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First Church at S. Haven

Footnotes to Long Island History

FIRST CHURCH AT SOUTH HAVEN

JULY 28, 1960

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       The first church was built in South Haven in about 1740, and Thompson's history of Long Island states that "The meeting house at Fireplace or Southhaven was first built in 1740 and rebuilt in 1828.

       The first reference to the church in the town records appears in the deed of April 10, 1745 when Mordecai Homan, Richard Floyd and Nicoll Floyd sold "Yamphank Neck," to John Havens. In it is this reference "Always reserving and excepting out of his present Indenture of sale two acres of land granted for the use of a Presbyterian Meeting House, whereon the house now stands." This is proof that in 1745 the church was in existence. The oldest tombstone in the church burying ground is that of Sarah Hudson, wife of Jonathan Hudson who died in 1746.

       The location chosen for the church was the center of population for this area with Mastic to the east, Fireplace on the west, and Yaphank on the north. Also there were several roads that met here from various parts of the town. One was the Old Town Road, which came from Setauket to Yaphank and on to South Haven, known as the Gerald Road. Another came from Coram to Yaphank and along the east bank of the Connecticut River, and ran into the Montauk Highway a short distance east of the church. Then there was the "River Road," which came from Yaphank on the west bank of the river to Carman's Mills, just north of the church. Another road came across the Island from Wading river to the mill. As there was no bridge over Carman's River, where the South Country Road crossed it, this spot was known as the "goin over."

       Just above the church was the old grist and saw mill to which the farmers from miles around brought their grain to be ground; they also brought logs to be sawed into boards and timber.

       Most of the material and labor for this church was contributed by the people. The beams were hewn by hand from oak trees cut in the vicinity. Pine trees were hauled to the saw mill and sawed into clapboards and siding. Hand wrought nails were used in its construction and where possible wooden pegs to save the expense of bolts. Panes of clear glass were shipped by boat from Connecticut and used in the windows.

       This was a plain frame building and inside were seats on either side if the central aisle. The pews were probably of the box type like the present ones. In this way a whole family could take their seats close the door and use the hot bricks or foot stoves they had brought with them to keep their feet warm. The doors on the ends of the pews were intended to retain the heat from these heaters, an important item in those days when churches were unheated in winter. The floor was of the earth itself, tradition states for flooring could be omitted when economy was an important item. There was nothing fancy about the architecture, but everything about the building breathed the quiet dignity of these sturdy and devout people. The South Haven church was the only church building on the South shore of the Island from Babylon to Southampton for almost half a century. Neither Moriches nor Westhampton ,ketchabonock had a church building until after the turn of the century, but conducted services in private homes and the schoolhouse.

       It is not definitely known when the South Haven Church began as an organization but a preaching station may have been established here at an early date and if so the Rev. George Phillips of the old "town church" in Setauket must have preached here in the early 1700's. The records indicate that Abner Reeve preached here much of the time for several years before David Rose came as pastor in 1765. The town records show that at a town meeting held on May 3, 1757 it was voted that the parish where the Rev. Mr. Reeve "preaches at South; shall be known as South Haven." The Rev. Mr. Reeve had a son, Tappan who was born in South Haven in 1744, and who in later years founded the first law school in the country, in Litchfield, Connecticut.

       One attraction that drew men to this section from the north side in the early years was the discovery of a rich source of tar and turpentine in the pine trees of this neighborhood. "Tar-men's Neck," was the name given to that section near Beaver Dam Creek just east of the present Presbyterian Church. The tar men who settled here became so busy that the town ordered a tax of one shilling in 1715, on every barrel of tar produced and ten shillings on every barrel of turpentine distilled.

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