THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE CRAGSMOOR FEDERATED CHURCH

From the Cragsmoor Historical Journal Volume 19, Issue 2

 

Part of the Series, The History of the Three Churches in Cragsmoor, published 2018-1019

The Mountain Methodist Episcopal Church was the first church built to serve the community of farming families who had settled during the 19th century on the part of the Shawangunk Ridge later to be known as Cragsmoor. Church records indicate that the building's origins date to 1879, when “the few families here concluded to build a church” under the auspices of the Methodist organization. Progress was swift. In March 1880, local farmer John Davis Decker and his wife Maria Jane donated a half-acre roadside parcel for the purpose of erecting a suitable house of worship. Crews quickly set to work and later that same year the first services were held. The first church building, much of which survives today incorporated into the present building, was a simple frame structure, with modest Classical Revival details adding a touch of austere formality. With its simple gabled massing and rectilinear plan, it was typical of thousands of “little white churches” erected in rural, largely Protestant communities across America during the 19th century. The unpretentious “plain style” building suited the taste, resources and values of its founders.

A Full-time Pastor

Church records for the Mountain Chapel are unavailable, so little is known about how the congregation functioned and what families were members. The first record of a full-time pastor serving the church was in 1904, when Rev. Noble Strong Elderkin III (1878-1966), a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School and just 26 years old, found his way to Cragsmoor. Services at the Mountain Chapel were held June 1 to October 1. The youthful Elderkin was ordained as a Congregationalist, not a Methodist as one would expect, and went on to a distinguished career with a frontier Congregational church in Ogden, Utah, where he became well known for publicly chastising the Mormon Church. Later, he held important pastorates in several Midwest cities.

The fact that Rev. Elderkin was not a Methodist reflected significant societal and economic change that had taken place on the mountain since the Methodists first formed their church. The Mountain Chapel congregation had changed. In less than twenty years, a small, nameless community of mostly farmers was transformed to one that now boasted accomplished painters, socially prominent second-home residents and well-heeled summer boarders. Summer spending supported a sizable service economy that in turn supported many of the year-round families who resided here. These many hundreds of seasonal visitors were of many faiths and denominations, as were the pastors who were invited to preach.

Spiritual Diversity

By the end of the century, Cragsmoor and all of rural America was becoming more diverse. While rapid urbanization resulted in substantial new church construction in bustling American cities, small rural denominations were confronted with dwindling attendance. And Cragsmoor, despite its growing seasonal population, was too small a community to support a church for each of the many denominations populating the newly discovered summer destination. In 1897, a second place of worship, the Episcopal Chapel of the Holy Name (Stone Church), was completed nearby to serve the needs of the Episcopalians. Although this may have satisfied some, many in the community were not attracted to the high church and continued to seek a simpler and perhaps more personal church society, akin to the Methodist Society of the previous generation.

With some prominent newcomers joining the older established families to address this issue, a solution was found. Cragsmoor, it was argued, needed a church to serve diverse religious beliefs. Here, as in other communities across America, the pragmatic idea that one Protestant church could embrace all denominations was gaining headway against the strict denominationalism of the past. Thus, in 1904 we see the first official gesture toward forming a Union Congregation and the seeds of the Cragsmoor Federated Church were sown. “Union” or “Federated” churches were a revolutionary idea at the time, and a national initiative toward this new type of religious society neatly coincided with the dilemma faced by the Cragsmoor Protestants. Attendance at the Mountain Chapel by Methodists had fallen off. One effort to have the Presbyterians take over the Methodist Chapel had failed. However, the need for a place of worship and social life led a variety of Protestants, mostly summer residents from other denominations, to avail themselves of the conveniently located Methodist Chapel, gradually transforming it into the non-denominational Union Chapel.

The Union Chapel

Eventually, a more formal organization was deemed necessary and community leaders resolved to act. “At a meeting held at the home of Mr. Chas. Mance at Cragsmoor the evening of Oct. 18, 1904 it was unanimously resolved to form a Union Congregational Church Society – to be incorporated. Mr. G. Inness proposed the names of Mr. C. Mance as chairman and Mr. E. L. Henry as secretary or clerk, which was adopted.” Those present were George Inness Jr., Chas. H. Mance, E. L. Henry, Harriet L. Keir, Julia G. Inness, Emma Mance, and Frances L. Henry. This document in the church records contains the signatures of thirty-one residents affirming their intent to join the society. In essence, this was the beginning of the new Federated Church. The Cragsmoor Journal of August 1905 reported “The Rev. Dr. Saltau, who has had charge of the Union Chapel at Cragsmoor this summer, has endeared himself to many who have attended his Bible talks every Friday afternoon at Miss Hamm’s and Mrs. Henry’s.” Little is known about Reverend Saltau, but he is described in the Cragsmoor Journal as a missionary who worked and lived in the London slums. How he found his way to Cragsmoor for one summer of preaching at the Union Chapel is also unclear. Like so many of the visiting pastors, he and his family were likely known to and invited by one of the seasonal residents, such as the Innesses or Henrys, who had many connections in the urban centers of the East Coast.

The Elders and Trustees of the new church society soon focused on their need for a suitable house of worship and in June 1906, at a meeting of the “people of Cragsmoor,” it was decided to attempt a purchase of the Methodist Church for $250. They authorized “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Curran and Mr. Beckman” to purchase the property and hold it “till such time as a regular church organization should be made.” In the August issue of the Cragsmoor Journal, we learn that a deal had been made, and the Methodist Episcopal Church body consented to sell the building and land to “the people of Cragsmoor who are in the habit of attending that church.” Reverend G. A. Neeff, who had been conducting services and was recently from Ellenville “...has consented to reside on the Mountain and take charge of the parish through August and September.”

Work was completed on July 19, 1908, and a standing- room-only dedicatory service was held, led by the summer pastor of 1908, Rev. C. P. McClelland. Early in the season he had conducted services in Mrs. Hartshorn’s home, the “Barnacle,” as the completion of the new “artistic” structure was awaited. Completing a season of major accomplishments, a new bell, paid for by the Young Peoples’ Society, was ordered and installed in the new bell tower. Cast by Meneely and Co. of West Troy, it cost $80 and it was ordered with the initials of the thirteen young donors cast on one side of the bell. All the young donors were present for the dedication on August 30, 1908. In another celebratory gesture, E.L. Henry, one of the founders and a well-known collector of antiquities, presented the new church with a chair made from oak salvaged from the pulpit of the 1723 Christ’s Church of Stratford, Connecticut. The chair has remained with the building.

The Cragsmoor Federated Church

The summer and fall of 1906 was a busy time for the new church society. The Methodist Chapel had been purchased in September, and “on Friday evening October 5, in the little white church, after a preparatory service conducted by Rev. Dr. G. A. Neeff, Rev. Wm. W. Ketchum from the Winona Bible School of 541 Lexington Ave. N. Y. City ...explained the ideas and plans for a Federated Church.” Those present moved to appoint a committee of three — Rev. Neeff, Rev. Ketchum and Mrs. Inness — to draft a “special constitution and articles of faith.” The constitution was ready for approval in ten days and on Oct. 15, 1906, the newly formed Cragsmoor Federated Church (CFC) commenced business with the election of elders, trustees and stewards. All was dutifully recorded in detail by the Church secretary, Julia G. Inness.

That fall, a Mr. Gay presented the church leaders with “plans and ideas for a renovated and “expanded” church building with work to begin in the spring. A building fund was created and since the recently purchased Chapel needed repairs, Mr. Inness and the building committee quickly decided that services would be suspended so construction could proceed. It appears that most of Mr. Gay's “enlargement” plans were implemented by Mr. Inness. He also donated more than half the cost; the services of his carpenter, Mr. Budd, for two months; and Mr. Marl’s services for the foundations.

The Cragsmoor Federated Church

The summer and fall of 1906 was a busy time for the new church society. The Methodist Chapel had been purchased in September, and “on Friday evening October 5, in the little white church, after a preparatory service conducted by Rev. Dr. G. A. Neeff, Rev. Wm. W. Ketchum from the Winona Bible School of 541 Lexington Ave. N. Y. City ...explained the ideas and plans for a Federated Church.” Those present moved to appoint a committee of three — Rev. Neeff, Rev. Ketchum and Mrs. Inness — to draft a “special constitution and articles of faith.” The constitution was ready for approval in ten days and on Oct. 15, 1906, the newly formed Cragsmoor Federated Church (CFC) commenced business with the election of elders, trustees and stewards. All was dutifully recorded in detail by the Church secretary, Julia G. Inness.

That fall, a Mr. Gay presented the church leaders with “plans and ideas for a renovated and “expanded” church building with work to begin in the spring. A building fund was created and since the recently purchased Chapel needed repairs, Mr. Inness and the building committee quickly decided that services would be suspended so construction could proceed. It appears that most of Mr. Gay's “enlargement” plans were implemented by Mr. Inness. He also donated more than half the cost; the services of his carpenter, Mr. Budd, for two months; and Mr. Marl’s services for the foundations.

A Parsonage

Rev. McClelland left in October 1908 and no regular minister was secured until Rev. Henry Montfort Cary and family came on January 1, 1909. He was paid $75 a month plus parsonage, but the rental house appears to have been unsatisfactory. To address this problem, “Mr. Inness bought the lot on the other side of the road from the church” and had Bert Goldsmith put up a suitable house for “the Church Society to use as a parsonage.” The house cost $1800 and was to be ready in October, with the Church paying Mr. Inness $120 per year rent. Thus Rev. Cary, who was much admired by the community, appears to be the first “assigned” year-round pastor. Cary was a former priest who had broken with the Church and after training at Union Theological Seminary went on to be prominent as founder of several Federated Societies in Central New York.

A Sunday School Room

In 1909, at the fourth annual meeting, Charles Curran suggested the membership appoint a committee to look into the advisability of New York State incorporation. Thus, began an intensive effort to establish the church as a legal entity. As if there were not enough challenges present for the new church, at the same meeting Mrs. Curran “read a brief address giving her views on the need for a Sunday School Room and place of meeting for the Men’s League.” An extension of the building to the south was considered the most cost-effective solution and the Currans, on the spot, jointly pledged to contribute half the cost of construction. Other members present pledged the balance with $1000 quickly available to commence building. The winter of 1909-1910 was “exceptionally severe,” with construction “seriously hampered,” but services continued and remarkably an average of 67 attended services through the winter. The Christmas celebration of that year was held in the new Sunday School Room. The extension included a large community room and full basement below, allowing for more social as well as religious activities adding substantially to the usefulness of the building to the community. Cary continued with the CFC through 1910, the period when the church successfully incorporated with six trustees on September 3.

Discord in the Federation

In 1912 the leadership faced a challenge from a few founding members, led by Frances L. Henry, who believed that church membership should require a more demanding “confession of faith.” Church records include her original signed petition brought before the annual membership meeting. Secretary Julia Inness duly recorded the resulting debate. The petitioner and respondent’s submissions were appended to the minutes. There was extensive and earnest debate over the matter, including a thoughtful response from Judge Addison Brown and another from Elders Harrison Tice, Albin Kindberg and Charles C. Curran. But the challenge was ultimately unsuccessful with members voting 35 to 10 to leave the Bylaws language intact as adopted in 1910.  The CFC thus remained open to all “sincere believers in and followers of Jesus Christ”. To succeed, the elders concluded, this church “must gather into its fold as many as possible”. Membership in the church thus remained open to all Christian creeds. A few, however, could not accept the reassertion of an “open church society” and the Federated Church received resignation letters from the Henrys and Frank Tichenors, Helen E. Brown and Abbie Kite.  Nevertheless, the “ “practical” idea of a non-denominational community church survived and the shingled “artistic” country church building still stands at the entrance to the heart of Cragsmoor.   Recently restored and updated by the Cragsmoor Historical Society, it is once again open to all.

Written by Larry Gobrecht – Building Restoration Coordinator                                                                                                              

Sources: The Cragsmoor Journal (1903-1028 Methodist, Union and CFC Records (1880-1912)

A UNITY OF BELIEVERS: PART 2 OF

A HISTORY OF THE CRAGSMOOR FEDERATED CHURCH

 

From the Cragsmoor Historical Journal Volume 19, Issue 1

 

With the membership conflict resolved regarding the profession of faith in 1912, the Cragsmoor Federated Church (CFC) agreed to accept as members all who professed to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Moving forward, they worshiped together as Judge Brown described in his letters in August of that year. Due to ill health, he was unable to attend the meeting and sent a letter which first criticized past history: “The sectarian divisions among Protestant Christians have been the scandal and the despair of Christendom. These divisions have come from making dogmas and opinions in the form of creeds, conditions of Christian fellowship, instead of observing the short and simple direction of our Lord Jesus himself.”

 

Judge Brown continued by describing how he felt churches should function. He professed that “... one of the objects of the church was a Unity of Believers,” under the “banner of peace and brotherly love that appeals to the generosity of the people without any sources of discord or for excluding any sincere followers of Christ.” Eight months later, Judge Brown passed away, but his powerful words became the foundation on which the CFC was established, and which influenced its direction for almost a century.

 

This congregation broke not only the barriers of Protestant sectarianism, but of socioeconomic restrictions as well. Its membership was drawn from all economic levels: from farmers and laborers to artists and businessmen; from wealthy seasonal residents to year-round founding families. All shared the responsibilities of trustees and elders, choral directors, and Sunday School teachers, recognizing that economic status did not determine their ability to serve their church and their community. It was, in fact, a true union of believers.

 

Based on these principles, the CFC adopted a motto that was finely lettered by Edith von Eltz on a large wooden panel hung to the side of the pulpit. It can still be found today in the archives of the Historical Society and stands for broad sympathy and liberty of thought for all in Christian fellowship.

 

In Essentials – Unity

In Non-Essentials – Liberty

In All Things – Charity

United by common beliefs, the CFC embarked on its mission to enrich the spiritual life of its members and support the needs of the Cragsmoor community. One way to achieve this was through the use of its newly constructed community room. When reconstruction of the new “Day School” farther down Cragsmoor Road was not completed in time for the beginning of the school year in September of 1913, teachers and students, desks and chalkboards were welcomed into the CFC community room until the completion of the little public school building several months later. Another example was when the “traveling” public library, which was housed in various homes since its inception, was accepted into the CFC community room until the completion of its permanent home next door in 1925. The welfare of all of Cragsmoor was as important to the CFC as was that of its own members.

A Minister in the Pulpit

 

As noted in the previous article, securing ministers to serve as permanent or temporary pastors was an annual challenge for the church during the first three or four decades of its existence. Rev. Steiner from the Dutch Reformed Church in Ellenville rose to the occasion through the winter of 1912 and conducted services from January through May. He was followed by Rev. Dr. Eldridge Mix, who helped guide the Church through the trying times of 1912 and 1913 but was unable to continue. Occasionally ministers came from Ellenville, Middletown, and even as far as Newburgh, but winters were too severe to hold services and sometimes they were even interrupted in the summer for lack of an available minister. The Sunday School continued uninterrupted because no minister was required, and the room was heated by a wood stove. In the winter of 1915, thirty students were enrolled and fourteen more joined in summer. The congregation was also growing and attendance at Sunday services filled the church.

 

Perhaps the best-loved minister to serve the CFC during the next few summers was Rev. Harriet Baker Robinson, whom Mrs. Inness knew  

from Tarpon Springs, Florida, where the Innesses had a winter residence. Rev. Robinson was a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Good Shepherd, where George Inness, Jr. was greatly respected for the paintings he created there to replace the windows, that a severe storm in 1918 had blown in. (At the end of World War I, materials and craftsmen were unavailable to replace the original stained glass.) In April of this present year, a century later, George Inness, Jr. has been inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in recognition of his many paintings that demonstrate his love of nature and spirituality.

 

The War Effort

 

The community was very concerned about the “dreadful war” starting from its outbreak in Europe in 1914. A special collection was taken up to support the efforts of the Red Cross there and another for the War Library, which was turned over to the General Library in Albany.

 

Rev. Harriet Baker Robinson's guidance and support during the last most critical year of the war helped to pull the congregation together. Although in those times, it was an unusual venture for a woman to be a preacher, she was a progressive and clear thinker and a logical and moving speaker. At a special Red Cross service and one held for the 4th of July, she encouraged all to show their patriotism and religion by faithful ideals and service to country and mankind everywhere. Another service was held to show appreciation of the French observance of Bastille Day, at which the Sunday School sang an impressive rendition of “The Marseillaise.” In September, the congregation voted to purchase a $300 Liberty Bond to support the war effort. Rev. Robinson also conducted a special service celebrating England's fourth anniversary of entrance into the Great World War on the platform of liberty and justice, expressing desire for liberty, love and service to individuals and nations worldwide. These were examples of the role religion played in the life of this small country church where members connected with the reality of war but were unified by their spiritual strength.

 

Rev. Robinson also initiated a Sunday Evening Open Forum Series to expand the congregation's view of themselves as part of a wider community. They included “Music in Relation to True Christian Worship,” “Religion in Our New Era,” “Our Army Chaplains' Work in France,” “Through Open Roads to Health” and “Co-operation.” Attendance was very strong, indicating the members' desire to expand their knowledge and engage in open discussions of these topics.

 

Life Passages                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The CFC also observed major events in the lives of its congregants: birth and baptism, Sunday School graduation, marriage and, eventually, the end of life. Records note its role in providing comfort at the time of loss of a loved one, especially if it was both tragic and untimely. A loss suffered by one of its members was a loss for the entire community. One of the most painful was in August 1918, when Mr. and Mrs. Charles Curran received notice of the death of their eldest son, Louis, leaving behind a young wife and child. It happened far away when he had been working on the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean. His parents were unable to attend the Sunday service at the CFC the day after they were notified, but Mrs. Curran sent a poem to be read on the theme of the eternal and immortal quality of life, which brought great comfort to the congregation. The following year the Currans planted shrubbery and flowers in front of the church, “commemorating the life of one who knew and loved the mountaintop.”

 

Another great loss occurred on July 14, 1924, with the sudden death by drowning of young James Pendleton in Lake Maratanza. He was a youngster in the Pendleton/Mitchell family, who were longtime summer residents on the mountain. The tragic end to his young life was observed with deep regret and grief by his fellow Sunday School friends and teachers, as well as all of Cragsmoor. The Sunday School picnic was cancelled, and the students asked to have a suitable memorial put on the walls in memory of their departed friend. They raised $10 to be put toward a painting by George Inness, Jr. His large landscape, The Rainbow, depicts a young boy sitting on a rock contemplating the water in a lake below him.  He is surrounded by the beauty of nature under the protection of an all-embracing rainbow. It hung behind the alter in the summers. For safe keeping in the winters, it was moved across the street by W.R. Garritt and later by his son, both of whom were trustees and faithful supporters of the church for many years.

 

In contrast to these two untimely departures, the funeral of Mrs. Harriet Keir, a charter member and elder in the church, who had passed away on June 10, 1919, may have been more similar to others on the mountain. Rev. Robinson accompanied the cortege from the home to the church filled with friends and neighbors for bible selections read by Dr. Long and prayers and inspiring words about Harriet given by Rev. Robinson. Then the funeral train passed on its way to the little mountain plot, owned and given by the Keir family for use of the original families who settled on the mountain. With many offerings from the gardens of friends, her earthly body was laid away with loving care, “in the belief that her real self, her soul, has gone on to a fuller, freer life beyond.”

 

On the first anniversary of Harriet's, death, Lawrence, Colin, and Grace Keir presented a deed for the Cragsmoor Burial Plot to the CFC. It was accepted with gratitude as a gift “for any and all who may want to use it as far as its size will permit.” It was a fitting tribute to the memory of a dedicated member of the church since its inception. A Cragsmoor Federated Church Cemetery Fund was established in 1931 for its upkeep and maintenance, to be administered by the trustees of the church. The deed for this little cemetery has since been passed on to the Cragsmoor Historical Society and has recently been upgraded with a new entrance and pathways.

 

Changing Times

 

Church records indicate that it continued to support the spiritual life of the community in a similar fashion for the next few decades. The earlier financial stability of the church, however, began to decline with the start of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Twenty-five to thirty people attended services, but donations were greatly reduced. Owing to the shortage of funds, the stipend for ministers was reduced to $25 and eventually to $10 by 1939. In 1935, the elders felt that it would be difficult to open the church for any services that summer. A few women, however, pooled their resources to hire a minister for four weeks in August, to repair a serious leak in the roof of the community room and to maintain the cemetery. Problems continued to arise, however, with old wood decaying at various entrances, water entering the basement of the community room after heavy rains, and payment on the fire insurance policy which was due to expire. It was time to cash in some of the Liberty bonds to sustain the church during these difficult times.

 

A Permanent Pastor

 

During the last weeks of August 1942, the pulpit was occupied by Rev. Fred Reustle, pastor of the Van Wyck Congregational Church in Richmond Hill, Jamaica, Queens, and a graduate of Columbia University, Wagner College and Union Theological Seminary. He had decided to purchase a lot and build a cottage in Cragsmoor to use during his vacation. The congregation was delighted to have him as a minister whenever possible “and as a cottager, a most desirable addition to the Cragsmoor community.” He accepted $18 remuneration for each service. It was as if an angel from heaven had arrived to rescue the church in one of its darkest hours. 

 

Rev. Reustle began building his stone cottage immediately after purchasing the land. It was planned as a vacation home, but when he was finally finished it also included a garage/horse barn with an upstairs studio. When he eventually retired from the Van Wyck Congregational Church in the mid-1970s, the Reustles decided to make it their permanent home and became deeply involved in community life on the mountain. He served as chaplain for the Cragsmoor Volunteer Fire Company, as fire district commissioner, and eventually as president of the Cragsmoor Association. His wife, Dorothy, was involved in the church as an organist, as leader of a group of young singers, as secretary of the board of the Cragsmoor Free Library, and as an active member of the Women's Auxiliary of the Fire Company. Their three children grew up reveling in the natural beauty of the mountain and also participated in the life of the church and community — Ted by working as a lifeguard at the Cragsmoor pool; Althea by filling in for Miss Parker at the organ; and Corinne by occasionally serving as secretary and recording minutes of the regular meetings. She also made excellent use of the community room by offering art and modern dance classes there in the 1970s. 

 

In addition to providing for his congregation's spiritual growth, much of Rev. Reustle's attention during his long tenure was overseeing and sharing in the maintenance of the aging church building. In the 1940s, many repairs were undertaken, including a fresh coat of paint on the interior and the installation of electricity and lights. At a special evening memorial service for Charles Curran, a dedicated trustee for many years who had passed away in November of 1942, the lights were turned on for the first time as a tribute to him. In the words of Miss Ham one of the members, “Light, in the commemoration of him who in so many ways, gave Light to us all.”

 

The church thrived under the guidance and consistent presence of Rev. Reustle, who resided on the mountain all summer. He brought new energy and lifted the dormant spirit of the congregation. More baptisms were recorded, attendance in the Sunday School and at Sunday services increased, the Library Story Hour was held in the community room every Saturday, and the financial situation of the church was more stable for a time along with that of the nation as a whole.

                                                    

Eventually, however, without the support of generous benefactors, such as Mr. and Mrs. Inness, caring for the building and maintaining solvency became a major focus of the pastor and the trustees through the next three decades. One of the major projects prompted by decaying exterior wall shingles was decided at a special meeting in July of 1954, when it was agreed to spray the north side of the building facing the Library with white paint, reshingle the south side facing the road with white asphalt shingles and, paint the roof with green. Eight able-bodied men volunteered to take on the task that would alter the appearance of the building for more than half a century. Work on the foundation, gutters, windows, floors, entrances, bell tower, and driveway around the building, as well as interior painting and repairs on the organ became the major topics reported in the minutes. 

 

The Church membership was joined by other Cragsmoor residents and together they worked on innumerable projects. Young people, such as the McElraths and Reustles, took on the task of painting the rear of the church. Rev. Reustle usually directed these projects but never hesitated to take on a challenging task by himself. Although the nature of the work was often very demanding, it was accomplished with a spirit of generosity and the knowledge that all involved were extending the life of one of Cragsmoor's important public buildings.

 

In the 1960s, Bill and Liona Howell joined the effort to maintain and beautify the building. They offered to make panels to serve as shades for the upper half of each window with the works created by their company, “Cragsmoor Craftsmen.” Leaves, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers were collected on the mountain, dried in a special process, placed in an artistic design between two sheets of fiberglass, and treated with liquid plastic. These floral panels eventually served as memorials for various members of the community.

 

The End of an Era

 

In the sixties and seventies, however, membership declined, even though there were several welcoming campaigns to increase attendance. Older members were passing away, and Sunday School was discontinued for want of a teacher or interested students. This little church, as many others, began to suffer from a lack of interest in organized religion nationwide. This trend was evident among younger families who were moving to Cragsmoor during this period. Finding a minister to preach every Sunday was no longer the problem, however. Filling the church became the next serious challenge.

 

On October 10, 1987, the CFC faced one of the most serious losses in its history when, after a brief illness, Rev. Reustle passed away at the age of 82. He had given the CFC forty-five years of dedicated service. Now, deprived of his inspiring sermons, his sage wisdom and his guiding spirit, the church was left adrift without its trusted captain. The following summer, a special memorial service was held to dedicate a memorial plaque in his memory.

 

Now, nature itself truly began to invade the building. A family of raccoons decided to make it their home. In 1988, four to six were trapped and removed, but not in time to prevent their contribution to the destruction of various parts of the building or to dissuade future generations from choosing it as a safe haven from the mountain's fierce winters. They were harbingers of the further demise of the building by natural forces, such as leaks in the roof and water in the basement. By the 1990s, services were only held several times during the summer. Without the support and direction of their dedicated pastor and with only a skeleton board of trustees, the CFC struggled to maintain its existence.

 

In 1996, the five remaining members of the board met to decide the future of their historic but rapidly deteriorating building. With the structure in disarray, little money to maintain it, and poor health among themselves, they considered donating what was left to another organization. Deeds to the property were very complicated but with the assistance of attorney Jim Barry, they were eventually resolved. The building, along with its historic Cragsmoor legacy, including George Inness, Jr.'s large painting, was offered to the newly formed Cragsmoor Historical Society. They willingly accepted. On November 6, 1997, a meeting was held in the church.  Present were Sally Matz, president of the Society, and the remaining members of the board of the CFC: Hilda Peters, June McCombs, Dorothy McCombs and Orville and Bertha McElrath. Attorney Jim Barry discussed at length the transfer of the deed, which was then approved unanimously and signed by all. The following June, the trustees met for a final time to close out what remained in the church's bank account and transfer the funds to the CHS to put towards repairs in the church.

 

Their final action was to resign from their positions as trustees and secretary of the CFC, thus bringing to a close the end of an era and the existence of the Cragsmoor Federated Church as a legal entity. This was far from the end of the story, however, because in doing so, they gave the Cragsmoor Historical Society the opportunity to breathe new life into the decaying structure, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. In this way, the building would continue to be an architectural cornerstone of the Cragsmoor Historic District, preserving its history and providing a beautifully restored space for public and private events for another century.

                                                                                                                                                  

Written by Maureen Radl

Sources: CFC Records from 1912 to 1998, especially those written by                                

Secretary and Trustee, Julia Inness from 1906 to 1926

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