Christ Church - Some History

Marlboro, New York

The church was first built in 1836 and was the third Episcopal church in Ulster county. It seated 140 people. The first service was in 1837 and the church became associated with the New York Episcopal Diocese in 1837. The ground was donated or purchased from or by (1) Dennis Doyle, or (2) Dennis Doyle and Leonard Carpenter. In 1861 Mrs. Hester Doyle donated the adjacent property.

The first church (all wooden construction) burnt to the ground on Christmas day, 1857, due to an unattended stove. (There is a slight conflict in dates, with some sources saying the fire was on December 27.) The current church (brick) was completed in October, 1857, at a cost of $6,500. The main entrance of the church is on the south side, under the bell tower. Other than stained glass windows, there is almost no ornamentation either inside or outside the church. In both style and content it could easily be mistaken for an English country church of the 1700s. What updating has occurred (electricity and central heating) was done in ways that did not disturb the basic character of the church.

The church is on the state and national register of historic places.

The rectory was built in 1863, and was a rather grand building for the time. A parish hall, in the undercroft of the church, was "dug out" under the church starting in the 1950s. The 150th commemoration of the church was celebrated by Bishop More, Hamilton Fish Sr, and other dignitaries in 1987, with letters and resolutions from the state assembly, the Congressional Record, and President Regan.

The Armstrong family, for several generations, were members of this church. Two members of the family (David and Helen Maitland) are important figures in the history of stained glass artwork in this country. They provided glorious windows, much beyond what would normally be found in a small parish church, that characterize the building. Two large stained-glass windows face the road and are internally lighted in the evenings, presenting a pleasing, mellow appearance to travelers.

The undercroft of the church is used as the parish hall, and has a separate entrance on the north side. It also has a stairway communicating with the rear of the church. The communicating stairway from the sacristy (above) and the parish hall kitchen area (below) may have existed in the original building, but would have used an exterior set of winding steps. It is now enclosed, but unheated.

The clergy has included:

The interior or Christ Church is very plain. The nave contains 20 pews (mahogany or black walnut), with bare wooden kneelers and book racks. Two of the same pews serve as choir seats. The chancel contains the altar, a credence table, two pews, and the celebrant's seat. An organ is on the north side of the nave, opposite the choir pews. A masonry baptism font is located in the rear, near the main entrance, and next to a table used for service booklets and so forth. (This table may be of antique interest.) There are no statues, intercession candles, collection boxes, or other distractions in the nave. Taken by itself, without the friendly congregation that occupies it during services, it presents a rather somber, but mellow aspect that distantly echos the reactions common in the English churches during the reformation period.

A rail (and gate) separate the nave from the chancel, and serves as the communion rail. The altar originally was attached to the wall opposite the nave, as was the case in many churches until the mid 1900s. The altar now is approximately in the middle of the chancel area. It is a polished wooden structure of considerable age and is probably the original altar from the 1858 construction. The two chancel pews for the deacon, acolytes, candle bearers, and eucharistic minister are smaller versions of the nave pews and may date from a slightly later period. The celebrant's chair, directly behind the altar, appears to be from the mid 1900s.

An outstanding feature of the church is the arch that frames the chancel. It is a "pointed arch" about 18 feet high and has a wonderful multicolor stencil pattern over a gold background. The patterns appear to be in casein-based paints. Photographs do not provide justice to this arch, which must be seen to appreciate it.

The three smaller stained-glass windows in the rear of the chancel contain considerable areas of textured, silver-colored art that required additional furnace work during construction. A small sacristy ("robing room" at the time of construction) exits from the north of the sanctuary area. An antique bishops chair is currently in the rectory. This was probably placed on the north wall of the sanctuary during the 1800s.

There was originally a raised pulpit to the left of the chancel area. However, liturgical styles have changed and our pulpit is stored in our garage while the vestry (slowly) debates what to do with it. As a practical matter, it is large enough to partly block the chancel area and its use would mean removing either the organ or the choir pews. The bell tower contains a substantial bell that is rung (via a pull rope in the main entryway under the bell tower) every Sunday.

Rectory

The rectory was built in 1863 and was known as the "parsonage" in earlier town records. The exterior has aluminium siding, needed to protect the much older subwall under it. The interior has been reworked somewhat, to separate the ground floor (priest's office, Sunday school room, nursery room, and vestry room, and a kitchen area) from the second floor (an apartment). Almost all of the original doors and wide wood trim work is intact, although covered with many layers of paint.

Cemetery

The cemetery is roughly 120 x 275 feet, sloping toward the Hudson river. It contains a mixture of basic limestone markers (some unreadable today) and later granite and marble markers. Some of the larger markers are for several generations of a family. The earliest usage was before 1840 (markers mostly unreadable) and the latest was in 2013. Two fenced areas (wrought iron fences in moderately good condition) exist, with elaborate interior markers. A number of auxiliary markers with legends such as "wife" or "son" are grouped around larger family markers. The most prominent residents are many of the Armstrong family, including Helen Maitland Armstrong, and the Buckley family.
The cemetery is not visible from the road. It is to the east of the church, between it and the river.

Historical significance

Christ Church (Marlboro) is one of the churches founded by Bishop Onderdunk during the active part of his episcopate. (It was originally a missionary church for St. George in Newburg.) One can see a string of these churches up and down the mid-Hudson valley, often about 10 miles apart. The first service was February 12, 1937 and the church joined the New York diocese in 1837. It has been in active use since then, except while being rebuilt after the 1857 fire. The religious history of this area is complex, with Dutch (Reformed) congregations forming the earliest organizations, followed by a number of dissenters (as judged by the Church of England; the Presbyterians being foremost in this area). Church of England organization was slower, starting with Trinity Church in lower Manhatten. The Church of England (in the newly independent United States) transformed into the Episcopal church, which experienced a steady growth. The 1800s found substantial support for Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations in the Marlboro area. Later immigration (Irish in the mid and later 1800s, and Italian in the early 1900s) brought an almost overwhelming number of Roman Catholics into the area.

Christ Church (Marlboro) must have had a good share of well-to-do supporters when the new building was constructed (1857), as it was rapidly constructed with quality materials and quality work. Subsequent improvements were mostly for more elaborate windows (generally around 1930-1940). The basic layout and feeling of the church are much the same as when it was built. Guidance through the later 1800s was provided by strong vestry members and included recognizable names such as Hamilton Fish Armstrong.
Substantial support for the Marlboro church was provided by St. Annes in the Bowrey, including a very nice set of silver baptism vessels suitably inscribed.

Some consider the many Armstrong windows to be the most significant element of the church. The Armstrong dynasty was well known in New York and ranked with Tiffany, Lamb, and a small set of other art studios. The church windows represent the work of three Armstrongs and incorporate different techniques characteristic of the different artists. For example, the altar windows are single layer, with large amounts of silver stain work in a Gothic style that was characteristic of Helen Maitland Armstrong, while the "Madonna Window" (in the north wall) uses multiple glass layers characteristic of an earlier Armstrong (and Tiffany) style. The two large windows in the front (west end) of the church were produced toward the end of the Armstrong era. Several of the Armstrongs are buried in the churchyard. Detailed discussions of Armstrong windows are available in published art histories. Historical societies have visited the church solely to study these windows, as they are well preserved examples of Armstrong work.

Architecture

Christ Church, Marlboro, is one of 38 churches in the diocese designed by Richard Upjohn. His designs were noted for their ease of building, providing both a desirable appearance (for the era) and reasonable construction for areas without extensive skilled craftsmen. The early 1800s found the Second Awakening in full force. Two Episcopal bishops, John Henry Hobart and Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, presided over the rapid growth of the church in New York. The number of clergy doubled between 1830 and 1840.

They also presided over a period of extended conflict between High Church and Low Church directions. Many of the older clergy had High Church views, while many of the newer upstate clergy (and most of the laity) had decided Low Church views. Upjohn managed to design churches that filled a number of requirements at the same time. They were relatively inexpensive to build (good for impoverished upstate parishes), had a strong Gothic appearance (which appealed to the High Church component), but were not ornate (satisfying the Low Church component). This period, long enough after the revolution for animosity toward England to subside, saw a strong interest in historical links to Europe. Many of Upjohn's churches, including the Marlboro church, could have been mistaken for many older rural churches in England.

Upjohn was known for maroon and gold stencils in his churches. The present chancel arch, mentioned earlier, has a gold background (the color of gold leaf) with a strong maroon presence in the stenciled patterns. We doubt that the present arch coloring is original, but it is likely to be a maintained version of the original.

Usage today

Christ Church (Marlboro) is in regular use today. Services are provided every Sunday and on holy days such as Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Sunday school is provided for different age groups. The parish hall is used by girl scouts, cub scouts, Bible school, Ulster County clericus meetings, and so forth. Weddings for non-members are provided when requested; these typically occur when the bride wants to be married in an "old country church." Lenten discussions, healing services, and discussion groups are open to anyone in the community wishing to attend. A Eucharistic Visitor takes communion from the church to a community nursing home on a regular schedule.

Where ever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here. Whether you are passing through, or this is the beginning of a longer relationship, welcome.

Bibliography
Upjohn, Everard M. - Richard Upjohn, Architect and Churchman. Columbia University, 1939
Upjohn, Richard - Rural Architecture. 1852.
(This work includes an extensive bibliography)
Jones, Robert O. - Maitland Armstrong: American Stained Glass Master, Sentry Press