The first house of worship in Pine Plains was the Moravian Mission church, built in July of 1743 on what was lot 12 in the deed of partition of the Little Nine Partners Patent. The building was twenty by thirty feet and was made of bark, the same material used by the Mahicans for their wigwam dwellings. At the time of its construction, the congregation here numbered sixty-three and included both Indians and white settlers. There was a native burying ground here used by the missionaries as well. For more on the mission, see the Moravian Mission page.
After the demise of the mission in 1746, the German Lutheran settlers here, led by Michael Rowe and John Tice Smith, built a church called Round Top, or Nine Partners, on an acre of land in lot 30, about a mile from the mission site on what is now Carpenter Hill Road. This land was given to them by verbal promise of James Alexander, who had received several lots including lot 30 in the deed of partition, but who died before the gift to the Lutherans could be formalized.
We do not know exactly what this church looked like, but a short time later a Round Top church in Amenia Union (pictured) was constructed and it is thought the two churches were similar in appearance. In his history of Dutchess County, Philip H. Smith describes the Amenia Union church: "It was a capacious building, with galleries, and with doors on three sides. The roof had four sides, terminating at the top in an ornamental cupola."
Round Top in Pine Plains developed a close relationship with the Rhinebeck Lutheran churches. The first preacher is believed to have been Rev. John Christopher Hartwick (Johann Christoph Hartwig), who from 1746-1758 was the minister of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Rhinebeck, also preaching at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Rhinebeck (the "Old Stone Church") and in Ancram during this time. Called the "wandering bachelor", Hartwick was eccentric, a misogynist, and was generally not well liked by his congregations, to the extent that he had trouble finding employment and had to rely largely on charity to live. In a 1754 letter he complains about the abuses inflicted on him by his current congregation, including being attacked by a man, a woman, and a boy who trampled on his wig. However, in his will he bequeathed money for the establishment of a seminary in Cooperstown, New York. Hartwick Seminary was thus founded in 1797, the first Lutheran Seminary in America; when this closed, the proceeds were used to establish Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.
Although Round Top was built by Lutherans, some German Reformed worshiped here as well. The early sermons were all in German. It wasn't until 1769 that a deed to the land was finally given by James Alexander's son-in-law, Peter VanBrugh Livingston, which specified the ground "forever hereafter" to be used for a Lutheran church and churchyard. The German Reformed parishioners left, taking the communion service with them, and in 1772 they established the Red Church on the highway about two miles east of the Pine Plains hamlet, named for its red paint.
The "Old Red Church" was used by the early settlers of Pulvers Corners. Like Round Top, it also established a close relationship with a church in Rhinebeck, in this case a German Reformed church, and its first preacher was from that church, Rev. Gerhard Daniel Koch. This led to the Red Church being called "Koch's Meeting House".
It is important to note the fortitude of the congregants and ministers from this time, who traveled great distances every Sabbath, usually on horseback and in all kinds of weather, to worship and preach. A story passed down tells of a family fording the Shekomeko Creek on their way to their infant's baptism, during which the child fell into the water and drowned.
The Round Top church did not last very long, perhaps because of poor construction, and in 1780 a new church was built on the same site, also called Round Top. Thereafter, the original Round Top became known as "Old Round Top". We know that the second Round Top was thirty by forty feet with eighteen foot posts and benches for pews, and it was never finished off inside (common for this period). Between 1760 and 1788, there were 294 baptisms recorded at the two Round Top churches, a remarkable number. However, after the establishment of the Union Meeting House in the Pine Plains hamlet in 1816, in which Lutherans had 1/4 interest, attendance at the Round Top church began to fall off and finally in 1827 it was dismantled and the timber sold at auction.
A plot of land on the east side of the road through the hamlet had been set aside as a burying ground for the descendants of Michael Rowe and became known as the Rowe Cemetery. On the west side of the road a cemetery designated "free for all burials" was also established. After the second Round Top was demolished in 1827, a boundary dispute arose between the descendants of Michael Rowe and a local landowner, Samuel Deuel, when the Rowe descendants tried to claim additional land to add to the cemetery. This went on for about two years until the skill of local lawyer Stephen Eno was enlisted to draw up an agreement to the satisfaction of both parties.
The Red Church also fell into decline around the same time as Round Top and was torn down about 1826. Today, only a few headstones in the small cemetery remain to mark where this house of worship once stood.
Although Quakers had been living in the area near Round Top for some time, it wasn't until Charles Hoag (1771-1840) settled here in 1799 and was given permission from the parent society at Stanford to hold meetings in his house that an organization began to take shape. Under the supervision of the Creek Meeting in Clinton Corners and the Nine Partners Meeting in Mechanic (a hamlet now known as South Millbrook), the North East Society was formed in 1803.
In 1806, Jacob Bockee deeded to the trustees of the society a plot of land for twenty-five dollars, and a thirty by twenty-six foot meeting house with ten foot posts was built here on the Pine Plains-Amenia Road (County Rte. 83), opposite the Hoag dwelling and the road leading down into the hamlet (Carpenter Hill Road, or Bethel Road).
The separate entrances for men and women in Quaker meeting houses facilitated the interior separation, here by means of a high removable wooden partition, between men and women during business meetings, but worship was done together.
During North East Society's most prosperous years, from 1807 to about 1830, its membership increased to around twenty-five. Preparative meetings were held here, which prepared business for the monthly and quarterly meetings at the Stanford parent society.
Charles Hoag was very active in town affairs, becoming Town Clerk of North East in 1800 and a school district trustee (Pine Plains at that time still being part of the town of North East, and the state having created the district school system in 1795). It is thought Hoag had a special interest in education, for in 1812 he established a Quaker boarding school for boys and girls at his home. Children who boarded came from surrounding towns, with day pupils from the immediate vicinity also attending. The first teachers were Jacob and Deborah Rodgers Willetts, a young couple who had attended and later taught at the Nine Partners Boarding School at Mechanic. Lucretia Mott, who would gain fame as an early feminist and abolitionist, was Deborah's pupil at Nine Partners. Hoag's school closed in 1824, and then it reopened briefly in 1835 as a finishing school for young ladies run by his daughter, Mary. Sadly, the Hoag dwelling was recently (2018) torn down.
Around the time of the demise of the school, the society here also began to decline, and in 1875, the meeting house property was sold to Phoenix Deuel. When the Pine Plains-Amenia Road was straightened in 1919, the meeting house was torn down. The Quaker burying ground with its few visible headstones, located on what had been the east side of the meeting house, is all that remains of the Quaker presence in this neighborhood.
To satisfy the spiritual needs of the residents in the growing hamlet of Pine Plains, in 1813 four denominations - Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Episcopalian - entered into "Articles of Association for the building of the Union Meeting House on Pine Plains". This was later amended to include all Christian denominations. In 1816, the Union Meeting House was built on the "Husted lot" which was purchased for one hundred and fifty dollars, and each denomination conducted its worship services here one Sunday a month. This was the first church in the Pine Plains hamlet.
One result of its formation was that people no longer needed to travel outside of the immediate community for worship, and churches in the outlying hamlets suffered from the decrease in attendance.
In 1833, Rev. William N. Sayre (1808-1896), a Presbyterian minister from Pleasant Valley, began preaching here, and in 1834 the first meeting of the Presbyterian Society, consisting of seven members, was held. This is considered the Presbyterian church’s beginning in Pine Plains, although a Rev. Barnum had been conducting Presbyterian services in the hamlet in various places since 1810. It was still a union meeting house and Rev. Sayre was preaching only one Sunday a month at this time. A bell was added to the meeting house in 1835, which was the first church bell in the community and rung for all occasions.
Finally, in 1847 resolutions were adopted that changed this house of worship from being a union meeting house to a Presbyterian church, with Rev. Sayre the stated minister. Officially, the name of the church is First United Presbyterian Church of Pine Plains.
Rev. Sayre became a pioneer in Presbyterianism in this region, and was involved in both the temperance and abolitionist movements. He was a member of the Dutchess County Anti-Slavery Society, which has fueled speculation that he was active with the Underground Railroad, but this has never been proven. It has been said that he was one of the most brilliant men to occupy a Dutchess County pulpit.
His pastorate lasted fifty years, until 1883.
In 1879, the church was completely remodeled. The photos below are of the church after the work was done. In 1922, just one year into the forty-two year pastorate of Rev. Charles Moser, the church was struck by lightening and was a total loss. The present stone church was dedicated in 1926.
The origin of Methodism begins in England in the 1730s with the Wesley brothers, Charles and John. What is interesting is that the Wesleys were heavily influenced by Moravian missionaries. In 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in America.
Methodism spread to Pine Plains in 1789 when Benjamin Abbott, who was stationed on the Dutchess Circuit, traveled to Milan and Pine Plains, preaching “with great effect”. In those days, Methodists didn't meet in any one place; they met in homes, schoolhouses, shops, even outdoors in groves.
The original section of this building (pictured) on the east side of South Main Street was built around 1805 by Walter Mead, a Methodist and cabinet-maker, as a shop and also for a place to hold meetings; in 1830 it was moved to its current location and became a full-time shop.
In 1835, Dr. Benjamin S. Wilber, a Methodist, came to Pine Plains and settled on Halcyon Lake south of the hamlet. In 1837, due to his influence, an article of agreement was drawn up for the building of a Methodist Episcopal church in the Pine Plains hamlet for $1540, on land purchased from Dr. Cornelius Allerton two doors west of the Union Meeting House. The Rev. E.S. Stout was the first minister in the new church.
Today, the Pine Plains United Methodist Church is the oldest existing church building still being used as a church in the hamlet of Pine Plains. The steeple was removed in 1925 because it had become a safety concern.
The same year that the Methodist church was built, a Baptist church was built on the west corner of East Church and Pine Streets in the Pine Plains hamlet. This was the third church to be built on Church Street.
The Baptists had contributed to the building of the Union Meeting House and had expected to have a quarter share of the monthly worship, but this never happened. When the Baptist minister left after two years, the Baptist interest was transferred to the Dutch Reformed. For a period of time, the Pine Plains Baptists worshiped at the Baptist church in nearby Bangall.
The organization of a Baptist church in Pine Plains came about largely through the efforts of Alfred Brush, a tailor who lived in the old Graham log house (the Graham-Brush House today). In 1835, Brush and some neighbors had been baptized in the Shekomeko Creek at Hammertown, and in 1836 he hosted a meeting which incorporated the Baptist Society of Pine Plains with twenty-six members. In 1837 the church was built on a lot purchased from Elijah B. Northrup. The church was nearly completed when it was destroyed by a tornado. With the assistance of other Baptist churches throughout the county, the church was rebuilt that same year. The first minister was Elder Nathan D. Benedict, whose salary was $350 a year which included a house free of rent.
When Alfred Brush died in 1872, the following memorandum was read in the church:
“Bro. Brush had been a very active deacon of the church from its organization. His piety like his mind was of a vigorous and unyielding stamp. He always did his own thinking, laid his own plans, and carried out as far as he could his conscientious and established conviction of duty. He loved the church next to his Saviour and gladly would he have made it a perfect church ‘without spot or wrinkle or any such thing’. For twenty years he had been an invalid, for five of the last nearly helpless. He saw without fear – with gladness even – his end approaching and met it in the vigor of faith and hope, aged eightsix.”
By the second half of the 1800s, the church was struggling and sometimes went for long periods without a regular minister. In 1932 the church was dissolved and in 1935 the building was sold to Pine Plains Grange #803, which had been without a permanent home since its organization in 1895. The Grange was here until around 1989; as the community became less rural, membership began to fall off and the remaining members from Pine Plains Grange merged with the Stanford Grange. The building is still standing.