The historic Gloria Dei church at the hamlet of Palenville sits “nestled in a grove of odorous pines in the purple shadows of the beautiful Catskills.” In my estimation Gloria Dei can certainly be considered one of the most beautiful churches in the Catskills.
Architect and Catskill resident William H. Day, “one of the most earnest and valuable friends of the new church project,” designed and then helped supervise construction of the Gloria Dei building. Day had gained a reputation as a church architect, but also designed residential and institutional buildings. Other churches designed by Day include the Chapel of Transfiguration (1879), now the Christ and Saint Stephen’s Church in New York City; and St. George’s Episcopal Church (1893) at Helmetta, New Jersey.
Gloria Dei church was built of Catskill mountain bluestone taken from local quarries and with a roof from open timber. The building was designed at 28’ by 50’ on the outside, with room for a chancel, robing room, organ chamber, etc. The church walls were 13 feet high and 2 feet thick. The interior contained cathedral-stained glass windows, with all the seats and interior wood work made of pine, finished in natural color. The organ was donated in 1881 by Trinity parish of Catskill. When fully completed the church had a capacity of 135 people.
The estimated cost of construction was over $4,000, which is particularly notable with the church having adopted a resolution that “no debt should be contracted, and that the work should progress as fast only as the state of the funds would allow.” By 1882 “the original intention of the organizers has been adhered to, and the church is free of debt.” (“Palenville – Gloria Dei Mission.” The Churchman. July 22, 1882.)
The grounds of the church were generously donated be deed to the Albany diocese in the spring of 1878 by Sallie Travis on condition that a church would be built there. Construction work began in May 1879 with the digging of the cellar and trenches, as “neighbors and friends cheerfully gave their labor in making ready the foundations.” Addison Garrison, “a conscientious workman, had supervised the building of the foundations, which seemed of rock-like firmness on the day the corner stone was laid. (“Gloria Dei.” The Catskill Recorder. August 1, 1879.)
The cornerstone for the Gloria Dei church was officially laid at a ceremony at 4:30pm on July 30, 1879. The ceremony was attended by approximately 200-300 people, a number diminished by poor weather. The cornerstone included a tin box that contained a Bible, a Prayer Book, the last issues of The Churchman, The Examiner, The Recorder and a history of the Palenville mission.
Bishop William Croswell Doane (1832-1913), from the diocese of Albany, led the ceremony and wrote of that date: “I laid the Corner Stone of the Gloria Dei Church, Palenville. I am glad the march of the Church’s empire is taking its way into the Catskills, as it has into the Adirondacks. It was a glorious afternoon; the drive both ways was a delight every second of the time, and every inch of the way. A goodly company had gathered. The Boy Choir of St. Luke’s Church, Brooklyn, added great beauty and fervor to the scene and the service, by their presence in the surpliced procession, and their very sweet singing. There were present the Rev. Mr. Young, the Missionary, and Messrs. Stewart, Weeks and Grubbe of the Diocese, Abercrombie of New Jersey (to whom we owed the presence of the choir).
I made the address, and desire here again to recall my sense of the power of lay influence and interest to advance the Church. In the Catskills, as in the Adirondacks, it is a “beloved physician” who has done the work; and much as Mr. Weeks has done, by constant active interest and service, Dr. Chubb is the founder of the work here.
After the corner stone laying we went, such of us as could get in, into a little building beautiful with laurel and evergreen and field daisies, where the congregation have worshipped through the summer. I commend the ingenious economy of this idea, which combines cheapness with beauty and convenience; for nothing was used in its construction, but the timbers and boards, which are to go into the future Church. I confirmed five persons, and one afterward in private. (“The Bishop’s Address.” Journal of the Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Albany . . . Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1880.)
The following poem, a tribute to the new Gloria Dei church at Palenville, was published in the August 8, 1879 issue of The Catskill Recorder. There was no author noted.
“Her foundations are upon the holy hills.”
Within the mountain’s solemn shade
They temple, Lord, we raise–
Here early will our vows be paid,
Here on virgin altar laid
Our sacrifice of praise.
O’er emerald slope, o’er glassy streams,
Half hidden ‘midst the leaves;
‘Round quiet home that lie between
The sunny uplands clothed in green
And rich with garnered sheaves;
And high among the mist-crowned hills,
And through the cloistered dells,
The waiting silence shall be stirred
By sweeter sound than brook or bird–
The chime of Sabbath bells.
Liked winged incense on the air
The voice of praise ascend;
While, silent round the modest fold,
Like giant sentinels and old,
The hoary mountains bend.
To Thee, our Omnipresent God–
Through ages aye the same,
Before whose face the heavens were bowed,
Who spake in Sinai’s thunders loud,
And Horeb’s voice of flame.
Here in the mountain’s solemn shade
Thy temple, Lord we raise–
Here early will our vows be paid,
Here on the virgin altar laid
Our sacrifice of praise.”
Reverend J. H. Young, appointed missionary by Bishop Doane, preached during that first summer of 1879. The first church officers were E. T. Mason, treasurer, and Charles H. Chubb, warden. The first church members included E. T. Mason and wife, Charles H. Chubb, M. D., and wife, Mrs. Amelia Greetham, Miss Eva Baker, and E. Potterfin.
Despite the cornerstone being laid six years prior, due to the lack of funds, construction was not fully completed until 1885. In the intervening years the church building was used in its unfinished condition. “A temporary church was built in the rear of the site of the permanent edifice – Mr. John Goodwin doing the work gratuitously – and services have been held in the rude but helpful building.” (“Gloria Dei.” The Catskill Recorder. August 1, 1879.)
The completed church building was consecrated on September 16, 1885. At the first service, “a large congregation, composed of residents, summer visitors, and friends from neighboring parishes, filled the church to its utmost capacity. The opening Psalm xxiv, was chanted antiphonally by the bishop, clergy and choir. The instrument of donation was read by the warden, Dr. C. H. Chubb, and the sentence of consecrations by the rector. After Morning Prayer, the bishop proceeded to the celebration of the Holy Communion, preaching from Genesis xxviii, 18, 19. The indications of real growth in the knowledge of Church principles, and an increasing appreciation of her services among the residents of this neighborhood, are very encouraging.” (“Albany.” The Churchman. October 10. 1885.)
The Gloria Dei Church, with the Episcopal denomination, continues to serve the community today. For more information about the church and their services visit their website at www.calvarygloriadei.org.