arrived in Hobart. This was not very far west and he didn’t plan to stay here, but he met Miss Elizabeth Grant. She was a beautiful girl. Good water power was plentiful here so with this double inducement, he decided to settle here and set up his shop. He was married by an Associated Reformed Presbyterian Minister from South Kortright. The wedding probably took place at the Grant home in the Township.

He and his bride began going to the South Kortright Church, making the trip on horseback, later taking their children with them. A special saddle was arranged for the two children, John and Elizabeth, who later became the great-grandmother of Wally Rich, but when the third baby was born, the trip was too hard over bad roads. Mrs. Hughes joined the Episcopal Church in Hobart and the family attended there.

When Patrick died in 1858, at the age of 57, the Episcopal minister was away, so Mr. Sommers of the Hobart Presbyterian Church conducted the service. Thus Patrick Hughes, a Roman Catholic all his life, sang in a Methodist Choir, was married by an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Minister, attended both the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches, and was buried by a Presbyterian. As the Revered Scofield remarked, “The thing that makes us claim him is that he was interested in the development of a church in this village to the extent of accepting the position of trustee in the Presbyterian Society organized here in 1829.

We have gone into the history of this interesting man to show the indebtedness this church has to other churches and also to illustrate the pioneer element in our early history.”

Not much can be found about this early church. They must have had occasional preachers sent as missionaries from various Presbyteries, but there is no record of a permanent pastor. Probably this church dwindled away, for on May 10, 1852, another organization was formed.

The Reverend A. Phillips acted as moderator and Silas C. Noble as clerk pro-tem, Josiah Meigs (a clock tinker), Alexander Stewart (a stone mason and marble cutter), and Charles B. Clark were elected trustees. This was called the Presbyterian Society in the Village of Hobart.

Hobart Presbyterian ChurchFor some reason, some of these same people met again on December 2 of the same year and established still another organization, “The Associate Reform Presbyterian Society in the Village of Hobart.” Alexander Stewart served as moderator and Robert McLaughlin as clerk. Trustees were Justice W. Taylor, Robert McLaughlin, Frederick Griffin, George McCall, Andrew Wilson, William Scott, James C. McWilliams, Andrew Cowan and Hugh Leal. Elders were William Trotter, John Smith and Hugh Boyd. There were 60 members. Among them are recorded Hugh Gillespie, William R. Grant, Andrew Thomson, John Wilson, Miss Agnes Marshall and Josiah Meigs.

William Trotter, who served as an elder, was Hobart’s first postmaster. He had been an elder in the South Kortright Church. Tradition says that some in the Hobart area who attended the South Kortright Church had decided it would be more convenient to have a church nearer by. The pastor of the South Kortright Church, Dr. Gibson, always spoke of Hobart as the “easy church.” This, plus the facts that William Trotter served as an elder in both churches, several names of families (Cowan, Rose, Rich and King) appear in both churches, and the name of this second organization of 1852 was Associate Reform – the same as South Kortright – leads us to believe it was an offshoot of that church.

Again the first services of this church were held in homes, some in the house which stood where the present manse is. This house was later moved and is now the home of Mrs. Marshall Cowan.

In 1853, the congregation bought a lot for $240. It was where the bank parking lot is now. Finally in 1854, a church was built for $3,200. “The Bloomville Mirror” for July 25, 1854 reported the building of the new church as follows:

“The foundation is laid, the frame work is up, the roof of this new edifice is on, and the enclosing process is steadily advancing under the skillful direction of Mr. Krum, the builder, and the persevering promptitude of the committee entrusted with its erection. The building measures thirty-six feet front and sixty feet deep, on the foundation walls, and will present an open area of fifty-five feet between the floor and ceiling of the arch. The front is to be surmounted by a square tower or belfry 25 feet high, of the modern French Gothic or Composite order. The bold, heavy eaves, the wide facade, and corresponding cornices — the large, sixty paned windows — their blinds, the doors and much of the inside are either done or in a state of great forwardness; and it is now confidently expected that as early as next Christmas, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Society of Hobart will be able to dedicate their house, complete to the worship of the common God of all Christians.”

The reporter goes on to say: “This peculiar class of believers are the most numerous and wealthy among us and it is reasonable to expect that they will promptly and liberally second the efforts of the building committee in their honorary exertions to expedite this public holy work.”

Apparently there was some doubt as to how they would be able to get the money to build the church. One man was said to remark that he would be living with his second wife before the church was built. The reporter was happy to say this man was still a widower in 1854.

Although the church was dedicated in 1855, a debt did remain, for on February 4, 1859, this letter, which was glued in the session minutes for June 8, 1933 without reference to where it first appeared, was printed:

Dear Brethren, The United Presbyterian Church New York, take this method of asking of Hobart, their Brethren Delaware County, to aid them in removing the debt from their church edifice. The undersigned can say that the people have exerted themselves manfully in procuring a place of worship, and some have subscribed beyond their means, but still come short of the sums required. There is a debt on the edifice now due, which they do not feel able to pay, and therefore respectfully ask you to send them a little, to enable them to meet their obligations. A small collection from their sister Churches, in the aggregate, will be a great help to them, and will be most gratefully received. Whatever our Brethren may feel disposed to give us may be sent by mail to Robert S. Rich, Treasurer. Yours in the bonds of the Gospel, William C. Sommers, Pastor

John Smith, and Hugh Boyd, Elders; George McCall, James C. McWilliams, W. R. Grant, A. Y. Thompson, and Robert S. Rich, trustees.

Robert S. Rich was Wallace Rich’s grandfather. In May 1870 the debt amounted to $1,000, but by strenuous efforts of the women of the church, and Trustee Rich, the debt was paid and the society put on a pay-as-we-go basis.

Apparently the church was not completed by Christmas of 1854, for quoting again from “The Bloomvi1le Mirror” of January 30, 1855: “More has been done in Hobart during the past twelve months for the accommodation and enjoyment of Christian worship than was accomplished during the thirty years previously. Five thousand dollars has been expended during the past year and we now have three beautiful churches. The new Presbyterian house is receiving its finishing touches: carpeting, pulpit covering and furnishing. The seats and paneling are all oaked with the brush. The body walls are overlaid with a rich satin paper.”

From the issue of April 17, 1855, we read: “The Reverend Mr. Johnson of West Charlton, Saratoga County, is expected to occupy the pulpit of our new Presbyterian Church about the first of May and from hence forward to be a settled minister among us.” The Reverend Johnson did arrive and served the church until 1856. He established a Sunday School with thirty members.

Through the years, many ministers have served this church. One of the early ones, who served from 1858-1865, was a William C. Sommers, the most versatile perhaps. He built the house where James and Barbara Joedicke now live. It is also told of him that when a parishioner from Township complained that it was hard for him to get to church regularly because he had no wagon, Reverend Sommers built him one. It is not reported whether or not his attendance improved.

Although there seems to have been little connection with any Presbytery until 1870, the Reverend Sommers did attend the meeting of the Delaware Presbytery at West Delhi in 1858. This was the year that the Reformed and Associate Reformed branches of the Presbyterian Church came together to form the United Presbyterian Church. The Hobart church is listed as having sixty members.

Jay Gould in his History of Delaware County mentioned an “old school” Presbyterian Church in Hobart in 1856. In 1869, there was a reunion of the “old” and “new” branches of the Presbyterian Church, and in 1870, Hobart was affiliated with Otsego Presbytery. A delegate went to Presbytery at Gilbertsville in 1871. The Presbytery censured the Hobart Church in 1875 for some reason not given, and there is no further connection with Presbytery until 1880. From then on, the church has always been represented.

From 1867-1880, there were long periods when the church was without a minister. The session minutes from 1852-1880 were lost, so this period is more or less a blank spot in our history. There was a period around 1870 when the Reverend Richards from Stamford held afternoon services and kept the group together. How discouraging it must have been – a beautiful new church, but no spiritual leader! But the situation improved with the coming of the Reverend Henry N. Payne in 1879, and the Reverend Irving E. White in 1880.

Since then, this church has been served by a regular pastor most of the time. Many of these stayed only a year or two, perhaps because a majority was young men just out of seminary who moved on when they had benefited by the experience and gained confidence in a small, rural parish. These eager young preachers had much to offer and are remembered with affection by our older members.

In the eighteen-eighties, the church must have really come to life. In her diaries from 1883-1887, Bertha Hanford Burroughs tells of going to services three times on Sunday: morning service, young people’s missionary meeting in the afternoon, and evening service. She speaks of week-long special services, lectures, and concerts. Apparently the Hanfords didn’t miss a thing at church and they lived most of this time up Gun House hill where White brothers’ farm is now. Bertha was Mrs. C. E. Hanford’s sister-in-law and Wallace H. Rich’s aunt.

The railroad came through Hobart in 1884 bringing a new problem to the church. The tracks ran along only a few yards from the church, and in those days, there were several trains. To make matters worse, there was a crossing and a watering tank near by. The trains would be switched around and broken up to leave the crossing clear while water was put in the engine. The poor preacher had lots of competition. The congregation was concerned only with the immediate problem. They probably didn’t realize the larger implications, but with the coming of the railroad, the world opened up and it was the beginning of the decline of the village – and the church – as the center of rural life.

The resolution to escape the nuisance by building a new church began to grow but took many years to mature. The name of the church was changed in 1882 to the First Presbyterian Church of Hobart, New York. The elders and trustees met in 1891 and resolved “that the Congregation be fore ever hereafter known as The Presbyterian Church of Hobart, New York.” This name also failed to last “fore ever hereafter,” for in 1958, the United Presbyterian Church, North America, and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., came together and the church is now the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. of Hobart.

Finally in 1910, the land where the church now stands was purchased. James R. Cowan left a legacy of $2,000 – the first subscription towards a new church in 1911. The congregational meeting in 1913 decided to build a new church. The dedicatory program states that the members of the Fund and Building Committee secured more than $10,000 for the new church.

The cornerstone was laid on June 30, 1913. The present church was dedicated on Sunday, April, 1914. From a newspaper account of the dedication we discover that this church is 40×70 feet. The tower is 75 feet high. It is built of red, Tapestry brick, trimmed with white sandstone. The auditorium is 37 by 44 feet. The room at the left of the entrance was called the “lecture room.” The woodwork is oak with natural finish and the walls were finished in white and cream with a touch of green to relieve the plainness. It was completely carpeted and the high back pews were softly cushioned. The church was free of debt when it was dedicated. The total cost was $13,000.

The pipe organ was a treasure the old church had never had. Several outside the congregation and the Hobart area contributed to make this possible, among them James McLean of New York City and South Kortright. The stained glass windows, some given as memorials, were another new feature and were much enjoyed for the beauty they added.

The brick church of an eclectic architectural design was quite different from the white clapboard Grecian-style building where the Congregation had worshipped.

The “old” church was sold and first used as a garage by Edmund Davis. Marshall Cowan later had the garage, then built on a store front and sold electrical equipment. The manse, which was the house where Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Clark live, was used until it was sold in 1922. The “new” manse was built in 1927.

A three-day celebration marked the one hundredth anniversary of the church in 1929. The Reverend Joseph Scofield was the pastor. Services were held on two Sundays and the Thursday between. Several former pastors returned to take part.

Even choirs were reunited. That of 1900 sang at one service, and the choir of 1914 at another. Members of the choir of 1929, who also sang at the services, were: Mrs. H. Marshall Cowan, Mrs. C. C. Gould, Miss Cornelia More (Mrs. Aaron A. Sargent), Miss Elizabeth Harsha (Mrs. William E. King), Mr. Wallace H. Rich, Mr. F. B. Devitt, Mrs. A. A. Beach, Wallace H. Rich, Hector E. Cowan, Myron S. Calhoun and George T. Rich.

During the pastorate of John Galloway, 1934-1937, a Boys’ Choir was formed and became very well-known. They sang all over Delaware County.

The 1930′s were the years of the great national depression and all churches had financial difficulties. This is reflected in the Hobart Church where the pastor’s salary dropped from $2,000 a year in 1929 to $1,400 in 1934. By 1942, it had climbed back to $1,800.

Two world wars are scarcely noted in the session minutes. For worldly interest, the session is more concerned with drunkenness in Hobart, and providing wholesome recreation for youth to the extent of installing a pool table in the church basement. During the World War I years, there is some mention of contributions to the Red Cross and buying War bonds. World War II got a little more attention. In July 1942, the session voted to buy a scroll to be placed in the vestibule on which to inscribe the names of members who are in the armed services. There was a quota to be raised for the War Time Service Fund, devotional books were sent to the soldiers from this church, and the Reverend Willis Baxter was given permission to supply the Stamford Church when their minister was called to the U.S. Army Chaplain’s Corps.

The unification of the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. officially took place in 1958, and in January 1959, the Presbytery of the Susquehanna was formed with headquarters in Bainbridge. The church name changed again to the United Presbyterian Church of Hobart.

Other changes followed. The women of the church had always made strong contributions toward maintaining the church and nourishing its spiritual life, but much of this was “behind the scenes” so to speak. In the list of members of the early society of 1852, only one woman is mentioned, Miss Agnes Marshall. For many years, only men held any office. Women sang in the choir and had their Missionary Society. One of the first offices held by women was that of Sunday School Superintendent. Mrs. C. C. Gould held that office for many years. Mrs. Walter S. Rich was elected church treasurer in the 1920′s and held the office for over twenty years. The financial secretary at this time was also a woman – Mrs. Maude Harsha, one of the earliest. Mrs. A. A. Beach, Mrs. Marshall Cowan, Mrs. Donald Rose, Mrs. Henry Dayton, and Mrs. William E. King have also held one or the other of the jobs for financial responsibility. Then in the 1960′s Mrs. Donald Rose was elected a trustee and Mrs. William E. King was elected an elder.

Shortly after this, the two boards, trustees and elders, were combined into one – the Session. Several women have since been ordained elders and members of the session: Mrs. Marshall Cowan, Mrs. George Grant, Mrs. Cletus Benjamin and Mrs. Ray Badger. The latter serves as clerk of the session.

The Women’s Missionary Society has been mentioned. This existed almost from the church’s revival in 1852. There was also the Presbyterian Guild which was concerned with the affairs of the local church. At one time, in the 1880′s, there was a Young People’s Missionary Society. A Christian Endeavor Society was started in 1889 and was still alive in 1929. A second missionary study group of the younger, married women was started in the 1920′s. It was called “The Holdcroft Missionary Society” in honor of Nellie Cowan Holdcroft, a missionary in Korea. These three women’s groups continued into the ‘60′s when the Presbyterial reorganized all women’s groups. The Presbyterian Women’s Organization was formed with two circles in our church. Late in the 60′s, these were also united into one and continue as the Women’s Association.

At the time of the centennial observance in August of 1929, the church had a Bible school of 105 members. Various plans have been tried to replace the traditional Sunday School when attendance and interest fell very low. Released time from school with classes combined with the South Kortright Church was one. At present, regular nursery and classes for grades one and two are held during church services. Students in grades through six attend the service for part of the time and then go to classes.

Many physical improvements have been made to the church in the last two decades – a modern and efficient kitchen, a remodeled and redecorated social room with folding doors to divide it into three smaller rooms, and another outside exit in case of emergencies – to name a few. Most of this work has been done with volunteer labor. Church members spent many hours to improve and maintain the building.

In 1965, responding to pressures felt by all small, rural churches, the South Kortright Church and the Hobart Church decided to share a pastor. The Reverend John Stephenson came and happily has remained. About the same time, the State Training School for Boys was established at South Kortright and Mr. Stephenson also serves as chaplain there.

As a final note, the Hobart Church has sent three of its children into the ministry: The Reverend Hector W. Cowan, the Reverend Frank Cowan and Nellie Cowan Holdcroft, whose husband, the Reverend J. G. Holdcroft was a missionary in Korea. The Cowan family was among the early pioneers and pillars of the South Kortright Church. Their migrant ancestor was Hector Cowan, born about 1750 in Scotland. He came to America around 1800 and settled in Stamford on what is now known as the old Cowan Homestead which he reclaimed from the wilderness, building a frame house in which he resided until he died at 93 years of age. He was an elder in the South Kortright Church.

His son, John, bought the homestead from the other heirs and added to it until he had 600 acres and was the leading farmer of the area. Not only was he his father’s successor as a farmer, but also as an elder in the church. He married Helen Grant, and his father was greatly pleased when they named their first child after him.

Young Hector went to the local school like his father before him and likewise worked on the home farm. He married Helena Jane Rich who was born in the Rich homestead (now Melin’s) in South Kortright. Eleven children were born to them, three of whom died in childhood, leaving one daughter who married Dr. F. H. McNaught and moved to Denver, Colorado, and seven sons. This Hector, like his ancestors before him, was ruling elder in the church and took an active part in its activities. He brought up his family in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.” It is said that Hector and Helena Jane had family devotions every morning with each member of the family on his knees.

The eldest son was John A. Cowan. He was a farmer and elder in the Hobart Church. It was his daughter, Nellie, who was a missionary. The second of the seven brothers was James Rich Cowan. He went into politics, serving as justice of the peace, town supervisor, and state assemblyman. He never married. It was he who left the legacy which helped build our present church.

Robert F. Cowan was a farmer. He had one son who died in infancy. Hector W. went to Princeton, where he was known as a football player, became a minister, and later returned to the Town of Stamford to farm. He had seven children, all except one of whom are still living. His one son who remained in Hobart was an elder in the church, a trustee, and choir singer. The fifth of the seven brothers was Henry Marshall, who was a farmer and lived on the old homestead. He was an elder in the church for many years. He had three sons, two of whom remained in Hobart.

Both of these sons were elders and trustees. Charles was a farmer. Frank also became a minister. These Cowan men, known as the “seven brothers,” were very active in all areas of church work. It is to men like the Cowans, the Riches, the Kings, and many others that we owe our “goodly heritage.” As we approach our 150th Anniversary in 1979, we wonder about the future of our church and what changes will the next one hundred and fifty years bring? Will there be more unification, more centralization? We pray that our church will remain what it has always been–a strong witness for good in our community.


1855 Andrew Johnston

1856 Joseph McNulty

1858-1865 William C. Sommers

1866-1867 W. Bruce

1876 Chauncey Francisco

1879 Henry N. Payne

1880-1886 Irving E. White

1886-1889 Jonathan Greenleaf

1890-1893 Joseph H. Ralston

1894-1899 Charles M. Herrick

1899-1906 Charles W. Kinney

1906-1914 W. August George

1915-1918 V. P. Backora

1918-1919 J. Walter Bump

1920-1925 Devello S. Haynes

1925- Joseph A. Schofield Jr.

1934-1937 John Galloway

1965- John Stephenson