History of Church of Our Saviour

Church of our Saviour was dedicated in 1881, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 14, 1997.

In 1952, Howard Gillet wrote the following history of the Church, for use in "Two Hundred Years of Lebanon Valley Cookery", a cookbook that the Ladies Guild of the church sold to raise money for the church.¹


Littlest of the Valley's churches, and latest, the Church of Our Saviour, Lebanon Springs, has a longer history than its eighty-four years of parish life. The building, of English Gothic design in native stone, stands on land given in 1871 by the North Family Shakers for "A church edifice and appurtenances of the Protestant Episcopal Church only, forever-, in consideration of the sum of $1." Work was begun in 1872, but, not until June, 1880, was the corner-stone laid, when the fourth rector, Dr. Joseph Hooper, had been six years in charge. In 0ctober, 1881, the Rt. Rev. William Croswell Doane, first Bishop of Albany, dedicated the building.

A century earlier, in 1772, the Rev. Gideon Bostwick of St. James Parish, Great Barrington, had baptized at New Lebanon six children of Isaac and Sarta Preston, and in 1783, fourteen more. He was a missionary, commissioned by the Church of England's Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and though born and educated in the Colonies, had traveled to Leeds, England, to be ordained, since America had no bishops. Valiantly, he contended with pioneer hardships and Colonial prejudice against all things English. Working within a radius of eighty miles, he traveled, by horseback and on snow-shoes, to forty-five villages in five States, baptizing whole families at once. His last official act was a marriage in 1793, when Alexander McMeehan of Kinderhook came to Lebanon to be joined in wedlock to Margaret Van Vleck of Pittsfield.

About 1790, according to Miss Olive R. Hand, services were held in the Academy above Columbia Hall, by Master Nash of Cooperstown. Under date of Dec. 30th 1794, her great-grandfather Hand wrote, "Was the first day and sent son Thomas to school to Master Nash, at the rate of ten shillings per quarter." The nearest Episcopal church was at Lanesborough across the Mountain, and in 1813, the Rev. Amos Pardee was coming over regularly from that parish, to hold summer services in the Academy for guests at Columbia Hall and two resident communicants, Mrs. Tryon and Mrs. Hall. In 1828, the Rev. David Butler of St. Paul's Church, Troy, a summer visitor, conducted services in the District School on Pool Hill. On August 27th, he baptized, in the Baptist Church, "John Bull Jr., Anna Bull., Luther Bull, all adults, at the same time, Elizabeth, infant daughter of William Hackett and his wife, Polly."

In an anniversary sermon, preached October 27th 1882, Dr. Hooper told of these pioneer efforts and of the excitement aroused by Dr. Butler's services. Trinity Church, New York, offered to give $1500 toward a church building, if a like sum were raised locally, but this movement failed. "Forty-one years after," says Dr. Hooper, "a few zealous lay women of the Church, who were grieved that they could not hear the services of their own faith, assembled together and resolved that they would have the Church services if possible." Then began the helpful interest of St. Stephen's Church, Pittsfield, for on October 10th, 1869, the Rev. Edwvard L. Wells of St. Stephen's held a morning service in the school house and an afternoon service in the Baptist Church. The school could not hold the congregation. The zealous women, "Assisted bv several gentlemen not then members of the church," had fitted out the top floor with seats, an altar, and an organ. In the upper room, on the evening of November 15th, 1869, Bishop Doane organized a mission of the Diocese of Albany, with William Henry Babcock as Warden and Silas Gillet as Treasurer. Afterwards, at a reception at the home of the Hon. Ransom H. Gillet, they discussed the building of a church. In February, 1870, with Mr. Wells as rector, the parish was named the Church of Our Saviour, but the Valley always called it The Little Church.

Two short rectorships followed. In 1871, the zealous women held a bazaar, adding some $900 to the building fund. Construction began, only to be stopped for lack of money. In 1873, even the "Chapel" was closed for seven months. In July 1874, came Joseph Hooper, still a deacon, sent from Albany as missionary, a dynamic and beloved leader. By 1879, with new plans, building began again. In 1881, it was settled that, isolated as it was and on the Massachusetts border, the parish should yet be part of the Albany Diocese, and on October 24th, Dr. Hooper was elected fourth rector. On October 27th, the Little Church was joyfully dedicated with every seat filled. For eleven years, Dr. Hooper labored in the parish and in founding the Free Library which bears his name. A tablet to his memory was set in the Church by his daughter, Mrs. Edgar Francis.

Gifts and memorials were built into the Church. Olive Hand describes the earliest.

"It was John B. Gale of Columbia Hall who gave the colored glass side windows all around the Church. The large West window was a memorial to the Hon. Ransom H. Gillet and family. The beautiful chancel window was a memorial to Joseph King, a son of Mr. and Mrs. E. C. King, who owned the house now occupied by Mrs. L. D. Parker. The bell was given by Mrs. (Julia Murdock) Vermilye, in memorv of her husband, Dr. W. E. Vermilye of New York, when she and her sister spent the summers in the old Murdock house, she say- ing that she was always late for service, there being no bell." We get a glimpse of the seventies and eighties. "I can call to mind the Owen family, Mr. Owen and his wife (she was a Quaker of Rayville). I can still see them as they always sat in the front pew, next to the pulpit. Mrs. Owen wore her Quaker dress and bonnet, and at one service, conducted by the Rev. Dr. Rylance, a noted New York City rector, who used to come for vacation to Columbia Hall, -- in his sermon remarked that he wished there might be more attendants in the garb - as this sister here. The Owen family were faithful members, their elder daughter, Mrs. Temple, playing the organ, rain or shine. -- The Babcock family were faithful supporters of the Church. The husband of the eldest daughter, Professor Upton, gave the light in the front entrance. At that time, there were evening services and he complained of the darkness as all left the Church" Miss Hand recalled Sunday School in the seventies in the upper room of the school-house with Miss Leila Bull as teacher, Miss Clemence Bull in the choir, and Babcock at the organ. Leila Bull was to spend her life as a missionairy in Japan, in an orphan school called the "Widely-Loving Society."

In 1889, the zealous women, determined to have a rectory, got out the first Cook Book, "Tried Receipts." Land north of the Church was bought, and with the help of the men, notably Frederick Everest Haight, the rectory was built a year or two later. One of those women, Mrs. Judah Jones, remembering the success of that venture, brought out the little brown volume nearly forty years later, to inspire the zealous women of the nineteen-twenties to produce in turn, "Lebanon Valley Cookery," and with the proceeds, rebuild the dilapidated chancel and rectory. The Ladies also functioned as a chapter of the Women's Diocesan League, and helped to build the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany. Later, they acted as a branch of the Woman's Auxiliary, Mrs. Elizabeth Richmond was President for over thirty years, and by 1890, the group was The Ladies' Guild.

In the late Nineteenth Century, the whole Valley declined. With the closing of Columbia Hall went the swarms of summer visitors, and the shops and services which had made Lebanon Springs a thriv- ing village. No more train-loads of pilgrims held revival meetings in Camp Meeting Grove. No long lines of carriages stretched from Field's Hotel to the Church, traps which had brought sight-seers to view the Shaker Meetings at Mt. Lebanon. The Little Church struggled on, often closed or open only for summer services, provided by the ever-helpful St. Stephen's. For many years, J. Harry Cox carried on as Senior Warden and A. Ross Rider as Treasurer, a caretaker vestry, during several short rectorships and intervals. The Lebanon Valley was looking backward to Lafayette and Dickens and the great days of old. Mt. Lebanon looked back at those eight busy communities peopling the Mountain. New Lebanon talked of Governor Tilden, and the Little Church, of Dr. Hooper. But Clemence Bull at the Springs taught a Sunday School class in her own home, and Eloise Beale did the same at Canaan.

So, when, after the First World War, new life stirred in the Valley, there were glowing embers, ready to be fanned. The Rt. Rev. G. Ashton Oldham, third Bishop of Albany, stimulated the awakening of the Little Church, first with summer services, and later with young rectors, who did missionary work here and in other small parishes souhward. A Sunday School was organized around the nucleus of Miss Bull's class. To the few remaining women of the seventies, were added gradually a new group, the zealous women of the Nineteen Twenties, and the Guild got off to a new span of life. When the Church was closed, Church Army Captains labored enthusiastically to reopen it, and the grateful Guild helped the Church Army, in turn. Younger men built up a strong Vestry.

With the renaissance of the Valley, the Church also grew, until, after sharing its rector for years with other parishes or Darrow School, in the autumn of 1948, the congregation welcomed a full-time rector. The organ, given in 1927 by Miss Agnes Heney, was replaced by an electric organ, provided by the Choir and Guild, and in 1950, Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Shatford added electric chimes, which ring the hymn-tunes out for the whole Valley to hear.

In 1942, Mr. Shatford had given money for a parish building, and a Memorial Fund had been raised to endow it. At last, in the autumn of 1952, Friendship House was built, fulfilling the dream of three generations.

- Howard Gillet
"Two Hundred Years of Lebanon Valley Cookery"

¹ "Two Hundred Years of Lebanon Valley Cookery" is still available today, and contains recipes from the 1953 edition, the 1926 "Lebanon Valley Cookery" edition, and the original 1889 "Tried Receipts" edition.

Please call 518-938-1183 if you're interested in ordering a copy.

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