Prepared for The 150th Anniversary Celebration
November 19, 2022
The 1860s were a tumultuous period in the history of the United States. The nation was severely divided on the issue of slavery. Then, in November of 1860 Abraham Lincoln (who was perceived as being anti-slavery) was elected President. The reaction in the South was to secede from the Union and form a separate nation they called the Confederate States of America. The Civil War raged for four years. From our area, many men fought and died in the Union’s Grand Army of the Republic.
A few years later, in 1871, in this little agricultural and railroad hamlet called Katonah after an Indian Sachem, a local leader by the name of Avery thought the hamlet needed a Presbyterian Church to spread the gospel and help deal with the War’s remaining tensions. He assembled five of his male friends (sorry ladies) on the third floor of hamlet’s hardware store to discuss the possibilities of forming a Presbyterian Church in Katonah.
On November 17, 1872, they received approval from the powers that be and started holding services with an itinerant preacher. It was not an instant, wild success as the usual attendance was 8 to 10 people.
Two years later, in December of 1874, the congregation had grown to fourteen and the congregation borrowed $8,000 to fund the construction of a small wooden church with a spire that reached heavenward. Located, appropriately, on Church Street in what we call “old” Katonah is across from the Methodist Church and by the side of the beautiful Cross River.
A year later in 1875, the Church offered the newly ordained Reverend John Eastman the Pastorate and he accepted. He was a very popular and effective leader and stayed for twenty years. The Church membership grew considerably during his pastorate and in 1892 they had another building project that added a Sunday School wing and a new organ.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be not a great idea as only three years later New York City announced that they were going to flood most of Katonah’s lands because the City needed safe drinking water and thus was condemning the hamlet. The residents, including our Church, were going to have to leave completely or move.
Because the citizens had such a feeling of community and wanted to retain their friendships, associations, and businesses, the town fathers formed the Katonah Land Company.
Soon, a new community (the Katonah we know today) was laid out and lots were sold. Because the City wanted only the lands of “old” Katonah, they held auctions to sell the buildings. People bought good houses and commercial stores at very low prices, BUT they had to remove them from the City’s property and move them to the new hamlet almost a mile away. Fifty-five buildings eventually found their way to the “new” Katonah hamlet using horses, wooden rails, and heavy ropes. The congregation decided to move the 1880 manse to the new hamlet. It is still in Katonah and is now KPC’s administration/classroom building.
Our Church decided NOT to move the Old Katonah wooden church building and laid the cornerstone in 1899 for our present, larger edifice made of sturdy Brewster Granite with a slate roof. This sturdy quality was a good investment to make in our future. The present building was dedicated two years later in 1900.
Since then, many building changes and upgrades have been made, the last including our splendid Fellowship Hall. This latest expansion also included air conditioning and a more efficient heating system.
Most of this history has been about buildings, they are important, but a Church is not just a building. This Church started worshipping God with a Lay Leader, Mr. Avery, and later with a strong pastor, Rev. Eastman. This tradition of strong lay and pastoral leadership has continued for the past 150 years under fourteen pastors and three interim or transitional pastors and undoubtedly will continue. We are far stronger for this shared method of Church Government.
The results of our commitment to this shared leadership tradition are many. The Church has conceived of and implemented many helpful ideas that have directly aided Katonah and the greater community outside KPC. The Community Center started because of our efforts as did
the preschool program and we were a founding member of the ESP (Emergency Shelter Partnership Program) and quite a few other helpful service programs.
This committed Christian group, the Presbyterian Church of Katonah, has endured, cared, acted, supported, prayed, and worked faithfully to carry out their announced mission, to “Make God’s Love Visible.”
Katonah Presbyterian has a rich, positive history and is well-positioned to continue in the future. It provides strong Christian worship to its members, fellowship to all, and service to Katonah and the wider community. Long may it prosper!
Historical source- Duncombe, Frances R. “Katonah, The History of a New York Village and its People” published by KVIS and available at the Katonah Village Library.
Don Coe, member