Blooming Grove Congregational Church is situated in the Town of Blooming Grove, Orange County, New York, twelve miles west of the Hudson River, and two miles west of the Village of Washingtonville, on the main road running from the City of Newburgh to the Villages of Chester, Warwick and Goshen.
The first congregation was formed in 1759, by early pioneers settling in this section, who came chiefly from Suffolk County, Long Island, many of whom were descendants of the Pilgrims. The first house of worship was erected in the same year. It was a small wooden structure, painted yellow, and stood on the spot of the present edifice, facing the road. It was demolished in I823 and the present church building erected in the same year, which covers not only the space occupied by the first church, but the cemetery in which are interred the remains of three of the former pastors of the congregation, viz.: Revs. Enos Ayres, Benoni Bradner and Samuel Parkhurst.
The present building, erected in 1823, is a wooden structure, 75 feet long and 68 feet wide; has neither a steeple or bell and the audience room is devoid of central supports or pillars. The frame is made of massive oak timbers, hewed from the adjacent forests, and fastened together with wooden pins. The roof and sides were formerly covered with cedar shingles, three feet long, and one foot wide, with one foot exposure; the sides are still covered with these original shingles but the root is now covered with modern slate roofing. There are two entrance doors, one at each side of the front end, each of which open into a. small vestibule, from which ascends a stairway to the gallery, which in olden days extended across the entire end of the church.
The center of the gallery was occupied by the choir and each end by colored slaves, the men in one gallery and the women in the other. The choir in early days was a large one and consisted of a. full orchestra comprising bass viols, violas, violins, flutes and brass horns, and on many occasions numbered fifty voices.
The pulpit is midway between the entrance doors. In recent years there has been installed a large organ of modern make, presented to the church by the late David H. Moffat, of Denver, Col., and which has necessitated the removal of the center part of the gallery, the choir now being stationed back of the pulpit. The audience room, which at the time the building was erected, was the largest room without central supports in all this section of country, and there are few of larger dimensions at the present day. The seating capacity is about one thousand.
Rows of straight backed pews, closed with high doors, fill the audience room, which is divided by three broad aisles. In olden days there were no stoves and in severe cold weather the congregation kept warm by means of little foot-warmers, filled with hickory and chestnut coals, which were carried to church in wagons and sleighs and served the triple purpose of keeping themselves warm while going to church, during service and returning home. Stoves were installed later on, but at the present time the building is heated by two large furnaces.
Tallow candles in chandeliers were first used for lighting, which were later displaced by whale oil lamps, and these in turn were displaced by kerosene lamps, which of late years have succumbed to modern electric lights.. This plain, spacious audience room, with its quaint, interior furnishings, has the atmosphere of a century ago, neatly blended in harmony with the improvements of modern times. Its broad expanse of white ceiling curves from overhead to meet the upright walls of the sides and rear; high, small paned windows, rounded at the top, admit daylight through wooden blinds painted green, which are fastened to the window frames.
In 1838 the congregation purchased five and one-half acres of land in close proximity to the church, upon which was erected a substantial residence for the minister, and the necessary outbuildings. There is no encumbrance on the property and all expenses of the congregation are raised by contributions from its membership. The original deed of the church property, bearing date of 1758, is framed and hangs on the church wall.
- The first pastor of the church was the Rev. Enos Ayres, who was a member of the first class to graduate from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University.
- Two other pastors of the church were graduates of that institution, viz., Benoni Bradner, of the class of 1755, and Samuel Parkhurst, of the class of 1757.
- The Rev. Enos Ayres was installed as the first pastor of the church in 1759, eleven years after graduation. He died in 1762 and was buried in the churchyard now covered by the present church.
- He was succeeded by Rev. Abner Reeve, father of the celebrated Judge Reeve, who founded the law school at Litchfield, Conn. The Rev. Abner Reeve resigned in 1768.
- The Rev. Samuel Parkhurst came as a supply in 1768, his death occurring after serving six months.
- From 1768 to 1772 the pulpit was filled by supplies, the Rev. Amaziah Lewis serving as such one year, the Rev. Case, one year, and the Rev. Greene six months. The church records from 1774 to 1786 have disappeared and no accurate record can be given.
- The Rev. Benoni Bradner served as pastor from 1786 until 1802, dying in 1804. After the retirement of Rev. Mr. Bradner the Rev. Joel T. Benedict filled the pulpit for a few months.
- In 1803 the Rev. Noah Crane served as pastor until 1811.
- He was succeeded by the Rev. William Rafferty in 1812, who resigned in 1815 to accept the Presidency of St. John’s College, Annapolis, Md.
- The ‘Rev. Luther Halsey was installed as pastor in 1816 and served until 1824.
- He was succeeded by the Rev. James Arbuckle, who remained as pastor until 1847.
- He was succeeded by the Rev. Ebenezer Mason, who remained from 1847 to 1850.
- The Rev. Austin Craig was called to the pastorate in 1851 and remained until 1866.
- The Rev. Warren Hathaway was called to the pastorate in 1866 and served as pastor until his death in 1909.
- He was succeeded by the Rev. Frederick Walsh, who remained until 1916.
- He was succeeded by Rev. Joseph Genther, who remained two years and was, succeeded by Rev. C. W. Hardendorf, who served until his death in 1921.
- He was succeeded by the present pastor, the Rev. A. Elwood Corning.
Rev. A. Elwood Corning was born at Sparkill, Rockland Co., N. Y., Feb. 25, 1885, where his father, William Burtis Corning, then resided. He comes from a distinguished ancestry on both his father and mother’s side, many of his ancestors having been leaders in public affairs in Colonial times. Mr. Corning is an eloquent and forceful pulpit orator, of a pleasing personality, and is deservedly popular in the community. He is an able writer and the author of the following works: Life of William McKinley, Life of James A. Garfield, Life of Will Carleton, and a monograph of Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State under President Grant. For fifteen years before entering the ministry Mr. Corning was engaged in literary pursuits, being Editor of several periodicals. For twelve years he was a member of the New York Board of Education Lecture Staff and his lectures have taken him in various parts of the country, as well as abroad. His hymns and poems have been widely quoted. In 1921, after having been examined and unanimously accepted before an ecclesiastical council of Congregational Churches, he was ordained to the Christian ministry in the church of which he is now pastor.
List of Pastors of Blooming Grove Church:
- Rev. Enos Ayres 1759-1762
- Rev. Abner Reeve 1764-1768
- Rev. Samuel Parkhurst (Supply, 6 Months) 1768-1768
- Rev. Amaziah Lewis (Supply, one year)
- Rev. Case (Supply, one year)
- Rev. Greene (Supply, 6 months)
- Rev. Silas Constant 1772-1774
- Rev. Benoni Bradner, A. M 1786-1802
- Rev. Joel T. Benedict 6 months
- Rev. Noah Crane 1803-1811
- Rev. William Rafferty 1812-1815
- Rev. Luther Halsey 1816-1824
- Rev. James Arbuckle 1824-1847
- Rev. Ebenezer Mason 1847-1850
- Rev. Austin Craig 1851-1866
- Rev. Warren Hathaway 1866-1909
- Rev. Frederick Walsh 1909-1916
- Rev. Joseph Genther 1916-1918
- Rev. C. W. Hardendorf 1918-1921
- Rev. A. Elwood Corning 1921
*The church records from 1764 to 1786 are not available, and the record as above, during those dates, has been taken from Eager’s History of Orange County. During that period the pulpit was occupied principally by supplies.
Tablet to the Memory of Pastors From 1850 to 1909
A bronze tablet on the west wall of the church commemorates the pastorates of Warren Hathaway, Austin Craig, Ebenezer Mason, James Arbuckle, Luther Halsey, William Rafferty and Noah Crane.
To the memory of
Pastor of this Congregation from
April 4, 1866, until his death April 4, 1909.
He being dead, yet speaketh of Faith, Hope and Charity
Also to the memory of
Austin Craig, D. D.
Rev. Ebenezer Mason
Pastor from 1847 until his death 1850
Rev. James Arbuckle
Pastor from 1824 until his death 1847
Rev. Noah Crane
Worthy Pastors in the Master’s Vineyard