Social Activity in St. Helena, New York

The little village’s ministers were paid a small salary and by donations. The February 14, 1879, Castilian states that a very successful “donation” was held at the St. Helena schoolhouse. The goodly sum of seventy-five dollars was raised for Rev. Campbell. Well done for so small a community!

The donation was an annual event, held in the schoolhouse on an autumn evening when the harvest was in. The gifts were all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meat, baked goods, and money. The affair was such a social success that the guests generally ate many of the donations! The older people visited during the evening and the young folks played the good old-fashioned “kissing games.” There were no thoughts of germs and unsanitary habits in those days!

Later during the winter a box social was held. That was great fun for everyone and provided further remuneration for the minister and his family. The March 13, 1884, Castilian states that “there is to be a box social at the St. Helena schoolhouse this evening, to which everyone is cordially invited. They are noted for their hospitality down in the valley and you will not regret attending the party. . . .”

People from all of the surrounding towns and countryside went to St. Helena’s church and school affairs and the meeting house there became a real community center.

The young people of the valley attended church services at Brooks Grove on Sunday evenings. Many friendships, which started that way, flowered into romance and culminated in a happy wedding at which the Methodist Protestant minister “tied the knot.”

Evidently, Castile’s young people were not opposed to similar friendships. We read in an 1892 issue of the Castilian: “The attractions at Brooks Grove must be very strong for two of our local young men, to induce them to pay a visit to that thriving town on foot, through St. Helena, on their Sunday ramble. But then, a walk of twenty-five miles is nothing in such instances.”

Sometimes, ministers from Castile’s Methodist Episcopal and Baptist churches held services in the schoolhouse. One such was Rev. Heath of the Baptist faith.

The Latter Day Saints’ or Mormon believers were quite active in the river area in 1894. The August 18th edition of the states that “At St. Helena Sunday night, while the Latter Day Saints were holding a religious service, a group of young people rang cowbells and otherwise disturbed the worshippers. . . .”

Mr. and Mrs. Macajah Nichols were converted to the Mormon belief and moved later to Utah with their large family.

A fiery and eloquent lay-minister named Harold Boyd, who lived near Smokey Hollow, held religious services at various times in the school house from 1915 to 1918. One of the duties of Miss Amie Robson, the schoolteacher in 1917-18, was to lead the singing at Mr. Boyd’s midweek prayer meetings. There were only a few families living in the valley by that date, but all attended the prayer service and stayed later for a visit, while seated beside the big round-oak stove.

After the turn of the century. Brooks Grove ministers did not come regularly to hold religious meetings at St. Helena. The exodus of the people was fast nearing completion and just a handful remained. Sometimes, on summer Sunday afternoons, retired ministers returned to preach the Word of God and to reminisce about the happy days when all of the valley families gathered in the pretty white schoolhouse with the neat green blinds.

See also: St. Helena’s Church Life

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

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