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July 13, 2013

Elm Park Church dedicated 95 years ago

Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — After two years of meetings, fundraisers, reviewing architect’s plans and watching construction of a new church, one would believe that a dedication of the building would be a grand affair. In the case of the Elm Park Methodist Church in July 1918, a one-day celebration just wasn’t enough, so they turned it into six days. While the festivities were interesting and enjoyable, they were also good moneymakers.

“The church edifice and site, which are in a rapidly growing section of the city, represent an outlay to date of approximately $13,000 and with the contributions of yesterday there is left less than $3,000 of indebtedness upon the society,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star of Wednesday, July 10, 1918. The church is actually in the town of Oneonta.

A morning service of July 9 got the dedication week underway, with Bishop J.F. Berry of Philadelphia delivering a powerful sermon. Subscriptions to the church amounted to more than $3,100 at that service alone.

The festive dedication week culminated efforts dating back to Oct. 31, 1916, as Elm Park Church was organized at a meeting held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Shutters in the West End. The first preaching service was soon after held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Dougherty.

The church name came from a tract of land that was being developed for new neighborhoods, called Elm Park. About 40 people gathered to break ground for the new church on Nov. 8, 1916, on a lot at the corner of Chestnut Street and Ceperley Avenue, given by Oliver A. Hubbell, a farmer, who lived at 390 Chestnut St. Several members of the church used picks and shovels to clear out the soil for the basement of the church before handing the rest of the construction over to George Fish for carpentry and W.H. McCall for the heating, plumbing and wiring.

A banquet took place on Friday, July 12, and dedication services followed on Sunday morning. The church opened with a membership of about 60, with Rev. J.C. Johnson as pastor. The sanctuary could comfortably seat 350. As described by the Star, it “is well adapted to the needs of that section of the city for years to come.”

Sixty of them, in fact. It was reported on Nov. 23, 1977, that the congregation of the church had accepted final plans for construction of a new church building for $450,000. It called for a one-level building of 13,700 square feet with a centralized sanctuary to seat 300. Several new rooms were planned that the old church didn’t have.

Pastor of the church, the Rev. Rees Warring, said the new church would also serve as a community center, serving various needs in Oneonta’s West End.

“The new church is needed,” he said, “because of an increased congregation size and the expanding community programs of the church.” Such programs have included bloodmobile activities, senior citizen nutrition programs, Bible schools, and a voting center.”

The last service at the old church was Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978. Services were held at the Anderson Center for the Arts at Hartwick College while the new church was built. Passers-by watched on Friday, July 22, as the church was demolished. The parsonage was moved to a location about a block away on Ceperley Avenue. The entire construction project, including a new parsonage and parking lot, actually came to nearly $700,000.

The congregation celebrated the first worship service in the new church on Sunday morning, March 4, 1979. That same afternoon, Bishop James M. Ault was on hand to consecrate the building.

On Monday: Worrisome economic times in Norwich in 1993.

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 simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.