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Lewis church prepares for bicentennial

LEWIS - Members of Essex County's oldest Congregational church are seeking help as they work to restore a community landmark and symbol of religious heritage.

The Lewis Congregational Church will mark its 200th anniversary in 2012, and members of the small congregation have set out to renovate the church and its grounds in preparation for the celebration.

"We're trying to head this up early and have a good bicentennial," said David Blades, town supervisor and a trustee of the church.

Planned renovations include removal of dangerous trees near the church building, shingling the porch roof, and repainting the interior and exterior. Church members are also looking to repair the retaining wall that bolsters the base of the hill on which the church sits.

A special committee has been formed from among the church's two dozen members to complete the renovations in time to hold a weekend-long celebration in the summer of 2012.

"It's important that we acknowledge our religious heritage," said Blades, "and this is one way to do it."

According to church records, the Lewis Congregational Church dates back to 1812 when Rev. Cyrus Comstock settled in Essex County, establishing Congregational churches throughout the area. The church in Lewis was his first.

Comstock, who became famous for his invention of the Comstock wagon, was buried in the cemetery adjoining the Lewis church following his death in 1852.

The earliest members of the church set out to build a permanent structure in 1818. A parcel of land was donated by Jonathan Steele, and by 1834, the original church building was completed at the same site as the present church.

The church was rebuilt in the 1870s, reopening with a special ceremony at which the famous preacher and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher presided. Reportedly, the people of Lewis raised approximately $2,650 in a single year to pay for the new building in full.

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