Us - Our History
church has a long history that dates back to the early 19th century.
The following links lead to short summaries of that history complied
from booklets made by the historical committee. Specifically mentioned
by the booklets are: Mary Sears Ross, Nadine Myers Ferraioli, Kathryn
Sears Stow, Betsy Boyce, and Nancy Niemi Peckham. We will be updating
our history as new information becomes available and when they are
updated, they will be labeled as such. If you find any mistakes,
please notify the website maintenance team.
The Horseheads Methodists held their first meetings in 1815, 27
years after the first settlement. According to our early records,
it was in this year that the Westlake families came to Horseheads
from near Newburgh. Benjamin Westlake, a local preacher, gathered
the Methodists together and held services in their homes.
As the group in Horseheads grew, the homes became too small so the
congregation moved in 1816 to the newly erected school house on
the “Teal Meeting House Lot,” now Teal Park on Main
Street. This plot of 2_ acres was deeded to the trustees of the
village by Nathan Teal, father of Elmira Teal, for whom Elmira was
named. It was to be used “for church and cemetery purposes
and such other public use as might be thought advisable.”
In 1827 a society was formed, which with the societies of Catharine,
Havana (Montour Falls), and Millport constituted “one charge.”
The first quarterly meeting of the charge was held in a new barn
on the Jonas Sayre Farm to the east of Hanover square. The members
from the entire charge were expected to come for both Saturday and
Sunday. The Saturday afternoon service was to prepare members for
the Love Feast and Communion on Sunday.
On November 25, 1834, the society of 14 members was incorporated
as the First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Horseheads,
and was part of the Genesee Conference. The society erected a white
wooden building on a lot given by Colonel Jacob Westlake (probably
a son of Benjamin Westlake) at the corner of Grand Central Avenue
and Broad St., during the pastorate of T.J. Champion.
About 1841, and for several years following, Camp Meetings were
held one week in June in a large grove near West Junction (a station
on the Erie Railroad south east of the Holiday Inn area). Each family
was expected to bring a tent and provisions. These meetings were
well attended for the served as an occasion for fellowship as well
as spiritual blessing. The members were active in a Sunday School,
Prayer Meetings, Bible Classes, Missionary Societies, Ladies Aid,
and a Christian Endeavor, later the Epworth League.
Annual church festivals were held in the Town Hall and were great
social events. One of the more beautiful ones was in the new railroad
station in 1875. The station was trimmed with hemlock and Chinese
lanterns. There were booths of all kinds and crowds of people. The
proceeds helped pay current expenses and the minister’s salary.
The minister was also supported by gifts of food and fuel given
at a periodic “Donation Visit.” In our archives is an
invitation to a Donation Visit to be held at the Methodist Episcopal
Parsonage on the evening of February 9, 1870, for the benefit of
the Rev. L. Northway. “Yourself and Friends are respectfully
requested to attend, by order of the Committee.”
As the years passed, it was decided to build a new brick church
to better meet the needs of the growing congregation. The white
church was torn down and the new one built on the same lot. In the
archives is the contract which was awarded May 24, 1905, to Howell
Brothers, contractors of Elmira. The consecration was June 3, 1906,
(pastor, W.H. Yard). In 1923 additional changes were completed that
included a new furnace and a much needed lavatory.
The membership continued to be enthusiastic and kept up the Missionary
Budget to help projects abroad. In our own community, needy families
were helped at Thanksgiving, Christmas and other special times.
The Epworth League helped by giving plays once a year under the
leadership of George Curns and Lewis Van Orden. These were presented
to local members before being presented at nearby churches. Under
these same leaders the Christmas Pageant was developed. For years
our church was noted for this pageant.
The Ladies Aid held plant sales near Memorial
Day. The plants were obtained from a local florist and sold for
cemetery pots and gardens. For several years homemade ice cream
socials were held on Sarah Dykes lawn (corner of Broad and Main
Street). The Annual Sunday School Picnic, held in the summer at
one of the Elmira Parks, was always enjoyed by young and old.
As the church continued to grow we needed still more room. In late
1949, the quarterly Conference authorized the appointment of a building
committee. George Lee was elected chairman. (pastor, Earl Robertson).
A two-story additional building called Bethany Center was erected
in August 20, 1950. The location chosen was where horse sheds were
from the early days when members traveled to church in horse drawn
carriages or sleighs. The sheds were torn down in 1922.
In 1951, a memorial committee was formed to supervise the Memorial
Fund. At the death of each member, the church gives a donation to
the Memorial Fund and the person’s name is entered on a page
in the Memorial Book. Memorial Funds are used to purchase special
items for the church.
In 1960 or 1961, Mr. Maynard Howe created the first Succah Booth
as a way to illustrate the Bible story of such a booth to the Sunday
School children. The children seemed to understand the story and
the plight of the needy much more clearly when they could contribute
to the building of the booth and the giving of food. At the time
of its creation, the Succah celebration did not include all Sunday
School classes, but grew to do so at some point.
On March 7, 1962, the Quarterly Conference authorized the appointment
of a building committee for a new church. They were duly elected
with Carl Schnautz as chairman. Plans were developed for an edifice
west of the parsonage at 1034 West Broad Street. The plans were
presented to the congregation and accepted. The pastor at the time
was the Reverend Cuthbert Rowe. Ground breaking was May 1, 1966,
and the first service was held April 9, 1967, with 769 people attending.
Additional land was set aside for future development.
In 1968, a summer-sharing worship service was initiated. The July
services were held at the First United Methodist Church in Horseheads
and the August services were held at Horseheads First Presbyterian
Church. At that time the pastors would also cover each other’s
weekday schedules so that each person could take some summer vacation.
In 1971 the shared summer services became one
ecumenical Thursday Evening service and one Sunday service, meeting
one month at the Presbyterian Church, the other at the United Methodist
In March, 1981, Hope Mayhew promoted the first program at our church
for the Heifer Project International. $80 was raised for160 chickens.
By March 1991, the 11th Annual Heifer Project was underway, with
$1,000 being collected for eight sheep. Money has been given for
bees, cows, goats, and pigs. A Sunday School program is conducted
in conjunction with the Heifer Project where Sunday School students
learn about the program. The children are encouraged to earn the
money which they can contribute to the Heifer Project.
On September 24, 1983, a fire started when two neighborhood children
gained unauthorized entry to the church. They were exploring the
building and climbing in the storage area above the sacristy, the
candles used for lights accidentally ignited packing materials from
the old stained glass windows. The front third of the sanctuary
was severely damaged, including the pipe organ, choir loft, and
roof. Services were held the following day in the church parking
lot, with about 380 people attending. Services were temporarily
held in the Fellowship Hall. On April 8th, 1984, a church conference
voted to give the building committee full approval to proceed with
the renovation plans. Ridgeline Construction, of Elmira, was retained
to repair the building. The first service in the newly renovated
church was on September 16th, 1984.
Before the fire, only one worship service was held at 10:30 AM with
Sunday School at 9:15 AM. As a result of the fire, two services
were needed to accommodate the congregation worshiping in the Fellowship
Hall. When the building project was completed, the early service
The Living Nativity on the front lawn of the church, which began
in 1985, has become an integral part of the Christmas celebrations.
The nativity is in place several nights before Christmas and before
and after the services on Christmas Eve. Costumes were designed
and constructed specially for this event.
Also started in 1985 by the Outreach committee
was the Giving Tree Christmas tradition. The Giving Tree is decorated
with symbols which have been inscribed with the needs of specific
congregation and community members. The members of the congregation
respond, redecorating the tree with gifts, boxes of food, and promises
to visit the shut-ins. These gifts are subsequently delivered to
The CROP walk has also become an annual event
in the life of the church. Each walker secures his or her pledges
and then walks 6 miles. It is a hunger walk, designed to raise money
to help feed people in the United States and in other countries,
to help them provide for themselves and to assist in natural disasters.
The money collected is divided, with 25% remaining in the local
food pantries and 75% being sent to the Church World Service.
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