The History of The First Presbyterian Church of Baldwinsville

At the close of the American Revolution, after the boundaries of our country were extended to the Mississippi River, a great western migration began. Many emigrants from New England reached Central and Western New York and settled here. Among them were missionaries, including the Rev. Ebenezer Lazelle who recognized the thriving condition of the area and chose this village as a central point for religious activities.

On July 13, 1813, he met with a number of people and organized the First Lysander and Camillus Religious Society. The meeting was held in a barn. People sat on rough boards or hay and the minister used a hogshead as a pulpit. It was the first congregation organized in what is now Baldwinsville and would become known as The First Presbyterian Church of Baldwinsville, New York.

In the spring of 1830, a new church building was dedicated. The “wooden church”, as we refer to it today, was located on the northwest corner of Oneida and Oswego Streets. It cost about $2500 to build (a tidy sum when one considers that, at the time, $10 a week for 60 hours of work was considered an excellent wage). The church was unusual in that, upon entering, one faced the congregation. This made promptness on Sunday mornings a virtue.

A prominent feature of church life in the 19th Century was the renting of pews for church revenue. Each year the local newspaper carried a notice of who had rented which pew. Church ushers had to be knowledgeable of such things, for no worse calamity could take place in worship than to have one of the more formidable Oswego Street members find a stranger in the family’s pew.

Sunday school was another integral part of Sunday worship in the early 1800’s. Worship began at 10:30 and Sunday school at noon. From seventh grade through the adult classes, the school was held in the church sanctuary.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Rev. John F. Kendall came to this church. A man of vision, he persuaded the congregation that a new church building was necessary. The result was the construction of the present sanctuary. It was completed in 1865. At the time there were only 123 members and just a handful of those members subscribed the entire $18,000 required to build the church (the largest subscription was $2000). The church building was dedicated on March 8, 1865. It was designed by Horatio N. White, a noted 19th Century Syracuse architect. Its Gothic features are unmistakable. They include shallow transepts (or wings) at the front on sides, numerous buttresses and a spire on the single tower which is nearly 100 ft. high.

The outstanding feature of the interior is the plaster vaulted ceiling running the length of the building. The details about the ceiling are representations of grape leaves, symbolic of the sacrament of communion. A treasure of our sanctuary is its painted glass windows. Each of the larger windows carries a symbol of the natural abundance of creation (grapes, acorn, lilies, tulips, daisies and iris). The colorful trefoil window over the organ is a symbol of the Trinity, while its center has a sunburst representing the glory of God.

For $2500 our Johnson organ was installed in 1871. It was originally in the balcony and was electrified in 1913, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the church. It was moved to the front of the sanctuary in 1933. The organ was rebuilt in 1971 on the 100th anniversary of its original installation. Throughout its 136 years of service, it has demonstrated the inherent reliability of the all-mechanical tracker action.

In 1954 the Education Building was added. It cost the congregation of 643 members $135,000 to build and was paid for in a little less than five years.