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First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus

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First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus
The First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus.jpg
42°58′58″N 76°20′23″W / 42.9828°N 76.3398°W / 42.9828; -76.3398Coordinates: 42°58′58″N 76°20′23″W / 42.9828°N 76.3398°W / 42.9828; -76.3398
Location Intersection of East Main and North Streets in Marcellus village, New York
Country United States
Denomination Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Former name(s) Eastern Religious Society of Marcellus
Marcellus First Religious Society
Founded October 13, 1801
Founder(s) Reverend Caleb Alexander
Dedicated October 13, 1851
Completed 1851 (current)
Construction cost $3,800 ($34.3 thousand today)
Pastor(s) Reverend Bill Grossman

The Greek Revival First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus is located at the intersection of North Street (New York State Route 174) and East Main Street (also NY 174) in the village of Marcellus, New York, and is the oldest of four churches in the village. Marcellus village was founded in 1794. Local residents with differing religious denominations met in a tavern, until October 1801 when Reverend Caleb Alexander, a missionary active in the central New York area, helped organize the 18-member Church of Christ. A wooden meeting house was constructed two years later.

By 1819, the community had built three churches in the environs of Marcellus: the original First Church in Marcellus, its offshoot the Second Church in Skaneateles, New York, and the Third Church on State Road (now U.S. Route 20). In 1851, the present church in Greek Revival style was erected and dedicated. The church would undergo substantial alterations over the next century. In 1948, it was remodelled and dedicated in April 1952. Commentators have found the structure one of the finest examples of Greek Revival church architecture in Onondaga County; however, they have expressed some regret in the loss of several original features. The church celebrated its bicentenary in 2001.

Original church (1803–1851)[edit]

The location of the church as viewed with OpenStreetMap

The village of Marcellus was founded 1794 with Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and villagers of other denominations meeting in a tavern for worship services. Tavern proprietor Deacon Rice was permitted to read sermons, not write them, and Reverend Seth Williston, a missionary active in the area as early as 1800 may have provided spiritual guidance. On October 13, 1801, the village's first worship society, the 18-member Church of Christ, was organized through the efforts of Rev Caleb Alexander, another missionary active in central New York. In May the following year, the society was incorporated as the Eastern Religious Society of Marcellus. The church was later described as "Presbyterian in its ecclesiastical relations, and at the same time Congregational in its internal policy and arrangement."[1]

On August 12, 1802, the society voted to build a church, and a trustee donated an acre of land at the intersection of Main Street and North Street in the present-day village of Marcellus. In 1803, construction of the fifty-five by forty-eight feet wooden meeting house was completed with a floor, a board pulpit, and slab seats but without a steeple, a bell, stoves, and ceilings. Congregants warmed themselves with foot stoves, squirrel fur, and the "power of the spirit".[1]

Itinerant missionaries served the meeting house for its first few years. The church gained its first pastor in 1807, when Rev Levi Parsons was ordained and installed. That same year, the congregation adopted fifteen articles of faith and a covenant, which remained membership prerequisites for one hundred years. In the same year the church affiliated with the Presbyterian Synod of Albany, three years later becoming a charter member of the Presbytery of Cayuga, which, in 1811, became part of the newly formed Synod of Geneva. Mr Parsons served until 1833 when he accepted posts in Tully, New York and Otisco, New York. He returned to Marcellus in 1835, where he remained until 1841 when Rev John Tompkins was appointed.[1]

In 1814, a steeple was built, an extension to the church added, and the interior painted at a cost of $4,500 ($51.4 thousand today). The same year, The Female Charitable Society of Marcellus donated $133.34 to the Genessee Missionary Society. By 1819, the church had grown considerably. The Second Church was erected in what is now Skaneateles, New York, and the Third Presbyterian Church of Marcellus was built on State Road (now U.S. Route 20), which, after twenty prosperous years, experienced declining membership following deaths and migrations. In 1830, a shed for horses and vehicles was constructed at the First Church. On April 23, 1833, the name of the society was changed to the Marcellus First Religious Society, and in 1846, a house and lot for a parsonage were secured. In 1849, church land was graded and new horse sheds built.[1]

Present church (1851–present)[edit]

A map from 1860 detailing the location of the church and the home of Reverend John Tompkins

By 1850, the First Church was in need of repair and sold for $500 ($4.5 thousand today) which, in the agreement, was applied to the construction of a new church on the same site at a cost of $3,800. The new church, designed in the then popular Greek Revival style, was dedicated October 13, 1851, the fiftieth anniversary of the congregation.[1] Two years after the 1851 construction and dedication of the new church, a bell was fitted to the steeple. The church's first pastor, Reverend Levi Parsons had been succeeded by Rev John Tompkins. In 1866, Mr Tompkins died on the eve of his 25th anniversary with the church. Reverends W. S. Franklin and Dwight Scovel were appointed as interim ministers, and, during their tenures, a new pulpit and new furniture were acquired. A change in boundaries, by act of the General Assembly in 1869, brought the Marcellus Church within the Syracuse Presbytery which was merged with the Cayuga Presbytery. In 1877, the Women's Missionary Society was formed. In 1880, Rev George Smith was appointed, but, in 1882, accepted a position at Canandaigua Academy. Before Smith left, he celebrated the church's 80th anniversary on October 13, 1881 by writing the church's history.

On Smith's departure Rev Alex McA. Thornburn was appointed and served five years. Under his leadership, the church perfected its organization as a Presbyterian Church and several ruling elders were elected. However, the corporate name, Eastern Religious Society, remained in effect until November 19, 1951, when it was officially changed to the First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus. On November 16. 1887, Rev Thornburn was succeeded by Rev A. H. Cameron, who served ten years with the church. In 1893 and 1894, the church was remodeled once again with new kitchens, a church parlor, and new stained glass windows. The original stoves were replaced with a new heating system. The church began conducting Sunday school classes for those unable to attend services, at Marcellus Falls (north of town) and nearby hamlet Shepard Settlement.[1]

The front of the church as viewed from East Main Street (NY 174) in Marcellus

Rev Cameron was succeeded in 1897, by Rev A. K. McNaughton, who served ten years and celebrated the church's centenary on October 13, 1901. McNaughton left in 1907, and was replaced by Rev F. J. Sauber who served until 1914 when Rev C. C. Frost was appointed. In 1921, Rev David S. MacGinn was appointed, who served until 1928. During MacGinn's years of service, new horse and carriage sheds were constructed for the church, replacing earlier ones built in 1849. In 1961, the sheds (which had been rented-out as car garages) were torn down to make way for an extension of the church. A severe windstorm destroyed the spire in 1924; it was replaced shortly thereafter at a cost of $3,500 ($32 thousand today).[1]

Rev Robert Lloyd Roberts served the Marcellus church during the Great Depression and war years from 1931 to 1944. His successor Dr. Albert Dutton Stearns, called in 1944, continued as pastor until 1948. From 1948 to 1956, Rev Ralph Miller served the congregation. Under his aegis the body of the building was raised, the sanctuary redone and refurbished, and a basement constructed with the additions of a kitchen, a dining room, a lounge and several classrooms at a cost of $65,000 ($586 thousand today). The church was dedicated after completion of construction in April 1952. On November 19, 1951, the church officially became the First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus. On December 9, 1956, Rev Miller was succeeded by Syracuse University graduate Rev Keith Shinaman; Miss Helen Austin was ordained as the first woman elder one year later. Women make up one-half of the present session of eighteen elders.[1]

Reverend Shinaman remained with the church for over fifty years, but was succeeded by Reverend Bill Grossman, who presently serves the congregation w.[2] In 2001, the church celebrated its 200th anniversary.[3] Reverend Shinaman died October 10, 2010 at the age of 88.[4]

Architectural critique[edit]

Of the church structure itself, it was noted in Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County (1964) that "This is certainly one of the most architecturally distinguished churches in Onondaga County, and a particularly fine example of Greek Revival architecture [...] The interior was unfortunately 'improved' with new arrangement of pews, and organ, new windows, carpets and chandeliers in 1896 [...] In recent years the steeple was blown down, falling into the nave. Although rebuilt to approximately the original proportions, the transitional detail between the square belfry and the conical spire was unfortunately eliminated. Also regrettable [...] is the recent replacement of the original wood-paneled entrance doors [...] The future of our finest Greek Revival church is uncertain [...] Destruction would be a loss to the entire community."[5][6]

List of pastors by their ordainment[edit]

Reverend Date of Ordainment[1] Date of Leave[1] Replaced by
Levi Parsons 1807 (1835) 1833 (1841) John Tompkins
John Tompkins 1841 1866 W. S. Franklin
W. S. Franklin 1866 Unknown Dwight Scovel
Dwight Scovel Unknown 1880 George R. Smith
George R. Smith 1880 1882 Alex McA. Thornburn
Alex McA. Thornburn 1882 1887 A.H. Cameron
A.H. Cameron 1887 1897 A. K. McNaughton
A. K. McNaughton 1897 1907 F. J. Sauber
F. J. Sauber 1907 1914 C. C. Frost
C. C. Frost 1914 1921 David S. MacGinn
David S. MacGinn 1921 1928 Robert Lloyd Roberts
Robert Lloyd Roberts 1931 1944 Albert Dutton Stearns
Albert Dutton Stearns 1944 1948 Ralph Miller
Ralph Miller 1948 1956 Keith Shinaman
Keith Shinaman 1956 1992[4] Bill Grossman
Bill Grossman 1992 Present Incumbent


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Heffernan, Kathryn C. (1978). Nine Mile Country: The History of the Town of Marcellus, N.Y. Visual Artis Pub. pp. 175–180. Retrieved June 19, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Marcellus First Presbyterian Church Staff". Marcellus First Presbyterian Church. 2009. p. 1. Retrieved June 19, 2009. 
  3. ^ "A Brief History of the First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus". First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus. 2009. p. 1. Retrieved June 19, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Obituaries - Rev. Keith R. Shinaman". Syracuse, New York: The Syracuse Post-Standard. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Council on the Arts, New York State (1964). Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County. Syracuse University. 
  6. ^ Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency (1975). Onondaga landmarks: a survey of historic and architectural sites in Syracuse and Onondaga County. Cultural Resources Council of Syracuse and Onondaga County. p. 73. 

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