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Yaphank Church is 100

Footnotes to Long Island History

Yaphank Church is 100

by

Thomas R. Bayles


          A one-hundred anniversary service, commemorating the building of the Yaphank Presbyterian church, was held at the church on December 23.  The anniversary address was given by the Rev. Herbert Moyer, pastor of the Bridgehampton Presbyterian church, and remarks were made by the Rev. John R. Vaughn, the only living ex-pastor of the church, who was minister of the church in 1926.

          A number of older people, former residents of Yaphank, were present.  Among them was Mrs. Richard M. Bayles of Middle Island, granddaughter of the Rev. Ezra King, who helped conduct the dedication ceremony of the church 100 years ago.

          As we look back, we find the first church in Brookhaven town was at Setauket and was formed soon after the first settlement in 1655.  This was called “The Old Town Church.”  As settlement was made on the south side, around Mastic, the need for a church was voted.  About 1740, the South Haven Presbyterian church was organized.  Then, in 1766, the Middle Island church was built, and the parish took in the surrounding villages, including Millville (Yaphank).

          The earliest reference to religious activities seems to be a clipping from an old newspaper which quotes “Aunt Nancy” Hawkins as saying that she remembered well when she attended Sunday school in 1817 in the old schoolhouse in Yaphank, or Millville.  The Middle Island church records show that a “monthly concert” was regularly held in the “River District” (Yaphank) in 1841.

          As the village grew, the need for a church nearer than Middle Island was felt.  So, in 1850, a movement was started to obtain a building, and in 1851 two subscription lists were circulated which produced $1,104 towards a building fund.  On March 4, 1851, a business meeting was held to form a corporation and elect trustees.  The trustees elected were Tunis Whitbeck, Samuel F. Norton, Robert H. Gerard, Nathaniel Tuttle, Simmons Laws and John P. Mills.

          The newly elected trustees purchased from James H. Weeks one acre of ground for $50, the deed bearing the date March 31, 1851.  Soon after, a contract was executed with Charles Woodhull of Sayville to erect the building for the sum of $1,066.  Hauling materials, digging the basement, mason work and painting were extra and cost $68, with another $18 for stoves to heat the building.

          The new building was ready for use and was dedicated on Christmas day, 1851, by the Rev. Mr. King and the Rev. Winthrop Bailey.  The Rev. Mr. Bailey was pastor of the Middle Island church at that time, and the Rev. Mr. King had been pastor for 34 years until his health failed him in 1844 and he resigned and moved to Miller Place.  Because of his previous association, he was called upon to help with the dedication.

          The new church was governed by the Middle Island church session, with a separate board of trustees.  Services were held every other Sunday afternoon by the minister from Middle Island.

          The Middle Island church records state that Simmons Laws, Elder, of Yaphank died on February 4, 1867 at the age of 87 and that “the graces of the Spirit shown out in all his life.”  On February 7, 1867, Rev. Mr. King died at Miller Place at the age of 83, and “his life truly exemplified the dignity and the true Christian manhood of the minister of the Gospel.”  The records further state, “So the aged Elder and the minister who had so long served together in the same church were separated from each other a little over two days.”

          In the early part of 1871, a petition was circulated by the Yaphank people to the Presbytery of Long Island for permission to organize themselves into an independent church, and on October 18 of that year, the Presbytery constituted the Yaphank church a separate church.

          Sixty members of the Middle Island church were dismissed to form the newly organized Yaphank church.

          The two churches have been served by the same pastors for many years, although some of the time the Yaphank church has had a separate pastor.  At present, they are both under the leadership of the Rev. Robert J. Sargent, who came as joint pastor at the beginning of 1951.

          During the past year, many improvements have been made to the church, including painting the inside and outside, renewing the foundations and putting a new floor in the basement and the installation of a new organ.

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