History of Old Steeple Church
The first house of worship was on the south side of the road on land given by David Parshall as a burying ground. It is thought that this building was in existence prior to 1750 and was the Presbyterian meeting house in which Symes and Lee ministered. When the Separatists left the Presbyterian church in Jamesport to form their own organization in Upper Aquebogue they met for a time in a house near the present church building. It is known that at some time prior to 1758 they were using the building which was located in the burying ground. This building was 24′ by 33′. This building is remembered by men living in 1840 when Dr. Prime gathered his material. It is believed that during the Revolutionary War the membership of this church met in private homes so as to not further antagonize the British soldiers who occupied Long Island. (As the Church of England was the only recognized church by the British Army, and any other church building could be desecrated and was.)
It was not until 1797 that the church felt that it could build a new house of worship. This new house of worship was built on the north side of the road almost directly across from the one on land purchased from Henry Corwin. This is the site of the present building. It measured 30’ by 42’, had full galleries, and could accommodate a growing membership.
In 1833, it was completely remodeled. The old solid frame was retained, but all else was rebuilt. A steeple furnished with a bell was added. This was either a new step in church architecture in this neighborhood, or gave the church such prominence on its raised elevation that it secured for the building far and wide the name “Steeple Church”. On January 2, 1860 it was resolved that the trustees be requested to remove the steeple from the top of the roof. Apparently this did not solve the problem and in 1862 this building was sold and moved to Riverhead and converted into stores.
The building in which we worship today, was built in 1862 at a total cost of $4,150.19 and dedicated February 1863. The pews in which we sit are pegged through the floor, a fact which caused many problems when the present carpet was installed. You will also note that the pews are numbered. On January 21, 1865 a parish meeting was called to consider the propriety of renting the seats of the church and on December 19, 1882 the board of trustees voted to sell the pews on Dec. 30 at 1 o’clock. This not only raised money for the church, but also insured that you would have your own seat at each service. The pulpit was built for the church and matched the front wainscoting.
From then until the present time many changes and improvements have been added, but the original sanctuary has remained the same except for the internal covering of the walls and ceiling which were both plaster. In the original bill for the building is listed the amount paid the “lather” and “plasterer” and the amount spent for plaster. In 1877, a committee was appointed to investigate and report the probable cost of a heater under the floor, coal required, etc. However, there is no record of anything being done until December 1905 when a contract was awarded to supply and install a heater for $269.75. It is not known if this was the outcome of the 1877 investigation or if that “died a natural death” and this was an entirely new idea.
The first churches had no heat at all. After that you brought your own foot warmer. The present building had two chimneys in the rear with a stove on each side for heat. The first real change came in 1880 when $200.00 was paid to Earl’s Organ Factory of Riverhead for an incomplete organ. Terry Hudson took charge of having this organ completed and installed. It served the church until 1947 when the present Moeller organ was installed and dedicated to the memory of Mary L. Aldrich, organist 1902-1942. During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s it was led by a member of the choir playing the bass violin. There was a choir in the church as far back as 1849. Perhaps they led the singing.
It was during the 1886-1897 pastorate of the Rev. Charles Stonelake that the first change to the building took place. From his letters we learn about the building situation. “As time went on we felt, growingly, the need of a suitable room for the young people’s meetings, and there came a time when it looked as if something would be done. But there were three ideas current: to excavate under the church, to build a separate hall, to add on to the rear of the church. The latter, was of course, what was needed, but there was no clear vision at the time, so action was postponed to the keen disappointment of the young people. While deeply sympathizing with them and sharing their disappointment, I must bear testimony to the splendid spirit they showed, and we all settled down to wait for what I was sure would come to us eventually. We waited four years, and during that period the vision of the people clarified until there was only one plan in mine – a meeting room back of the church. Then there came a calamity. The heavy winds rocked the church so badly one night that the ceilings fell. Our church- loving, devoted people were overpressed and discouraged – a time of gloom, but not for long. The people rose with a will to work. Wood ceilings were put up in the church, the sidewalls covered with little shingles, other improvements were made, and then, the good people built their chapel, and the Christian Endeavor Society (forerunner of the YF) had at last a home.”
On January 29, 1892 it was voted to have John E. Aldrich secure material and apply a ceiling in the church in accordance to plans of Mr. Skidmore. The committee reported on March 31, 1892 that the work overhead was finished at a cost of $497.70. A committee was voted to arrange to shingle the walls of the church and to add a room 20’ by 36’ to the rear of the church for use as a church parlor. The famous “fish scale” shingles that cover the original plaster walls were hand-crafted in the shop of John Aldrich. On March 24, 1903 a committee was appointed to purchase material and oversee the building of a basement under the chapel to be used for a kitchen and dining room. In 1920, a meeting was called for the purpose of installing electric lights in the church. Prior to this the building had gas lights.
The steeple which stood 109 feet high from the ground to top was lost in the 1938 hurricane and was replaced and dedicated in July 1939. In 1978, the present steeple was completely restored by repairing and replacing the rotted parts and leaving the steeple intact and giving it a firm cement base. In both of the ‘repair’ jobs to the steeple support came from friends of Old Steele from all over the country. In 1949, the parish hall, dining room, and kitchen were enlarged and measured 35’ by 50’. This addition was dedicated on May 29, 1950. At the same time the old horse-sheds were town down, and a new parking lot added on land donated by Albert Magee in memory of his father Barney Magee.
Prior to 1976 the old parsonage was sold for $20,000.00 (located on the south side of Route 25 and on top of the hill to the east of the church) and a lot owned by the church sold for $12,000.00. This money was used to build a new parsonage on West Lane diagonally across from the church. In 1976 the new parsonage was built at a total cost of $43,272.45, the balance of the $11,272.45 was paid for by pledges from members and contributors of the church.
So far as can be ascertained the church never went into debt to build or repair. Each step was paid for as it went along. At one time it was noted that the year ended with a balance of $4.24 – but no debt. In 1989, the congregation, responding to the need for more Sunday School classrooms, a larger fellowship hall, new kitchen facilities, and for new church office space, began the process of expanding the Church building. The first phase involved the construction of a new fellowship hall (built to sit at least 150 people) and kitchen. This was completed in the fall of 1993. The second phase, which involves the remodeling of the interior of the old building, excluding the sanctuary, is intended to be carried out as funding permits.
(This was written around the year 2000; most likely by Lois Young.)
Old Steeple Community Church was gathered around 1740 It was organized on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1758. Original Members of the First [Upper] Aquebogue Church Circa 1750:
- Nathaniel Wells
- Jonothan Reeve
- Deborah Corwin
- Richard Howell
- Timothy Wells
- Anna Moore
- Prudence Luce
- Hannah Herre
- Mary Wells
- Eleazer Luce
- Mary Wells
- Anna Youngs
- Mary Youngs
- Abiah Sweezey
- Sarah Howell
- Abiah Luce