The Trinity Lutheran Church
-by Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar, Montgomery County Historian/RMO - Jun, 2008
The Trinity Lutheran Church, located on the west side of New York State Route 10 in the hamlet of Stone Arabia, is a significant piece of Montgomery County history as it is associated with one of the earliest settlements in the Mohawk Valley west of Schenectady. This church is a prime example of the strong religious influence inherent in the lives of the Palatine German settlers and their descendants in the Town of Palatine as one of the few Lutheran church congregations on the continent that has worshipped continuously on the same site for almost three centuries.
The present Town of Palatine was settled by a group of German refugee immigrants who came to the area seeking religious and other personal freedoms. These immigrants, known as “Palatines,” were evicted from their homes in the Rhine Valley and sent to America in 1709 by Queen Anne. First arriving in the Hudson Valley, the Palatines were essentially relegated to lives of servitude, working the lands of Robert Livingston. Wanting more control over their own lives, a group of Palatines, consisting of twenty-eight families, appealed to the Governor of New York and were granted a patent of land in the Mohawk River valley, the Stone Arabia Patent, that was purchased from the Indians for £300 in 1723.
With religious worship extremely important in the lives of the settlers, it was natural for them to want a structure in which to practice their faith. Approximately six years after their arrival in the Mohawk Valley, the Palatine settlers organized a congregation for religious worship. A contract, dated 02 June 1729, was drawn up between the congregation and one of the patentees, William Coppernoll. For £100, fifty acres on Lot 20 of the Stone Arabia Patent was purchased for the construction of a church. The deed was recorded 29 May 1732. Probably around the time of the land purchase, a church was constructed of logs.
At some point before the end of the first half of the eighteenth century, there was a split in the congregation. One story goes that in 1733, the congregation decided to build a larger and an improved edifice in the northern part of the “glebe lot.” After the foundation was laid, disputes among members resulted in a congregational divide between the Lutherans and the members of the Reformed faith. A second, and perhaps more believable, tale indicates that the split occurred when some of the congregation members chose to follow Martin Luther’s belief in Christ’s physical presence during the Communion ceremony whereas others, the Reformed worshippers, believed the elements represented Christ’s spiritual presence.
The Lutherans returned to worshipping in the log church at the southern end of the glebe lot while the Reformed congregation completed the new church in the northern part. The lot was divided between the two congregations in 1744, the little brook running through the glebe as the natural boundary. Each congregation provided the other with a deed to their appropriate parcel, however, at some point in time, the Lutheran deed was lost. When questioned by the Reformed members as to the validity of their ownership, an appeal to Sir William Johnson resulted in a new deed for the Lutherans in 1768.
The present Trinity Lutheran Church is the second house of worship to be built on the site. During the October 19th Battle of Stone Arabia in 1780, led by Sir John Johnson, residents of Stone Arabia saw great destruction, not only losing their homes and men on the battlefield but their churches as well. Burning of the churches was synonymous with the total devastation of the area.
For almost a decade after losing the church and without a regular minister, congregation members held services in homes, barns, and very possibly at the Palatine Church near the Mohawk River. Work began on the present structure in the spring of 1790. Rev. Philip Grotz, having been the regular pastor since 1788, oversaw the dedication of the new wooden framed church on July 1st 1792.
First incorporated as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1784, the congregation incorporated two more times in 1795 and 1824. Due to the German heritage of the area residents, sermons were given in that language until the tenure of Rev. John D. Lawyer (1827-1830) who was the first pastor to preach in English to the congregation of Trinity Lutheran. In November 1921, a dedication ceremony observing the paving of New York State Route 10, formerly a dirt road, was held at the Trinity Lutheran Church.
The church is a rectangular, two-story, wooden framed building with a gabled roof, facing toward the east. Originally built in the Federal Style, the structure, with particular emphasis on the exterior of the building, has seen some alterations throughout its extensive history. Two additions, the chapel (1892-1895) and fellowship hall and kitchen (1923-1931) were constructed on the western gabled end of the original structure.
Like many others, the interior of the church has a center-aisle plan. Though the front doors, entrance to the church is through the narthex (vestibule). Above the door entering the nave, or central part of the church, engraved in the wood are the dates “1791” and “1882” representing the original construction of the church and the significant renovations to the building. Stairs at the northeast and southeast corners of the nave provide access to a gallery above the narthex that was once used as a choir loft. The choir location changed after the purchase of an organ in the later 19th century. Today both the organ and choir are situated in the northwest corner of the sanctuary. Rows of pews are on each side of the aisle as it proceeds west through the center of the nave.
To the west of the church building is the cemetery, separated from the church by a fence. Approximately twenty-five tombstones remain intact in the graveyard. The earliest stone found in the cemetery dates to 1752. Reverend Philip Jacob Grotz, mentioned previously, is the only minister of the congregation to be buried in this cemetery. It is believed that the cemetery also houses the remains of some local Revolutionary War veterans. Over the years, some remains have been transferred to various local public cemeteries. During the 1950s, the Luther League, an organization composed of younger members of the Trinity Lutheran congregation, along with their parents, restored the church cemetery from the dilapidated condition into which it had fallen after years of neglect. The restoration renewed awareness of the remaining graves and today the cemetery is regularly maintained.
The congregation celebrated the 275th anniversary of its organization in 2004. The following year, the church was also listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Not only is the site of the Trinity Lutheran Church a significant historical site within Montgomery County, also important is the long-standing religious influence of this church upon area residents as the Trinity Lutheran Church in Stone Arabia is the only congregation of the three colonial churches in the Town of Palatine history (Reformed Dutch Church of Stone Arabia and Palatine Lutheran Church are the other two churches) to remain active today.