Struggle for Survival
For two hundred and thirty years, First Presbyterian Church of Northport has constituted a Christian fellowship and provided a place of worship for area residents.
Today, given its long history, the church seems to stand as a permanent fixture. However, in its beginnings the church struggled for survival.
“This was the Beginning” 1785 – 1830
The American Revolution and the war which followed weakened organized religion in the colonies, especially on Long Island, which the British occupied during much of the conflict. Churches suffered from empty pulpits, suspension of religious services, poor attendance, and damaged buildings. Surprisingly amidst the general disarray and upheaval, a group of believers had sufficient faith and dedication to organize a religious fellowship and construct a meeting house in a remote corner of Long Island’s North Shore known as Fresh Pond. This was the beginning of First Presbyterian Church of Northport.
“100 Feet of Boards”
One entry lists losses resulting from British construction of a fort in Huntington between September 1782 and February 1783. Among the items the British appropriated were “100 feet of boards taken from Fresh Pond Meeting House.” This is the first mention in the surviving historical documents of the Northport church. It fixes the date of the founding of that organization as 1783, if not before. The presbytery directed Joshua Hartt to form a church “agreeable to the constitution” and asked that “he supply them as much as his convenience will admit.” Not until October 1796 did Hartt report to the presbytery that he had organized the church at Fresh Pond.
According to a listing assembled in 1809, at least twenty-seven people had become members of the church by 1796.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Fresh Pond Church had a series of ministers, most of whom served for only two or three years.
1829 – 1890
Between 1830 and 1860, no major changes seem to have occurred in the church, its structure, beliefs, or congregation. However, for some time Presbyterianism in America suffered from a major schism. By the 1860s, the schism in Presbyterianism nationwide became less acute, both sides recognizing the need to be tolerant of different views. However, problems in Northport were just beginning. The division among Northport Presbyterians between Old School and New School occurred belatedly, but lasted for almost fifteen years.
1890 – 1950
After the uniting of the New School and Old School congregations, there never was a question about the survival of the First Presbyterian Church of Northport. Challenges would arise but nothing that jeopardized the existence of the church.
In the three decades after 1890, the church building experienced improvements. Most important was completion in 1907 of the Parish House behind the sanctuary. The addition contained a pastor’s study and rooms for the choir and Sunday School. Modern utilities came to the church in 1894 with the installation of electric lights. In 1898 and 1903 running water was installed in the parsonage and the church itself. In 1907 renovation of the sanctuary occurred, including redecorating, new cushions, and new windows. In 1914 improvements included new carpeting in the sanctuary, improved kitchen and dining facilities, and installing a Moeller pipe organ. Many of the improvements in the physical plant were financed by women’s groups, such as the Ladies Aid Society and the Stitchers.
The years 1926 to 1946 coincided with turmoil in the nation and the world at large. Through it all, the First Presbyterian Church made its way without encountering major obstacles.
The greatest impact of the world at large on the Northport Church and its people was World War II. One piece of evidence suggests that at least sixty men who were church members or otherwise connected with the church served in the armed forces during the war.
1950 – 2010
With the Great Depression and World War II, no major building improvement occurred in the 1930s and the 1940s. Significant innovations began in 1952. In 1972, the sanctuary underwent a major renovation and rearrangement at a cost of $89,000.
An eye-opening event occurred approximately 5:10 P.M. on Saturday, August 27, 1993. During a brief and violent rainstorm, a bolt of lightning struck the ninety-five-foot steeple of Northport’s Presbyterian Church. The rest of the steeple was damaged and had to be removed. Our neighbor across the street, St. Philip Neri Church contributed $1,000 toward the cost of replacing the steeple.
The most recent improvements to the church building include a complete repainting of the sanctuary and steeple, reconstructing the front steps, rebuilding the basement foundation walls, new windows in the basement, installation of new brick pavers and new landscaping in the Memorial Garden.
Membership in First Presbyterian Church of Northport presently stands at 514 with approximately 120 children enrolled in Sunday school. The church has just recently completed a major building renovation project at the cost of approximately 2.3 million dollars. When contemplating the significance of the renovation program, the Rev. Dr. Tim Hoyt Duncan, our pastor since 2006, observed that: “The work we have completed will benefit us, our children, their children and the community of Northport for generations to come. The good that will come from this endeavor is beyond our knowing, and we can take satisfaction that we do this as Christ’s servants and that we do it together.”