Alplaus Methodists mark centennial year
For Jane Uttberg, memories of the Alplaus United Methodist Church will always include food and festivities.
“My parents always worked on the summer clambakes and the turkey suppers, and I can remember I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to really help them,” said Uttberg, a Glenville resident who has been a member at Alplaus United Methodist for 73 years and was attending services there even earlier. “My parents moved from the city to Alplaus when I was 3, I got married there in 1946, and I was so happy to get to the centennial celebration in September. My husband and I are both 87 and we don’t get there as much as we’d like to, but we still support the church.”
Sharing memories has been in vogue this year in Alplaus as the small hamlet’s only church is celebrating its 100th year as a congregation. The structure that now stands at 1 Brookside Dr. in Alplaus was begun in 1915, and the edifice as it looks now was built in 1930 with an additional wing added in 1960.
The hamlet of Alplaus is located in the southeastern corner of the town of Glenville in Schenectady County on the north bank of the Mohawk River. It’s neighboring hamlet, Rexford, lies just to the east in the town of Clifton Park in Saratoga County. While Alplaus was mostly a farming community until a trolley bridge was built over the Mohawk River in 1902 linking it to Schenectady, Rexford’s history dates back further because of its proximity to the Erie Canal. And that hamlet’s place of worship, the Rexford United Methodist Church, was built in 1839 less than a mile away as the crow flies from its counterpart in Alplaus.
“I’m sure a lot of people living in Alplaus went to the Rexford church, and then when our church was built there was a time when there was talk about the two churches combining,” said Alplaus Methodist pastor Carl Shepard, referring to a short-lived attempt at merger in 1929. “It didn’t work and that created some hard feelings, and later when they tried it again it didn’t work, and some people actually left that church and came here.”
In 1929, the Alplaus building was not nearly the structure it is today.
“When they built it in 1915 they basically dug a cellar and then covered it with a roof,” said Cliff Hayes, a longtime Alplaus resident who is considered the hamlet’s unofficial historian by most of his neighbors. “But then the congregation decided it was time to move forward and they built the newer portion right on the same foundation.”
Building: ‘A departure’
An article in the Oct. 27, 1930, Schenectady Gazette called the structure “a departure from the erstwhile Puritanical architecture of Methodism.” Originally planned as a stucco structure, the church was built with brick on the original 1915 platform that the Gazette article referred to as a “battered schoolhouse.” Dr. C.E. Torrance, superintendent of the Albany district, gave the dedication address, remarking, “The Methodist Church of America through its board of architects at Philadelphia is getting away from the old type of Methodist church as rapidly as possible. A special stress is being placed on the beauty of the architecture. The Union church is the first of its kind in the Troy Conference.”
Originally called the Alplaus Union Methodist Episcopal Church, Alplaus employed as its first pastor George C. Bain, who was also tending to the Rexford Methodist Church and the Grooms Methodist Church further east in Clifton Park. In the 100 years since Bain got things started, the church has continued to enjoy an enthusiastic and dedicated flock, according to Amanda Rae Smith-Lucier.
“I grew up in Alplaus in this church and there is always something going on,” she said. “We’ve had the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meet here for years, we have the women’s group, and even though I live in Colonie now and it takes me 25 minutes to get here, I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else. It’s my home, it’s where I was baptized and confirmed, and it’s also a very welcoming and accepting congregation, and you don’t find that everywhere.”
Marking the anniversary
Smith-Lucier served as the Centennial Committee chairperson for Alplaus Methodist, which included publishing a booklet documenting the history of the church as well as planning a special Community Day on Sept. 28 and a Celebration Worship on Oct. 20. The extra work wasn’t a concern to her.
“It was an absolute joy being in that position,” she said, referring to her leadership of the Centennial Committee. “I’m planning on having one more meeting just to acknowledge all the people that helped. We have great people here and Cliff Hayes was a big help with all his files relating to our history.”
The interior of the church can sit around 100 people comfortably, according to Shepard, who is in his sixth year as part-time pastor. The altar is marked by a pulpit on the left as you look at the front of the church and a lectern on the right in front of the organ and choir box. A large stained glass window, “Jesus as the Good Shepherd,” is behind the altar on the eastern wall, and was installed in 1930, a gift from Silvanus Birch. Another stained glass window, “The Fishermen,” was installed in 1979. By 1989 a total of nine stained glass windows covered the sanctuary walls.
“When I was a kid I used to go to the sunrise service and watch the sun come through that beautiful window,” said Uttberg. “We’d go at 6 in the morning, the men would cook breakfast, and even now I can picture it. It’s a beautiful building.”
These days there are no sunrise services, but the quaint and historic nature of the building endures and continues to attract newcomers.
“We have a woman who used to notice the building whenever she drove by, and when she decided it was time to reconnect with a church she chose this one,” said Shepard.
“She liked the way it looked, and I get people telling me that all the time. I get couples who aren’t members but they want to get married here, and after asking them why they want to get married, I ask them why they want to get married here. They tell me, ‘It’s such a neat little church.’ They think it’s just the perfect church for their wedding.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or email@example.com