The House of God at Rock City

This profile of the Memorial Lutheran Church at Rock City was written by Burton Coon and published on October 27, 1939 in the local “Gazette.” Republished here in recognition of the Church’s 150th Anniversary.

The House of God at Rock City

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By Burton Coon, October 27, 1939

I thought it might interest some of the readers of The Gazette to know the beginnings of the Lutheran Church at Rock City. John G. Schultz was a sturdy Christian of the old school who loved and believed in the Word of God and all the cardinal doctrines of the Lutheran Church. He lived on the farm now occupied by Benj. Collins. He and his wife, who was Betsey Stall, a sister of Henry A. Stall, were members of the Lutheran Church in the village of Red Hook and they went there every Sunday to meeting. But that was 4 miles away and Rhinebeck was 6 miles away and the Rowe Methodist Church was 4 miles away and the Methodist church at Shookville, 2 miles away was weak and unsuitable as to location; all of which left the growing community of Rock City without a religious service on Sunday. Naturally, as a good Christian man, he was anxious for the spiritual welfare of his neighbors. So,being in good circumstances at the time, he selected a plot of ground in a corner of his farm near to the village and built thereon a neat little chapel. David Kipp, a carpenter and contractor, living in Red Hook, did the work. Frank Schultz tells us that as a boy he remembers seeing the men at work and also helped a bit to draw stones for the foundation with a yoke of oxen. That was in 1868. And it was duly finished and dedicated on the 15th day of September. The Rev. Wm. Shool, D.D. conducted the services.

Being a benevolent project from the start, Mr. Schultz took the entire economic responsibility for it. He got the ministers where he could and paid them out of his own pocket. He organized a Sunday school, provided the literature and acted as superintendent. He called it a Mission at that time, and such it was. There is no record of who the first pastors were until 1872 when Rev. Wm. A. Mackey, a Methodist preacher stationed at Elizaville was called in to help out. That was probably an evening service, as Mr. Mackey had a morning and an afternoon appointment besides. It can be seen from this that Mr. Schultz was not a bigoted sectarian, but reasonable enough to believe that some good could be found in ministers of other denominations. Later on he employed a Baptist minister by the name of Barnes, from Rhinebeck. It is likely, too that in these early days he was his own sexton, to save expense. Besides being superintendent of the Sunday School, he was either a deacon or an elder in the church council and secretary and treasurer of the church for many years. In fact he was general manager and assumed responsibility for the whole thing. It was his “Mission”, dedicated to God, and I suppose he considered it his life work.

An early record book states that on the 5th of October 1872 Mr. Schultz presented to the New York and New Jersey Synod a deed for the property through Rev. T. T. Everett who was pastor of the Lutheran Church at Red Hook. This was accepted by the Synod by a rising vote. Up until that time there seems to have been no formal organization for the record says that on May 25, 1873 the first church council was installed as follows: Elders: Wm. P. Stall, John G. Schultz; Deacons: Isaac A. Schultz, Cyrus R. Dedrick. These were elected for 3 years. They were installed by Rev. A. C. Wedeking, D. D. of New York who visited the Mission for that purpose. Previously, at a communion service held April 23rd “five grown persons were baptized and two confirmed. Two more were ready to join by certificates.” The first roll of members received by Rev. Thos. T. Everett on that day were as follows: Jacob Hapeman, Hannah E. Stall, Cyrus R. Dedrick, Sarah Dedrick, Isaac A. Schultz, Elizabeth W. Schultz, Lucy Ann Tipple. And on May 4th, 1873 Rev. S.G. Finckel received Conrad Battenfeld and Henry Jacoby. Again on July 20, 1874 Rev. T.T. Everett received Gilbert Rush Haines and Mary Elizabeth Dedrick. The Rev. Samuel S. Finckel referred to was pastor of St. Peter’s Stone Church of Rhinebeck. “Conrad Battenfeld” was the grandfather of Edwin Battenfeld and “Henry Jacoby” was the grandfather of Judge Frank Jacoby.

Then on Oct. 11, 1874, David Tipple, Jacob Halenbeck, Manson Shafer, Sarah Halenbeck, Manson Shafer, Elizabeth Shafer, Conrad Battenfeld, Jr. and Elizabeth Battenfeld were received by Rev. S.G. Finckel. Again on March 28, 1875 John Henry Shoemaker, Elma Fero, Martina Tipple, Mina Hause, Mrs. Mary Cookingham, Ursula L. Cookingham, George Shaffer, Fanny Shaffer, Libbie A. Stall and Abram Hoysradt were received by Rev. S. Finckel. Again on Apr. 9, 1877 Herbert Neher was received. Dec. 1, 1878 Mrs. Martha Rowe, Ervin I. Dedrick, Mary E.H. Dedrick, Ella Neher, Sarah Pindar and Delia Decker were received by Rev. J.G.  Griffith of Wurtemburg. Mrs. Decker was received on the 5th of January 1879.

Thus far 39 members had been received in less than 6 years and most of them by Rev. Finckel. He was followed by Rev. J.G. Griffith who on Dec. 19, 1880 received by letter from the Red Hook Lutheran Church, John G. Schultz and Elizabeth his wife. Mr. Schultz was now in the fold of his own building and thence forward that was to be his only care. On the same day Fanny Stall, John J. Hanover, Nathan C. Doyle and Judith his wife and Pauline Kilmer were received. And on March 6, 1881 Abraham Dedrick and Mary his wife were received by letter from Rhinebeck. And on March 15 Wm. A. Coons and wife by letter- he from Wurtemburg and she from Rhinebeck. And on Apr. 17, 1881 John Paul Battenfeld, by confirmation and Lucia W. Schultz by baptism. These last two afterward became the main pillars of the church and stood by it through thick and thin for more than 50 years. We all knew them — John Battenfeld and Lucy Schultz, who late in life married John’s brother Henry and they were known for miles around, wherever the church was known. They both gave to the church their time and strength up to the last. Lucy was a teacher in the Sunday School for many years and John made all the interests of the church his special care. Years ago a resident of the place told me that if it wasn’t for John Battenfeld and one other man the church would be closed. We all loved him for his simple honesty and untiring devotion.

On April 8, 1883 Miss Mary Shaffer was received by baptism by Rev. D.S. Mackenzie. I think he was pastor at Rhinebeck. Miss Shaffer afterward married Reuben Pultz of Wurtemburg. The Rev. Mackenzie was followed by Rev. John Kling of Wurtemburg and Rev. J.A. Josenberg of Manorton. Mr. Rosenberg preached the last Sunday of each month. On Apr. 24, 1887, Mr. Kling received Virgil Wildey and wife and Wm. L. Wildey their son, and Miss Emma Tipple. Mr. Kling was followed by Rev. A.M. Whetstone of Rhinebeck and he by Rev. Geo. W. Fortney of Wurtemburg. Oct. 7, 1888 he received Libbie A. Cookingham, John Flack and Eckert Battenfeld. And so the record goes on, year after year. Some of the members died, some moved away, some probably dropped out, but the church lived on. Not more than half a dozen members of 50 years ago are still living, among them being William L. Wildey of Barrytown, Mrs. Emma Tipple Coon of Trail’s End, Mrs. Libbie Cookingham, Rossman Clark, John Flack, Mrs. Lettie Rowe Traudt and Mrs. Elma Fero Sherwood who has been a member (for) 64 years. That is a long time to be associated with God’s people in this world. God bless her! God bless them all!

The second church council was installed July 1, 1877, probably by Rev. Finckel. The list follows:Elders: David Tipple, Jacob Halenbeck; Deacons: Isaac A. Schultz, Herbert Neher; Trustees: Eli Fero, Henry Feller, Gilbert R. Haines. Eli Fero was the village shoemaker and had his shop over the store. He was a Methodist, a member of the Shookville church and a close friend of my father. Many a night he and my father and Mr. Schultz and Mr. Tipple and other choice would gather in the upper room of the old school house and pray and sing and shout the praises of God together. What a good time they had! Better than any night club the devil ever assembled. And no headaches the next morning. I have been with them at such times and I know. Mr. Fero was also the Bible class teacher in the Rock City Sunday School for many years. He died March 1883. He was a man of great power in prayer. Henry Feller was also an eloquent man, though he had no particular education. The fact is the Spirit of God took possession of these men and spoke through them as He did through the prophets.

According to the record Rev. T.T. Everett received in all 6 members: Rev. Samuel G Finckel (received) 24 members; Rev. J.G. Griffith (received) 19 members; Rev. John Kling (received) 10 members; Rev. J.A. Rosenberg (received) 1 member; Rev. A.M. Whetstone (received) 1 member; Rev. Geo. W. Fortney (received) 28 members. I do not know how many were received by Rev. E.G. Hay, who followed Mr. Fortney, but he reported to Synod Sept. 14, 1898 a membership of 55. And in Sept. 1903 a membership of 64. I have no further record along that line.

Rev. Mr. Fortney came upon the scene sometime during 1888, for in October of that year he took with him to Synod $23.61 as the offering of the church, presumably for benevolences. He remained until the fall of 1895 when the Rev. E.G. Hay came. Mr. Hay had already been pastor at Red Hook for a year or so, and he served the Rock City church until he left Red Hook. He preached his last sermon Sept. 15, 1907. From then until the next April the church was served by Rev. B.S. Crosby, a minister of the Christian denomination, located at Milan Hollow. Rev. G.E. Hipsley preached his trial sermon Apr. 12, 1908 and became the regular pastor May 3rd. Mr. Hay and Mr. Hipsley were then paid by the Sunday, $3.00 each time they preached–no preaching, no pay. Now he is hired by the year ($300) and granted a month’s vacation. Another interesting item is that “from Apr. 4 to May 16th inclusive, 1897, Rev. E.G. Hay preached 7 Sundays for nothing to cancel the indebtedness of Mr. John G. Schultz to the church, $20.00. That I suppose was when Mr. Schultz failed in business and didn’t have money enough to pay his debts. Anyhow it was a noble and generous act on part of Mr. Hay to clear the record and leave his memory without a stain. Mr. Schultz died penniless. For a number of years he was entertained at the Minister’s Home in the city of Washington, D.C. He lived to be 96. Economically he was a victim of the depression which swept over the country in the early 90’s. He once told my father that it cost him $70.00 a year to maintain the church. The spiritual value of his life was incalculable.

The earliest paid sexton of the church that I know of was John. J. Hanover. He lived about a mile up the road on the hill. My best recollection is that he got only $15 per year. He was followed by Henry Rossman. Then Robt. A. Day. Then John Funk during 1907-1909. He received $25 per year. A. Day was again employed at $25 which was afterward raised to $30. Then Mrs. W.J. Hover. John Hirsch acted as sexton for a short interval. The sexton now receives $2.00 per Sunday.

John G. Schultz was secretary and treasurer for many years. Later Wm. L. Wildey kept the accounts from Apr. 1, 1897. Then March 28, 1903, Frank Jacoby, sec. And treas. Mar. 20, 1909 Frank G. Shaffer, sec and tres. Now Mr. F.A. Halbroder has the job. These officers served without pay.

Many interesting items appear on the account. In the beginning the collections were small, mostly under a dollar. One was 5 cents, several were 7 cents and 10, 12, 14, 15, 20, etc. They were what might be truly called “penny collections”, when the good old-fashioned penny meant more than it does now. But even in the early days, while Mr. Schultz was Superintendent of the Sunday School there were entries like the following: “Pd by the children of the S.S. to the Treasurer of Gen. Synod for the Children’s Missionary Society $3.00”, “Collection taken for Missions $8.00” Again “Collection for Missions $8.57”, “Nov. 6, 1884, contributed by the Rock City Sunday School to the Children’s Memorial Fund of Kansas City, MO $10.00”, “Sept 1, 1890 extension $8.50, “July 1 for Education, $5.00”, “Sept. 6 for Education, $5.30”, “June 29, 1892, Collection for Orphan’s Home, $5.00”, “Aug. 15 for Foreign Missions (S.S.) $4.32”, and so on. There is one unexplained item as follows: “Rec’d May 28, 1909 from Old Maid’s Club, $32.03”. Good for the old maids! The Lord needs them.