Penn Yan United Methodist
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Open Hearts ~ Open Minds ~ Open Doors
History in Yates Co.
Methodism in Yates County
In 1824, Abner Chase and Abraham Prosser, representing a group of Methodists, went before Judge Oliver to file Articles of Incorporation to be known as the First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Village of Penn Yan. Those incorporators could not have visualized that all these years later, their society would still be thriving to the point of having two separate Sunday morning services.
Ezra Cole, an itinerant preacher from Otsego County, had been traveling around New York for several years and in the course of his trips, had heard the Genesee Country described as a land "flowing with milk and honey." A group of seven came to explore the Promised Land and returned home with glowing accounts. Soon, the whole company, numbering 30, packed all their earthly belongings and began the long journey to make their new homes in the wilderness. After a trip lasting four weeks, they landed at Kashong in July of 1792 and set about building their simple log homes.
Cole built a home a little northwest of Benton Center; George Wheeler, Jr. erected his home about a mile south, near Baldwins Corners; Eliphalet Hull built a home near Flatt Street, and Samuel Buell's home was located at Benton Center. Soon feeling the need of religious services, the group sought and received permission from Levi Benton, who lived near the present location of the Benton Cemetery, to use his barn. Ezra Cole preached in 1792 at the first Protestant service in present-day Yates County (except for the services conducted by Jemima Wilkinson, the Universal Friend).
In 1793, the little group of Methodists felt that there should be a more established relationship with the church at-large and that the circuit riders should pay regular visits. Ezra Cole traveled to Philadelphia to request that Bishop Francis Asbury send circuit riders. The Bishop set up the Seneca Lake Circuit and sent the Reverend James Smith and Thornton Fleming to organize the new circuit with Valentine Cook as presiding elder.
Confrontations with the Jemima Wilkinson movement were inevitable. Arriving in the area within five years of the migration of the first "Universal Friend" families, the circuit riders were not long in invading the "Friend's" domain. Two early circuit riders, Reverend James Smith and Reverend John Broadhead were zealous in the penetration of the area, gradually drawing away many of the young people. Although those early Methodists were strict in their behavior, amusements and wearing apparel, their rules were far less restrictive than the "Friend's" dictates. Later, when the Friend group moved to Jerusalem, the circuit riders followed.
The Methodist group continued to grow. In 1807, a frame building was erected, finished with clapboards, but with no steeple, no lath or plaster, or any means of warming except for kettles filled with burning charcoal scattered about the floor among the crude seats to take the chill from the room. Crude by today's standards, it was a Methodist Church and the first church to be erected in Yates County, except for the log house of worship built by the followers of Jemima Wilkinson. Winter services were held in the log school house in Benton Center.
At the time this Methodist activity was going on in Benton, Penn Yan was just beginning to develop as a community with mills centered on the outlet and dwellings in the Main and Head (now North Avenue) Streets area. Main Street and the road from Penn Yan to Benton Center were surveyed in 1800. The Methodists gathered in classes for prayer meetings and Sunday services with one of the early leaders, Abraham Prosser. Lacking an organized society and with only occasional visits from circuit riders, the appointed class leaders were important officials.
It was not until 1823 that regular Methodist prayer meetings were held in the old Red House, built in 1795. Dr. John Dorman ran a tavern in the house and had a tenant, a widow named Mrs. Susan Benson. Mrs. Benson would not stay in the area without regular prayer meetings. Mrs. Dorman offered the use of the tavern's front room. Joined by Mrs. Abraham Prosser and another woman living at the Prosser home, Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Dorman started weekly prayer meetings. These meetings continued for a year in this location.
On March 29, 1824, Abraham Prosser and the Reverend Abner Chase, Presiding Elder of the Ontario District, appeared before William Oliver, Yates County Judge, to file papers for the incorporation of the First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the village of Penn Yan.
On July 1, 1824, Yates County came into being. At that time, Penn Yan had 70 dwellings, 2 grist mills, 2 saw mills, a trip-hammer, 4 stores, 2 printing offices, 2 school houses, and 3 public houses. Then, there were 4 Methodist churches in the county; Baldwin's Corners or Benton, Overackers Corners, Bellona, and Starkey. Circuit riders conducted services at several other locations around the county.
In 1842, a faction of the Penn Yan Methodist congregation split off and formed their own church: the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The issue was not of whether or not slavery, but rather how vigorously to oppose the institution of slavery. At about the same time, a majority group left the Presbyterian church and built the church that the Methodists purchased in 1857. Others joined the Wesleyan group and that church prospered for 20 years. Some of the prominent members who left the Methodist Episcopal fold and were involved in the founding of the church were Abraham Prosser's son, David, and Mrs. Joel Dorman.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church, on the corner of Main and Court Streets, was the scene of many antislavery, temperance, and women's rights rallies. Well-known speakers who appeared here were Amelia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony. In 1864, that church disbanded. Its members were welcomed back into the Penn Yan Methodist Episcopal Church and the building was converted into a boarding house. Today, it is still in use as apartments.