By Grace Trueman, Historian New Milford/Edenville UMC
This coming Sun., Oct. 21 at 10 a.m., the members and friends of the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church, will celebrate the 180th Anniversary of the church building on 5 Jockey Hollow Rd. in New Milford. Pastor Crystal Paul Watson and church members will welcome guests, former parishioners and ministers, and neighboring Methodist congregations for a special service of celebration.
Completed and occupied in 1838, it has a rich history, as does the Hamlet of New Milford. By the late 1700s – following the revolution – America had just become an independent country. Two generations of the McCamley family owned and successfully operated 1,500 acres of land reaching to the New Jersey border while in Baltimore, a “Christmas Conference” was held to organize the Methodist Church. These three factors set the stage for the growth of the hamlet, the establishment of a community, and a brand-new Methodist Church. But it would be fifty years before the church building was erected.
In the meantime, Freeborn Garretson was appointed by the Methodists to “open up the territory north of New York City,” so one day, when two young men came riding into the hamlet with bibles in their saddlebags, New Milford became the first preaching station in New York State outside of the city. They stopped at the McCamley family farm and Methodism was born here in the hamlet. The spiritual needs of the people were met for the next 50 years by “Circuit Riders” preaching in private homes.
When these homes could no longer accommodate the numbers in attendance, they met at Cornelius Lazears’ tavern on Iron Mountain Road. In those days, a Tavern License required that the Word of God “be preached at least once a week” – a law enacted in New England. It is also how the tavern became known as the “Methodist Tavern” and is now a private residence.
At this point only one solution remained and David McCamly III deeded a portion of his land and a gift of $100 dollars to be used for the building of a meeting place, with the stipulation that the people also contribute. And so it became a reality. They built a one room frame building. The original Trustees were: David McCamley III, Cornelius Lazear, John Kiernan, Elias Fancher and Samuel Webb Clason. That same building with its original windows, now our sanctuary, is what we honor today. Except for the addition of heat, electricity, maintenance and loving care, the building is much as it was 180 years ago.
By 1885 it became apparent space was needed for the horses which carried folks to worship. Frank and Emma Campbell deeded the property behind the building for horse sheds. If one were to travel back to the site of the horse sheds, you would find the church fellowship hall, now named Trueman Hall, where a series of paintings by author and artist Robert Fletcher hang on the walls, beautifully depicting the essence of that era.
What of the little frame building? For all those years and through every adversity, she proudly remained as a beacon for the community. Picture this! Dinners were served there. With no kitchen, the ladies cooked at home, put planks over the pews to serve as tables and enjoyed the fellowship. When the New Milford School burned to the ground, the students did the same thing. Planks over the pews became desks for months until a new school was built.
It would be years later that music, electricity and heat made their entrance to the building. In the ensuing years the little frame church building became everything to the community. Until 1937 when the community house was built on the site of the horse sheds, this little building was it! In these 180 years the church had 69 Pastors or Ministers. Some served one to two years, several served longer. Some were younger seminary students, some were retirees. One became a Bishop, some became “giants” of the church. All contributed to who we are today.
Recently, a friend described this little church fellowship a “Beacon of Light and Hope,” as it was when the church was founded one hundred and eighty years ago and still is today. Oh, if only the walls could talk, what a story they would tell!