HAMBURG BAPTIST CHURCH:
ITS ORIGIN AND HISTORY
Marion E. Wood, Ph.D.
A small band of believers in Christ signed a covenant on July 29, 1798 organizing the Baptist Church at Vernon. Baptisms are on record for 1796, two years preceding formal establishment of the church. This small group engaged Thomas Teasdale as their pastor. Known as Elder Teasdale, the first pastor has the distinction of holding the longest pastorate in the history of the church. Elder Teasdale emigrated from England and had a heavy Yorkshire accent which prevented him from securing a position within the Presbyterian denomination. Many of the founders of the church themselves probably migrated from the New England States to Sussex County. Hamburg village was at least in part within the bounds of Vernon Township from about 1792 to 1853 being originally part of Hardyston.
George Washington was still President of the newly formed nation and the
The Hamburg area is rich in mineral resources. The treasures in its hills brought many prominent individuals to settle here who established the mines and mills of the area. It most famous citizen was a New Jersey Governor Daniel Haines who made his home here as a young man and spent all his adult life here. Hamburg village was central to the mining area. The lime industry and iron mining were an integral part of the community. Business and industry flourished providing employment for a growing population. Hamburg Post Office, established 1795, was the only one in this section until Morristown.
The early church met in school houses for the most part. The people of the village of Hamburg grew tired of traveling to worship services in Vernon especially in inclement weather. Hamburg was an increasingly important location and became more so after the building of the Hamburg-Paterson Turnpike completed in 1811. This road connected it to the newer Paterson, which was the first planned industrial city in the United States designed by Alexander Hamilton himself. About this time, 1811, it was decided to build a house of worship in town. From this point forward it was known as the Baptist church of Hamburg. A large land holder and surveyor, Martin Ryerson, agreed to donate the land to the Presbyterians for use by all if the church could demonstrate the ability to build a house of worship. Both the Baptists and Presbyterians worked to this end. The Baptists had raised more money than the Presbyterian so that Ryerson, a Quaker himself, decided to deed the church land and burial ground to the trustees of the “united Presbyterian and Anabaptist Societies.” Although no clear record is known, it is assumed that the first church structure was erected on this land in 1814 soon after it was deeded. Throughout the years, this church building was used at various times by all the denominations in town until the others eventually built their own houses of worship.
Rev. Teasdale passed away in 1827 and was laid to rest in the church cemetery adjoining the church property. He gave 29 years of service as pastor. While he was pastor he lived in the McAfee Valley just outside of town on a few acres deeded to him by the Simpson family from their farm. To support himself and his family he worked this land in addition to his pastoral duties. This was consistent with the practice of the day where clergy was often given a section of land for themselves to make their livelihood. Teasdale’s death led to the need to secure a parsonage for the pastor. To own or secure property the church had to become incorporated. In 1835, the church voted to incorporate under the name of the Hamburg Baptist Church which remains until this day. A house in Hardystonville that belonged to Henry Rude was purchased. This was formerly the home of Thomas Darrah, an early church member, who went West seeking the fortunes to be gained in Westward expansion of the country. By 1909, the Ladies Aid Society was formed by the women of the church. This group worked tirelessly to contribute to the maintenance of the parsonage. Changing times saw its demise in 1977.
Throughout the 19th century the church grew in numbers through revivals and evangelism. About 1849 the Sunday school movement started and the church established a Sunday school. A Sunday school room was later added to the church and several expansions followed. Rev. David Silver, a graduate of Princeton, was ordained by the church in 1865. During his pastorate a bell was added in 1870 bearing the inscription: “Jesus fill thy good Grace All that I call to this place.”
In 1887 a new parsonage was built closer to the church for the convenience of the pastor. The old parsonage at Hardystonville was sold and the new one constructed on a lot acquired from Peter and Julia Yatman on Vernon Avenue. The parsonage at 45 Vernon Avenue has been home to various pastors starting with Rev. A. J. Millington in December 1887.
In 1890, the first indoor Baptismal pool was constructed in the church. Sylvanus Smith, a trustee and hardware merchant, was the first to be baptized indoors. Previously Baptisms had taken place in the Mill Pond, the Hardystonville Pond, Papakating Creek, and the Wallkill River. In winter, a hole was cut in the ice for Baptism making a hearty lot of congregants. Even though indoor Baptism became the norm, outside baptisms were conducted as recently as 2008 in a chlorinated swimming pool during summer.
Baptists were the leaders of the temperance movement and used grape juice instead of wine for communion. Communion was served by the common cup until individual servings were introduced around 1900 probably a result of concern for the spread of disease. Today open communion is celebrated on the first Sunday of each month.
The church was only closed due to war and disease. There were quarantines at various times when diseases ran rampant during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century which closed the church temporarily. When World War II came, gas rationing caused it to close down its Sunday school for a short period. Otherwise the church operated continuously and never closed on its own account. It remained an active and vibrant part of the community. Graduations from the public school were often held at the Baptist church through 1939. Union services were often celebrated on holidays up to the 1970’s when the character of the community changed during to increases in population.
With the Great Depression intensifying gloom and need overtook the village. Rev. Robert P. Crouch began his pastorate just a year prior to the stock market crash of 1929. Rev. Crouch initiated many of the WPA and ERA programs locally for the benefit of the community as well as the church. In 1933 the Idle Hour Theater burned to the ground taking away one avenue of escape for a sinking population. Two years later the town’s largest employer, the Union Waxed Paper and Parchment Company, was completely destroyed by fire and closed its doors leaving many without jobs.
On January 29, 1936 the Hamburg Baptist Church burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was determined to be a malfunction of the pipeless furnace. Despite this the church never missed a worship service or Sunday school. Through the energy and leadership of Rev. Crouch a new church was built in only nine months on the same site with only a small mortgage. Services were held the first Sunday of November 1936 testifying to the power of God and his miracles. The new building was state of the art in its day and included spectacular stained glass windows. The building has remained essentially unchanged until today.
In 1993 the church acquired adjoining landlocked property to the rear of the building with the intention of building a parking lot considered essential to the operation of the church. To access the land, it was necessary to secure title to the Hamburg Cemetery to the rear of the church which was privately owned but not recognize as such at the onset of the project. A court order was obtained to relocate the major portion of the graves to a compressed graveyard on the front lawn of the church. Only the Rude family plot remains in the rear of the church under the care of the church. Additional access to the lot was obtained by acquiring a nearby little house with a driveway providing egress. The house was rented to help pay the cost of the mortgage until 2008; it was demolished in the spring of 2009 as the church is not in the rental business. The parking lot has been improve through maintenance and added landscaping recently. Additional outside lighting has been installed for security and convenience.
A major highway improvement project of the New Jersey Department of Transportation completed in 2009 has led to some changes in the appearance of the front of the church. It has also created greater visibility of the church. The front wall was removed and the highway came closer. A new sign and base were installed in 2009. The monument placed by the Sunday school in 1955 as a memorial to the veterans of all wars was relocated. A new public parking lot has been created on Linwood Avenue near the church which will enhance our parking capabilities.
Through the generosity of the late Mary T. Butcher many improvements have been made in the last four years first at the parsonage and then at the church. The parsonage has a new roof and front porch. The exterior has been made nearly maintenance free. A new floor was put in one of the first floor rooms in 2008.
At the church, air conditioning was added to the sanctuary in 2008. The front platform and steps were resurfaced and greatly improved adding to the beauty and accessibility of the building. New railing accompanied this. In 2009 new front doors with leaded glass windows were added. New steps, sidewalks, and railings were added as a result of highway modifications completed in 2009. Additional plantings replaced the wall in front of the church.
Commencing in August 2009 the church undertook a major improvement project on the lower level of the building. A major focus of this project was to create ADA compliant rest rooms for men and women involving extensive plumbing improvements as well as new fixtures, tiled walls and floors. Extensive electrical improvements were made including an upgraded electrical service, new wiring, additional outlets and switches, and boxing of all wires. A new ceiling was installed in the fellowship room and all walls were painted. New carpeting and painting of the nursery, classroom, trustee room, church office, and hallway were accomplished. Heating issues were addressed including heat in the pastor’s study. Although the project took longer than anticipated and caused inconvenience, it was finally completed in mid-April 2010. The outcome enhances our church atmosphere and will serve us well into the future.
Bound together by faith our congregation looks to the future with hope as it preserves our heritage. It is anticipated that the improvement of the physical plant of the church will enhance the environment for future growth under the leadership of a new pastor called to Hamburg Baptist as its spiritual leader. It is the desire of the church to grow and sustain itself as a vessel to spread the good news to the community of an ever changing world.
Note: For further Reading on church history consult:
A History of the Hamburg Baptist Church 1798-1913, by Rev. R. F. Bresnahan, 1913.
Hamburg Baptist Church History 1798-1973, by Frances B. Moyse, published 1973.
All About Hamburg, pp. 256-272, by Dr. Marion E. Wood, published 1998.