The original house of worship was probably built of logs. The church records show that the frame of the present edifice, of solid oak, was erected between 1763 and 1765. After an existence of over one hundred and sixty years, it is still staunch and strong, although it has been remodeled and modernized, twice, first in 1830, and again in 1870.
Goodwill Presbyterian Church has the distinction of being the oldest of its denomination but one, in the State, west of the Hudson River, and one of the first twenty-six Presbyterian Churches organized in this country. It also has the added distinction of being the second oldest church in Orange County.
It was established by Scotch-Irish settlers who first settled in this community, possibly, as early as 1720, but the early records of this religious organization have been lost and its history previous to 1729 is shrouded in obscurity. From the records of the Synod of Philadelphia, however, it appears that in September, 1729, they sent a commissioner in the person of John McNeal, to said Synod, who represented the organization, and came before that body to “secure supplies of preaching among them.” Whether they had at this time any formal organization, as a church, cannot be ascertained, as the early records of the Presbytery of Philadelphia are also lost. The year 1729 has, therefore, been taken as the date of the establishment of the church, as through John McNeal the church made application to be taken under the care of the Philadelphia Presbytery.
The settlement was at that time known as Wallkill, and the church was naturally known as the “Wallkill Church,” though Goodwill is the name incorporated in the deed of the ground on which the church stands, dated November 9, 1741, and was probably its corporate name from the first. Ruttenber’s History states: “The territory which contributed to its membership came to be very extensive as the settlement enlarged, hence it is not strange to find this a mother of churches, as many as seven or eight having more or less directly sprung from it, some through bitter controversy, and some in the natural order of growth.”
The first structure is believed to have been erected in 1735, although there was some rude building set apart for religious worship some years before this. The Rev. James Milligan Dickson, a former pastor of the church, who delivered a historical address at the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the church on July 20, 1876, said: “In the deed of a highway from the Town of Shawangunk to the Goshen line occurs the following in describing the route, ‘by or near the meeting house, now erecting near the settlement of Adam Graham.” ‘The date of this is September 1, 1735. The next church building was erected in 1765, which is still stand-in, and constitutes the main framework of the present structure. In 1830 this building was again remodeled. In 1871 the building was again remodeled.”
A few years ago, a former resident of Montgomery, the Hon. William Graham, of Dubuque, Ia., then in his 91st year, contributed to the Westminister Bulletin the following interesting sketch concerning the traditions of Goodwill Church, which, aside from its humorous feature, serves to illustrate the stern and steadfast fortitude of the pioneers who founded and kept alive this early religious society, as well as the customs of those times. He relates:
“When the building was first erected there was no provision for heating it, though two services were held in it every Sunday, both Summer and Winter, and many of the congregation rode from ten to twenty miles to attend them. Every woman who came was provided with a foot-stove in cold weather a box of perforated tin, enclosed in a wooden frame, in which was an iron saucer filled with live hickory coals. On their arrival they would report first at the tavern on the opposite side of the road, and when the men were thawing out in front of the huge fireplace, the women would replenish their foot-stoves with hickory coals, of which the landlord always provided a. plentiful supply, and the women, and children were insured against cold feet. As for the men, they were expected to ‘grin and bear it.’
“As the services were separated by an hour’s intermission, the entire congregation would again adjourn to the tavern, where the women not only replenished their foot-stoves, but each woman and child was provided with a glass of ‘cordial,’ and each man with a glass of ‘flip,’ while the minister was given a separate room and a glass of ‘toddy.’ Thus all were insured against taking cold during the second service.
“During the pastorate of the Rev. Andrew King, who was installed in 1776, and served as pastor until his death in 1815, someone suggested that it would be a good plan to install a stove, to mitigate the temperature of the church, as stoves were then quite a novelty and were coming into use. Forthwith two parties arose among the people, and many were the arguments pro and con over the matter, and as usual each party became at the end of each argument more firmly convinced that it had the right side. The progressive pro-stove party won and the stove was put up.
“The next Sunday after the stove was installed was bitterly cold, and the progressives did not find it too warm, but not so with the anti-stove party. On entering the church they sniffed the hot air, the women loosened their wraps, some laying them aside altogether, while the men removed their overcoats. One man suffered so with the heat that he removed his coat and sat through the service in his shirt sleeves, while one woman was so overcome with the terrific heat that she fainted and had to be carried over to the tavern and revived with a glass of `toddy.’ The anti-stove faction were also quite indignant by reason of the smiling faces and significant winks of the pro-stove faction, and it became evident that the stove would bring endless trouble.
“At intermission it developed that the pro-stove faction had not built a fire in the stove, as they were afraid of setting the building afire with the `new fangled thing’ and would be charged with burning up the church. The ridiculous exhibition that the antis had made was so humorous that opposition to the stove died out then and there.”
During the long period of its existence the church has had only ten Pastors. They are:
|Pastor||Installed||Resigned or otherwise left|
|Rev. Joseph Houston||1740||Died on October 20, 1740|
|Rev. John Moffat||1751||Between the years 1765 and 1769|
|Rev. John Blair||May 19, 1769||Died December 8, 1771|
|Rev. Andrew King||June 11, 1777||Died November 15, 1815, Served for forty years|
|Rev. Robert W. Condit||December 13, 1820||May 2, 1830, and died February 13, 1871|
|Rev. William Blain||July 27, 1830||Died June 9, 1857|
|Rev. David M. Maclise||June 17, 1856||Resigned 1869|
|Rev. James Milligan Dickson||February 15, 1870||Resigned 1883|
|Rev. David F. Bonner, D. D||1883||Resigned 1891|
|Rev. John H. Thompson||1891||Present pastor|
The present Pastor, the Rev. John H. Thompson, was born in the Town of Stillwater, N. Y., on the site of the Saratoga Battlefield, in 1862. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1887, from Princeton Seminary in 1890. He was Stated Clerk of Hudson Presbytery for nineteen years.
On Thursday, September 29, 1904, Goodwill Church celebrated its one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary.