Bethlehem Presbyterian Church enjoys the distinction of being the third oldest Presbyterian congregation organized north of the Highlands and west of the Hudson River, and the further distinction of being the third oldest religious organization in the County of Orange.
The congregation is composed of residents of the Towns of Cornwall, New Windsor and Blooming Grove. The church edifice stands in the Town of Cornwall, on the main highway leading west from Newburgh towards Washingtonville, Chester and Goshen.
The first church building was erected in 1729, although previous to that date the inhabitants worshipped at various places in the immediate vicinity. For a considerable time the congregation did not enjoy the advantages of a stated ministry, but were dependent upon such occasional services as they could obtain. The Presbyterian Congregation of Bethlehem was incorporated by a certificate filed April 30, 1785. The Trustees named in the instrument were William Denniston, James Kernaghan, Samuel Moffat, Jr., James Clinton, George Denniston, Samuel Ketcham, William Moffat, Joseph Chandler, two of the elders of the church. This was the legal organization under the laws of the State, of a church which had already existed for many years under Colonial authority.
The first minister who permanently resided and labored among them was the Rev. Isaac Chalker, whose labors commenced in 1734 and terminated in 1743. His successors, their periods of service and other details are stated elsewhere. The first church edifice, after being in use ninety-nine years, was demolished and replaced by the present building which was erected in 1828. It was repaired and reseated in 1872. The first parsonage was built in 1735, repaired and painted in 1774. The present parsonage was built in 1837. The burying ground, where the forefathers sleep “the sleep that knows no waking,” contains the remains of many prominent residents of that locality who were leaders in affairs in the early days of the Republic. This ancient cemetery was enlarged in 1868 by the purchase of four acres which were appropriately divided into lots. It is still kept in excellent condition, and contains the graves of scores of the early pioneers who settled in this locality nearly two hundred years ago, many of whom were Revolutionary soldiers. The graves of soldiers participating in all the wars of the Republic to the present time are also numerous here.
As one wanders about this ancient cemetery and reads the inscriptions on the old headstones, there are found in plenty such well known names as Moffat, Tuthill, Howell, Strong, Clinton, Smith and many others of prominence over a century ago, the descendants of whom are now scattered all over the United States.
The following brief record of the two church buildings, parsonage, burying ground and pastorates of Bethlehem Church was compiled by the late David F. Wood, in 1895, largely from the official church records:
|Old church built||1729|
|Parsonage repaired and painted||1774|
|Present church built||1828|
|New Parsonage built||1837|
|Burying Ground enlarged||1868|
Pastorates-Presbytery of Hudson
|Rev. Isaac Chalker||1735 to 1743|
|Vacant seven years||1743 to 1750|
|Rev. Enos Ayers||1750 Died 1762|
|Vacant five years||1762 to 1767|
|Rev. Francis Peppard||1767 to 1771|
|Vacant two years||1771 to 1773|
|Rev. John Close||Stated Supply 1773 to 1785|
|Vacant thirteen years||1785 to 1798|
|Jonathan Freeman||April, 1798 to February, 1801|
|Vacant two years||1801 to 1803|
|Joel T. Benedict||Nov. 13, 1803 to Oct. 8, 1808|
|Henry Ford||Aug. 5, 1809 to Dec. 20, 1812|
|Artemus Dean||June 25, 1814 to Feb. 3, 1842|
|Jonathan D. Hubbard||Aug. 11, 1842 to Dec. 9, 1845|
|John N. Lewis||June 1, 1846 to Feb. 4, 1854|
Presbytery of North River
|Robert H. Beattie||Oct. 2, 1854 to May 5, 1866|
|William A. Holliday||Nov. 27, 1866 to .May 4, 1872|
|David J. Atwater||May 1, 1873 to March 16, 1891|
|George Campbell||April 26, 1893 to July 30, 1893|
|F. Lincoln Cornish||June 28, 1894 to Nov. 29, 1896|
|Irving Maxwell||Feb. 24, 1897 to Dec. 1, 1918|
|William O. Nagle||June 16, 1919 to April 15, 1923|
|Ralph De Kay||Sept. 27, 1925 to April 15, 1927|