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June 15, 2013

'Robber baron' helped provide landmark church in Roxbury

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.

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