I love visiting the Hudson River Valley so any event or tour that I can go on is an excuse to come up here. I had visited all the sites that I wanted to see on a trip two weeks earlier but wanted to see them in more detail plus I wanted to take some pictures. The weather finally broke, and it was a much more pleasant 83 degrees as opposed to the 96 degrees the trip before. That makes the trip much nicer.
I asked my aunt along so that we could share in the experience, and I could use her phone to take pictures of the all the sites. It is a much nicer trip when you have someone along who enjoys these things. The one nice thing about traveling to the Fishkill, New York area is that it is only an hour away and a straight run…
After visiting three historical homes in the Fishkill area covering the towns of Hopewell Junction and Wappingers Falls, my last stop of the day was the First Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill, NY. The church was closed at this point with services being on Sunday’s only starting at 10:00am. I was able to tour around the church admiring its architecture, looking over the DuBois House which is also owned by the church and exploring the cemetery.
The cemetery was the most interesting being the final resting place of many of the ‘first families’ of the area, including family plots of the Van Wyck and Brinckerhoff families, who also intermarried with each other. There were sections dedicated just to the families and then to the blended ones.
There were also members of the DuBois Family among others. What was interesting was toward the back of the cemetery near the new playground was the Van Wyck Family Vault. This large mound is noted with the stone maker in the front of the vault.
The Van Wyck family vault at the Fishkill Reformed Church Cemetery
The Church played an important role in worshipping in the community as it does today.
The Founding of the Church:
(From the Church records)
On October 10th, 1715, the Revered Petrus Vas of Kingston, NY under the direction of the Classis of Amsterdam, started two Dutch Reformed Churches, one in Poughkeepsie and the other in Fishkill. This occurred when the population of the are increased and they did not want to keep travelling to New Paltz for worship.
The First Reformed Dutch Church of Fishkill, NY at 1153 Main Street
The Church today:
(From the Church website)
The 20th Century brought additional changed to the property. Some gravestones were moved to make space for the Christian Education Building, which was constructed in 1964. The old chapel, a 19th century addition to the property was torn down. The playground is now located where the chapel was once. A Memorial Garden was added to the cemetery in 1980 and includes a columbarium for cremains. The sanctuary’s exterior was refurbished in 1975, the steeple reshingled and the rooster regilded in 1984.
In 1992, a condition survey was done (the church is the centerpiece of the Fishkill Village National Historic District). This report concluded that the sanctuary is one of the most significant nonresidential 18th Century buildings in New York, if not the country. The framing is a perfect example of an upside-down boat. While it was urged to pursue National Landmark Status for the church itself, it has not yet been done.
In 1995, a report on the preservation of cemetery gravestones was done. A Boy Scout Eagle Project, in 2002, recorded pictures and inscriptions of each stone in the cemetery and created a finder’s map of the cemetery.
The Enoch Crosby marker for a spy for the American forces during the Revolutionary War
The trial was performed here, and Enoch Crosby was allowed to escape. This marker is dedicated to that event.
The cemetery behind the church with the DuBois House and Church to the right:
The DuBois House:
(From the Church website)
The property was expanded in 1991 with the purchase of the DuBois House (named for the founding elder of the church). There is no record of when it was built but with structural similarities to the Van Wyck House made it believed to be built in the mid 1700’s. Abraham Brinckerhoff Rapalje purchased the house with fifty-four acres of land from his uncle, Abraham Brinckerhoff in 1790. Rapalje was the man hired by the consistory to do finish work after the church was enlarged following the Revolution. The house served as the hearing room for the court proceedings of the Committee of Safety over which John Jay, who would later become our nation’s first Supreme Court Justice presided.
The Committee of Safety played an important role in the story of Enoch Crosby, the Revolutionary Spy. The house was originally located east of its present location and was moved in 1929 to make way for the expansion of the Albany Post Road, now Route 9. The building is used for service to the community and church. It contains the church parlor and offices for the Minister and Secretary on the first floor and the office of the Music Director.
The Brinckerhoff/Van Wyck family plots
The Van Wyck family plot
The full Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill cemetery and church
The Van Wyck Family Vault:
The History of the Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill, NY:
By 1716, the population of the area had grown enough (though the whole county had only 440 people) that the settlers wanted their own church instead of having to cross the river to New Paltz or Kingston where the two closest Reformed Churches were located. Therefore, on October 10th, 1716, the Reverend Petrus Vas from Kingston under the direction of the Classis of Amsterdam started two Dutch Reformed Churches, one in Poughkeepsie and one in Fishkill.
While Poughkeepsie began building immediately, Fishkill did not begin building until 1725. Tradition and most published sources have it that Madame Brett by now a widow and the wealthiest landowner in the area gave the land for a churchyard while the land the church occupied was given by Johannes Ter Boss.
However, two deeds registered at the County Courthouse tell a different story. The first parcel of land, “it being that certain piece of land on which the Dutch Church so called now stands” was given by Madame Brett, through Jacob DuBois, it being the intent of him that the Reformed Nether Dutch Congregation of Rumbouth precinct “always be kept and preserved as a church or public edifice for the particular sole and only use and benefit of the aforementioned church to worship the Almighty God, in and to and for no other ends purposes use or uses whatsoever.” The second deed states that Obidiah Cooper and Esther, his wife, gave another small parcel of land to the church. These records were written thirty years after the fact and were not filed in Poughkeepsie until 1915.
There is also a deed from 1747 in which Johannes Ter Boss sells a parcel of land north of the Fishkill’s, reserving one acre for a meeting house. Every published history has this acre for the Rombout Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1747 about three miles from First Reformed. So, it would appear that there was confused between DuBois and Ter Boss, probably due to the old handwriting and a Frenchman, born in Leyden, Holland and a Dutchman. Another supporting piece of information is that there is no Ter Boss listed in the church records of The First Reformed Church, while the DuBois family is prominent, starting with Peter DuBois, the first elder.
It took seven years to build the original sanctuary. Field stone was brought by ox teams and the local inhabitants, and their slaves did the building. Work proceeded slowly because the men had fields to attend and families to support. The sanctuary was a small, square building with a hip roof and a cupola in the center, which supported a bell. The central door opened onto the street as the side door does today.
In 1785 the congregation decided to enlarge the original building. The east and west walls were taken down and the building was lengthened. A second story was added, and balconies suspended by iron rods were put into seat slaves. The tower and the steeple made with beams 18″ square and 80″ long rose 120 feet above the ground. The west end had four small windows.
In the midst of the reconstruction, John Stickland, an English traveler wrote “Here is a large Dutch Church, rapidly going to decay, probably never to be repaired.” However, construction continued, and the consistory hired Abraham Brinckerhoff Rapalje, who lived next door to build the new pulpit, new pews and to enclose the square lower section of the tower.
Five years later, in 1795, they hired him again to shingle the spire. With construction finished, the spire was topped with a gilded cock, symbolic of Peter’s denial of Jesus. It is actually about three feet high. It is one of the few left in the country.
The expanded sanctuary was remodeled in 1806. Columns were added to support the balconies and the pulpit and side pews were lowered to the level of the rest of the sanctuary. More alterations were made in 1854, when the balconies were narrowed and lowered. An alcove was made in the west end for the pulpit and the four small windows were replaced by the stained glass and painted windows. The alcoves and doors on each side of the tower were added.
The church decorated for Christmas in 2022
The chandeliers were imported from Holland and can be lowered by chains to the level of the pews for service. Gas replaced candles in the chandeliers in 1858. In 1908, they were electrified. In the late 1800’s, most of the ‘extra’ original property was sold for building lots at $100.00 each no one foreseeing the need for parking lots of the future.
(Disclaimer: I changed a few things around from the church history to make it flow better. More details are on the above link to the church’s history).
The entrance to the First Reformed Church of Fishkill in December 2022 decorated for the holidays.
The one thing I refuse to do on Father’s Day is to spend the day at the cemetery. I know that is some people’s idea of honoring one’s family members but it is not mine. I went on Friday and paid my respects to my father (whom this blog is dedicated to) and spent time remembering some of the good times we had in past. I dropped some cut flowers from our gardens (some of which he planted) and said a small prayer. Then I left.
My idea of honoring my father and spending Father’s Day with him is to do something that we would have shared together. We were always running around somewhere and exploring something new and doing something fun. That is how I wanted to honor him. By being active and giving him a toast at Sunday dinner.
There is a true beauty to a historical cemetery with its old tombstones, its interesting artwork on the grave sites and the history behind the famous families who are buried there whose homes we tour and roads and parks that are named after them. The cemetery is located right in Downtown Salem, which serves as the County Seat for the County of Salem.
It was also home to one of the oldest oak trees in the country which fell in 2019. The over 500 year old oak tree has been part of the original virgin forest and is said to where town founder, John Fenwick, met with the Lenape Indians for the establishment of a settlement and for peaceful negotiations.
The family plots at the Salem Oak Cemetery
All that is left of the tree now is the rotting stump but three of its saplings still exist on the grounds and they look about two hundred years old. They grow majestically amongst the gravesites.
The family plots line the aisles at the cemetery
Inside the cemetery, the graves bear the names of founding fathers of the Town of Salem and prominent families who once made up the population with names such as Thompson, Reeves, Abbott, Wister, Bacon, Griscom, Waddington, Sickler, Lippencott, Goodwin, Bullock, Woodnutt and Bassett.
You will see these names on artifacts in the Salem Historical Society such as clothes, business document and household items. There names and influence still hold a position in the community.
The Salem Oak in the Friends Burial Ground before it fell in 2019 (Salem County Historical Society)
This is the spot where founder John Fenwick met with the Lenape Indians in 1675.
Take time to walk amongst the family plots and pay your respects to these important families who were once the founding members of both the community and of the great State of New Jersey.
The Friends Burial Ground plaque
The cemetery’s spot in Downtown Salem, NJ
The Salem Oak Cemetery in Downtown Salem, NJ
The cemetery is part of the Women’s Heritage Trail