History of the Church & The Sanctuary
History of the Church
The First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles is the oldest congregation in the village. It was organized July 20, 1801, by the Rev. Aaron Bascom, who had been sent by the New Hampshire Missionary Association. Originally organized as The Schaneateles Religious Society, this body of faith had three purposes: To be the Court of Equity, judging between one citizen and another in order to find redemption and forgiveness. To provide local public education, in an age before public schools. To listen for persons' confessions of faith, in order that all might be in communion. Christmas Day 1806, the body was divided by controversy, as the religious Society voted whether to become a Church. A Church meant having a building, an ordained pastor and supporting local and foreign missions, rather than the earlier three purposes. By a vote of 8 to 7 the Schaneateles religious Society became the First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles, but never forgot our roots in mission service.
Dedication of the first building was March 1, 1809. The cost of construction was $6,500. While it took over two years to raise this sum, the Church was built in six days, with the congregation worshipping in the new church on the Seventh day. That Sanctuary became unsatisfactory to parishioners in less than twenty-two years, because while built on the model of being a moral beacon set atop a hill, the hill proved to be quite steep especially in the winters while the commercial and residential districts of the Village were developing beside the Lake. The first building was sold to the Baptist congregation. The first building now houses the Baptist congregation on State Street, after having been moved from Onondaga Street.
A new structure was built on the present site 97 East Genesee Street in 1831 at the cost of $6,000 with an additional $800 for the land. However, during an overflow capacity evangelistic service in December 1891 (The Second Great Awakening), the floor began to collapse. Repairs proved to be inadequate and the building was torn down.
A third church building was necessary. The present church was built for a cost of $30,000 and dedicated on July 27, 1892. Since this time many additions and improvements have been made. With the exception of the new organ and center section of the church, the newest addition had been Dobson Fellowship Hall, dedicated on February 1, 1959. That addition named in honor of the pastor at that time, the Rev. John B. Dobson.
The First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles was unique for its day. The nearest completed church building in 1809 was in Homer. Auburn had no church until 1816 while Syracuse and Rochester had none until 1826.
All around the Sanctuary are gorgeous abstract stained glass windows. The Presbyterian Church (prior to 1920) interpreted the Commandment as "making no graven image" so these are patterned windows depicting no persons. Central above the pulpit is the Cross & Crown symbolic of the challenges of faith in society. Above the doors to the street are a script "C&A" identifying that when this Sanctuary was built in 1891 the raging religious political concern of the age was "Calvinist Pre-Destination" versus "Arminianist Free Will" and this congregation emphasized the need for "Both/And". Pre-Destination like any traditional doctrine names as foundational what is and will be unless believers enter in as a moral call to change. Free Will is not anarchy, but a responsibility to respond and act as stewards who care about what blessings we have received.