Jay Gould was called a lot of things in his day, and not much of it was flatter- ing in the business world, such as “robber baron.” In the 21st century some might call him a “one percenter.”
But Jay Gould wasn’t always considered “evil.” There is proof of that standing today in Roxbury, in the form of the Jay Gould Memorial Reformed Church.
Gould was born in Roxbury, and as rich and powerful as he became, he never forgot his hometown. When Gould learned a wooden church burned in a fire in November 1891, he vowed to help finance a new church to be built of bricks and stone so it would never burn down again.
Unfortunately Gould never got to see the church, as he died in 1892, but the project was taken on by his children, led by daughter Helen Miller Gould Shepard. They agreed the church would be built in the memory of their father.
The church and the congregation had a history going back to 1802. The Reformed Church of Roxbury was organized by the Rev. Moses Froeligh on Aug. 30 of that year as “The Church of Beaverdam,” as prior to being named Roxbury the settlement had been known as Beaverdam.
While the church was formed, services were at first held in a barn on the Jonas More farm, in the area known today as Hubbells Corners. Before this church organized, the nearest Dutch Reformed Church was in Prattsville.
The date of construction of the first church at the Roxbury Cemetery is unknown, but was probably soon after 1802, according to the “History of the Town of Roxbury.”
There the church stood until the fire on Sunday night, Nov. 22, 1891, destroyed it. The insurance had lapsed, except for $600 the Ladies’ Social Society had on some furniture. While things looked bleak, the congregation decided to rebuild.
The Ladies’ Social Society bought a new site, closer to the village business district. A large sum was raised by subscription to add to the funding from Gould. Four houses were removed from the present site of the church to other locations on Main and Lake streets.
Ground was broken for the new church on Monday, June 19, 1893. The cornerstone was laid on Sept. 2. This was a structure built with no corners being cut, as far as architecture and expenses were concerned. Not counting the services of architect Henry James Hardenburgh, known for designing the state Capitol in Albany, the structure cost $113,000 to build and furnish. According to an inflation calculator, that would be worth about $2.93 million today.
The church’s interior features solid quartered oak, Indiana limestone arches, Italian terrazzo flooring and several stained glass windows by Tiffany and Maitland Armstrong. The three memorial windows in memory of Jay Gould are located in the apse, and are of the Savior, Mary and the angel. The window in the south end of the nave, in memory of Mrs. Jay Gould, is of the three great virtues: faith, hope and charity. Over the organ pipes is a window on which is represented a choir of angels. Over the Sunday school room the window scene is of Christ blessing the little children.
The church was dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 13, 1894. The first regular services were held the next day.
A magnificent structure such as this needs rounds of repairs and renovations, as time and the elements take their toll. Recent renovations included a slate roof at a cost of $68,000 in 1982, expected to last 80 to 100 years. Also during that decade, towers needed to be rebuilt and the exterior repointed with new mortar.
At a re-dedication service and potluck dinner in October 1990, the 130-member congregation celebrated the fact that eight years of repairs, totaling nearly $540,000, were complete. During the early 1980s, the congregation had debated whether the building should be restored or abandoned, due to such high costs.
Richard Dykstra, minister of the church in 1990, said, “I think people recognize it as one of the most important buildings (in town) and wanted to see that it’s in sound shape for the next century.”
On Monday: A most accomplished driver of more than 2 million miles in her lifetime.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.