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January 2013


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Robert Sullivan <[log in to unmask]>
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A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Jan 2013 12:28:20 -0500
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Architecture, history help historic register nominees

By Linda Kellett, Courier-Standard-Enterprise News Staff

ST. JOHNSVILLE — You might miss it if you didn’t know it was there.

Blending in with two outdoor security lights strategically placed over
the front entry doors of the St. Johnsville United Methodist Church is
a decorative limestone panel. Carved within its time- and
weather-worn, slate-colored face are two words, Methodist Episcopal,
spelled out with uppercase letters.

Barely discernible from the ground is a date, 1879, the year that the
stately brick house of worship at 5 East Main St. was built.

Recommended for designation to state and national Registers of
Historic Places, the Gothic Revival-type structure and its adjacent
Italianate-style parsonage possess distinctive architectural
characteristics “of a type, period or method of construction, or
represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or
represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components
lack individual distinction.”

The parsonage pre-dates the church by 13 years.

Both were nominated for historic registers in an application prepared
by St. Johnsville historian Anita Smith and Travis Bowman, a
representative of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic

A copy of the draft application is available as a PDF document on the
state office’s website, http://nysparks.com.

Smith late last week was quick to credit Bowman with his authorship of
the application. “What I did was include all of the historical
significance of the application,” she said.

Smith said the building that’s now used as a parsonage stands on the
site of the one-time home of St. Johnsville founding father, Johan
Jacob Zimmerman.

In 1798 the Mohawk Turnpike, which coincided with East Main Street
(New York state Route 5), was a vital transportation route that early
settlers took on their westward journey to the frontier, she said.

The Zimmerman house became a turnpike tavern. As noted in the
application, it was moved one block east in the 1860s by a subsequent
owner, who sold the vacant lot to Lewis Snell — a “prominent village
businessman who owned a general store and post office located at the
corner of West Main and Bridge Streets— directly across the street
from the parcel.”

In 1866 — before the building of the future Community House on
Washington Street — Snell built the “grandest house in St. Johnsville”
at the site, said Smith.

“He paid the highest taxes in St. Johnsville — $7,” she said,
laughing. “This stuff blows my mind. History isn’t dull at all.”

She said the house is significant, in part, because of the bricks and
limestone used in its construction. The bricks came from a brickyard
located at the site of the former Catholic Church parking lot.

The limestone around the base of the house came from the Klock quarry,
she said. “Most of the limestone lintels and water tables around the
village are of limestone from there. They don’t rot like wood.”

“Lintels” are horizontal supports across the tops of doors and
windows. Architectural “water tables” are located along the bottom of
exterior walls and help divert water from the foundation.

As noted in the application, “The lower story windows extend all the
way to the limestone water table, the upper story windows have
projecting limestone sills. Each of the windows is surmounted by
decorative moulded hoods that are curved and ornamented... In the
center of the elevation is the main entrance and large upper story

The main entrance porch is graceful and ornate, “accessed via a flight
of limestone steps, the supports of which are elaborately curved
limestone. The entrance itself is deeply recessed, paneled and
accented by heavy mouldings and both transom and side lights.”

The house has original lath and plaster walls and ceilings, varnished
wood floors, “massive” high-quality trim work, large built-in cabinets
in the kitchen/pantry area, and “an elaborate turned newel and
balusters and scrollwork” on the side of the staircase.

After Snell’s death in 1877, the property was sold to Little Falls
railroad magnate Gen. Zenas C. Priest for a third of its initial
construction cost of about $26,000, the application notes. Priest
subsequently sold the Snell house to the Methodist Episcopal Church in
1879, and on Sept. 30, 1879, “[T]he first Methodist Episcopal Church
of St. Johnsville was incorporated in order to hold and purchase the
Lewis Snell property.”.

The application continues, “To raise funds for the construction of the
church, a plan was devised to have people buy a thousand bricks at a
cost of $4.50 per thousand. Bricks from the nearby Esterbrooke
brickyard were again used. Farmers brought their wagons and donated
their time hauling bricks to the church site.”

Smith said buttresses were used to support the sides of the structure,
which features a beautifully designed wood ceiling.

As noted in the application, “The celling is treated with decorative
varnished wooden planks laid diagonally, horizontally and vertically
in various patterns; the treatment covers the original exposed truss

Smith said materials for the undertaking were provided by a Mr.
Belding, for whom one of the stained glass windows was dedicated. “He
was a lumberman with a planing business on Hough Street where
Burkdorf’s Lumber is,” she said. “He took the posts out of the center
of the church so the ceiling was more free-standing.”

Smith’s niece, Melissa Caponera, is the financial secretary of the
church. As with the original brick campaign, the congregation recently
mounted a campaign to fix or replace some of the buttresses.

An earlier initiative, which dates back to 1989, generated enough
revenue to re-lead the stained glass windows in the sanctuary.

Caponera said the window depicting Jesus knocking at the door was
refurbished by her mother, Cathy Bellen of St. Johnsville, and her two
sisters in memory of her grandparents, Ruth and Carl Warner.

“My mother said it was $1,500 a window. Everybody did it in memory of
someone,” she said.

Caponera is excited about the nomination of the church and parsonage,
noting that the application has been sent to Washington, D.C. “We
should have it on the registry by March,” she said.

Bob Sullivan
Schenectady Digital History Archive
Schenectady County (NY) Public Library