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Universalist Church of Portageville, New York
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Szuchie
N 42° 34.038 W 078° 02.744
17T E 742489 N 4716996
Quick Description: The First Universalist Church of Portageville was organized on February 9, 1841. Work was completed on the elegant Greek Revival meeting house the same year.
Location: New York, United States
Date Posted: 3/30/2008 5:47:25 PM
Waymark Code: WM3FRJ
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member S5280ft
Views: 4

Long Description:
According to the Church's website (listed below):

The First Universalist Church in Portageville was organized on February 9, 1841. Work was completed on the elegant Greek Revival meeting house the same year. As many as three meetings were held on Sundays because families would travel long distances by ox cart and spend the whole day in Portageville. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of rapid growth in the community.

In 1933, a newspaper article written about the church gave a detailed account of the interior, which had remained unchanged for over 90 years. "There is no ante-room; one passes directly into the main part of the church and is confronted with the motto God is Love. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor. The floors are slanted and the pews all have doors, fastened with wooden buttons. Oil lamps furnish the light."

Another article, written in 1934, said that members were struggling to keep the building operating as a church. The organization was running on a small endowment, as Depression-era members could no longer support it. Soon after, the Universalist church closed its doors. While the church was closed sometime after 1934, in 1941 a a neighboring Universalist Society held a special service commemorating the centennial of the building itself. The room was filled to near capacity. The last four members of the Portageville congregation (two of them in their 80's) were honored during the ceremony.

The church stood empty for another ten years. Like the town of Portageville itself, it was beginning to show its age. In 1950, Mrs. Elizabeth Beardsley, Genesee Falls historian, wrote to Wyoming County leaders to try to save the spire, which was in poor repair. In 1951, the building was purchased by the Seventh Day Adventists. The building got a new coat of paint and was once again the gleaming white jewel at the gateway to the village. The Adventists added indoor plumbing and a new heating system. They also redecorated the interior to reflect their denomination and style of worship. Draperies and ornate chairs were placed on the chancel. The walls were covered with green wallpaper and maroon cushions were added to the box pews.

While we do not know the exact date, the spire and the highest tier of the tower were lost during a heavy windstorm in the early 50s. It was not replaced. In 1983, a diminishing congregation once again forced the church to close its doors. For three years the building stood empty, its paint peeling and its windows broken by vandals. Local residents campaigned to save it. Mrs. Elizabeth Neiderhauser contributed her own money for replacement glass. John Wilson of the County Historian’s Office tried to persuade the County Board of Supervisors to purchase the building and turn it into a County Historical Center.

Finally, In 1986 the building was purchased and converted into a shop for secondhand furniture. The pews were disassembled and stored to make room for merchandise. The owners of the furniture business were much better at acquiring inventory than moving it. Even after the store closed in the mid-1990's, they continued to add more garage-sale ware, until the church, the basement, and the addition were filled to the brim. Platforms were added around the perimeter of the interior so that boxes could be stacked floor to ceiling. Over a period of twenty years, the usable furniture disappeared and the junk mounted. Still. the owners worked hard to keep the building secure and free from serious damage. And they were unwilling to sell it to any buyer who might destroy it.

Timothy Smith, executive director of The Portageville Chapel, first noticed the church in 1989, and, for seventeen years, harbored the dream of restoring it as a retreat for organists. Early in 2007, he formed The Portageville Chapel, a not-for-profit organization, and purchased the property.

At that time, overgrown trees all but obscured the front of the building. The adjacent property, viewable from the rear of the building, housed an abandoned trailer, rotted into the ground, and a lean-to that had once been a fishing cabin. The organization bought both properties and cleared away the debris. Together the building and adjacent land comprise just under an acre that will be landscaped to create a private garden for visiting organists.
Street address:
E. Koy Rd. at NY 19A
Portageville, NY USA

County / Borough / Parish: Wyoming

Year listed: 2008

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Event/Religious

Periods of significance: 1850-1900

Historic function: Religious

Current function: Religious

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Privately owned?: Not Listed

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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