The Smithfield Church

Our Church

The church in Smithfield Valley owes its existence to a Henry Rauch, who came to the valley on a mission to convert remnants of the Pequot Indians living and hunting in Shekomeko and throughout the Smithfield Valley.  His first converts were Tschoop, Shabash, chiefs of the tribe, Sein and Kiop.  Having seen to the baptism of these four in January, 1742, a communion service was held.  That summer, six other Indians were baptized, and the ten laymen and Rauch organized themselves into a Christian church.  In 1750 a plain church building was erected where the present church building stands.

 

 

At more or less the same time, another church was erected, perhaps more strict in its Calvinist orthodoxy, whose adherents called themselves Separates, and the area, their cemetery, and the Separate Road which leads to that part of the valley two miles south of Smithfield Church still bear that name.  In contrast, Smithfield Church stands in an area incongruently called “The City”.  The two churches seem always to have had a co-operative spirit and often shared a common pastor.  On April 9, 1787, the two churches were united by a covenant and a solemn fast, and the following was drawn up and signed by 15 persons with seven more adding their names before the year’s end:  “We promise to help and assist each other in the most kind and tender manner in our Christian work by our councils, examples and prayer in public and private.”  This covenant is still used by the congregation 224 years later, and is included in their current mission statement.

 

This unity may have been sparked by the much-heralded visit to Smithfield Church by the great English evangelist, George Whitefield on June 17, 1770, just weeks before his death in Massachusetts in September of that year.  Both congregations attended, as did scores of unchurched folk, so much so that the church edifice could not hold the crowd, and Whitefield preached outdoors under an ancient oak.

 

In 1813, Rev. Eli Hyde was installed by three denominations:  Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed.  During his pastorate, the second edifice was built on the site of the first.  Perhaps more importantly, his wife, Sally Nott Hyde, established the Dutchess County Female Bible Society in 1814, a society which lasted well into the 20th Century and was a fore-runner of the American Bible Society.  At Hyde’s retirement, the Rev. Robert G. Armstrong was installed by the Presbytery of North River, and the church officially became Presbyterian on January 25, 1824, with the election of  five elders.  In 1859, it joined the North River Presbytery (New School).

 

Architecture

 

The present church building was erected in 1847-48, in the Greek Revival style popular at that time, and the handsome edifice has sat on the hill overlooking the valley for 164 years.  Always a small church due to its very rural location, it has nevertheless flourished, and it has sent a proportionately large number of its sons and daughters into ministry.  It owns and maintains a manse, a sexton’s cottage, and a carriage house.  It has rigorously preserved an endowment as a cornerstone of stewardship, and it boasts a fully restored 1866 Steinway piano and an 1896 tracker organ, the latter recently given to the church by the Congregational Church of Kent, Connecticut.  Writing in the third person of his own ministry on the 150th anniversary of the church [in 1897], the Rev. H. G. Birchby wrote:  “His work here has been peculiarly pleasant and delightful.  The beauties of the surrounding country, the intelligent appreciation and courtesy of the congregation, the joys of a country parsonage, were a vivid contrast to the experiences and surroundings of his late charge [in New York City].  During his sojourn here the people have woven around him bonds of love, which time nor distance can ever sever.”  Many subsequent pastors, including the present one, have fully echoed that sentiment.

This building is the third to be built on the site.  It was designed by Nathaniel Lockewood, an architect who designed several homes in this area, and was erected between 1847 and 1848.  It is of the Greek Revival tradition, which flourished in this area at that time.  Greek Revival is a symbol of permanence and importance, and was employed in many government buildings, libraries, and post offices. The siting above the surrounding driveway is as important as the building itself. This provided a sense of reverence and distance from the daily life of the nearby farming community.  It harkens back to temples in ancient Greece, i.e., the acropolis (which means high city), and one would encircle the building prior to entering the front doors.  The top frieze would “tell a story” in relief and sculptural depiction of battles fought and won, as well as other historical events.  At the time this church was built people were being educated and the written word told the story.  Therefore, there are no sculptures on the stylized frieze board at the top of the building.

The symmetry was of prime importance, and the sense of balance both on the exterior and on the interior is evidenced in the columns and door placement, as well as how one circulates inside the building.  The proportions are determined by the “Golden Section,” a ratio considered to be the mathematical arrangement of perfection.  It transforms the space into an experience of calmness.  The mathematical formula from which the ratio is derived is the Fibonacci sequence.  Each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers, i.e., 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc., on into infinity. Other elements of importance are the use of the egg and dart trim work, symbols of life and death, the dentil work (which would have been made out of wood in Greece) symbolizing the structural support of the ceiling, as well as the other funeral architecture of the Acanthus leaves used throughout at the top of the pilasters, which is the symbol of eternal life.

The colors are no less important.  Red is used liberally, whether it was cinnabar, vermillion, or purple derivative.  The color red implies importance. Throne rooms were usually of this color.  Ochra (yellowish) often used as a companion color, denotes “coming from the earth”, and the ordinary.  The juxtaposition of the noble and ordinary is used to illustrate an all-encompassing and mingling of humanity.  The black you see at the top would have been mercury that was painted in place.  Since mercury turns black over the years, it is painted black in this church, and symbolizes enduring throughout time.  Enjoy the calmness, take in the elements, and enjoy the experience of your time in this historic and holy place.

 


Freely you have received, freely give.  Matthew 10: 8

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software