SIDNEY – The members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ will celebrate the church’s 210th anniversary with a reception in Church Hall from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9.
Longtime member David Plummer wrote:
“As we commemorate this special event at the church, located on the corner of Main and Bridge streets, we reflect on the interesting history of this building and its congregations. Gleaning from the historical writings in 1978 of the late John A. MacLachlan, former publisher of the ‘Sidney Record – Enterprise’ and ‘Church Historian,’ we find some interesting historical anecdotes.
In 1806, when Sidney was a small hamlet isolated from the commercial mainstream between Bainbridge and Unadilla by being on the wrong side of the river with no bridge, a tavern keeper named William Dovener donated a piece of land east of the pioneer burying ground for a church in Sidney, then called a ‘meeting house.’
Dovener had donated the cemetery ground years earlier for burial of members of the pioneer Johnston family. Dovener lost two daughters, Polly and Clara, to illness in 1803; they are interred under a rough, gothic-shaped stone, still found in that cemetery.
In 1806 Dovener lost a son, William Jr., to an accident; he was also buried there after the land grant to the church. Sadly, Dovener himself was later swept away by swift water as he was trying to cross the river. His body was never found.
In 1856, a lot that later became the northwest corner of Grand and River streets was donated by Charles Rogers for use as a parsonage. The parsonage remained through the 1960s and was more recently owned by Robert Youngs.
The church building, started in 1806, was considered usable in 1807 but completed in 1814. However, the First Church of Christ was established on Jan. 13 1808, hence the upcoming 210th anniversary celebration.
According to MacLachlan, the church’s fourth pastor, the Reverend Isaac Garvin, who served from 1813 to1817, was spotted by a hired girl kissing his wife in public one Sunday morning as she straightened his tie. (Oh my!) A principle of old New England Puritanism blue laws, which persisted in the minds of many at the time, forbade kissing in public on the Sabbath. The minister was forced to resign and leave Sidney. He returned a few years later as an Episcopalian.
Renovation of the church came in 1839, including the construction of a center steeple and door. At that time, the building was rotated 90 degrees to face “the highway,” now Bridge Street. Main Street was not extended through to the river bridge until 1935, which required a number of graves in the cemetery to be moved and reinterred there.
In 1839, the L-shaped portion on the east side of the church was added for schoolrooms. A church bell, the first ever in Sidney, was ordered from Troy and delivered to Oxford via the Chenango Canal. It was then drawn by wagon from Oxford.
The story goes that, as the team approached Sidney, the driver clanged its coming. The sound was heard throughout Sidney and great excitement followed. The whole village turned out to meet the proud teamster and his precious burden.
For the first year, the bell rang for many occasions, including certain hours of the day, to toll the years of age for deceased church members and village dignitaries.
In 1871 and 1894, the church building façade again underwent major renovations, including its two towers, doors and stained-glass windows. The bell sits today in the east tower.
The 1894 reconstruction also included a new pipe organ. The organ, which is still in use, has been claimed by some experts to be the finest instrument of its kind between Binghamton and Albany.