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South Shore’s First Church

Footnotes to Long Island History

South Shore’s First Church

 

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


When the settlements around Mastic and South Haven began to grow in the early 1700’s the need for a church arose. The only church at that time was the old “Town Church” at Setauket. And it was a long drive to attend services there.

In 1740, it was decided to build a church at South Haven. At the junction of several roads from different parts of the town, there was the Old Town road which came from Setauket through Coram and southeast to South Haven. Then the River road, that came from Swezey’s Mills through Yaphank and along the west bank of the Connecticut river to Carman’s mills, a few yards north of the church. Other roads came from Manorville, Mastic, and the Moriches settlements. In later years the latter, a much traveled road to points east and west became known as the South country road. Over this once a week ran the stage coach from Sag Harbor and the Hamptons, unloading its passengers for the night at the tavern across from the church.

As there was no bridge across the Connecticut river at this point, where so many roads came together, wagons and stage coaches moved through the shallow water of a ford, which was locally known as the “goin’ over.” No better location for the church could have been found than the top of the small hill at the focal point of so many roads. There roads had been used b the farmers to bring their grain to the mill across the way to be ground into flour, and the logs from their forests to be sawed into lumber for their homes. Now they were to be used to bring men and women to church and it must have been a happy sight for those devout settlers when on the first Sunday they came down the many roads from the Moriches settlements, Mastic, Smith’s Point, Middle Island, Coram, Millville (now Yaphank), Manorville, Fire Place, Bellport, Patchogue and Blue Point to the little meeting house by the “goin’ over” on the Connecticut river.

This was no pretentious meeting house which the men and women of south Brookhaven erected. It was a plain frame structure, probably unadorned by paint, as that was a luxury. The beams were hewn by hand from oaks cut in the vicinity. The pine trees from the nearby woods were hauled by oxen to the mill across the way, where they were sawed into clapboards and siding. Hand wrought nails and wooden pegs were used. Panes of clear glass, shipped by boat from Connecticut, were used in the windows.

Inside were seats on either side of the central aisle. The pews were probably of the box type, so that a whole family could take their seat, close the door and unwrap the hot bricks or use the foot stoves they had brought with them to keep their feet warm in the cold weather. The doors on the ends of the pews were intended to retain the heat from these “heaters,” an important item in a day when churches were unheated in winter.

The floor was the earth itself, for flooring could be omitted when economy was important. The pulpit must have been a box-like affair elevated at the front. The clerk or percentor had his seat below this, and in front of him was a long table around which the communion was dispensed. There was nothing fanciful or ornate about the architecture. Everything about the building breathed the quiet dignity and good taste of these sturdy and devout people.

Once the building was erected, the next problem was to secure a minister. It was not easy for a handful of people to pay two hundred pounds or so a year for a minister’s salary, so the only thing they could do was to employ the services of some man who had another church, on a part time salary basis. This evidently prevailed at South Haven for several years, and Abner Reeve, pastor of the Presbyterian church at what is now Smithtown, was one who considered this church as part of his parish during the early 1740’s. The first settled pastor was Nehemiah Grenman, who came to the South Haven church in 1748. This church was the only one on the south side of Brookhaven town for nearly fifty years.

(Note: This material has been taken from Rev. George Bothwick’s history of the South Haven church.)

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