The 1st Church of the Little Green Man is the creation of the eccentrically creative artist Mike Osterhout. As a self-proclaimed “minister,” Osterhout led the obscure Church of the Little Green Man as a form of performance art in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s. Holding court in former bars and strip clubs, Osterhout would lead the church band, the Workdogs, while church attendees were notoriously required to burn a dollar bill at the “eternal flame” as the price of admission. Osterhout was also the singer for the band Purple Geezus, described in a 1988 NY Post article as a “psychedelic hard rock band with jazz and blues influences”. Osterhout eventually left New York and now occasionally hosts “services” at his 1st Church of the Little Green Man in the small rural hamlet of Glen Wild in Sullivan County.
Until its purchase and renaming by Osterhout, the Little Green Man church building was known as the Glen Wild Methodist Church, and before that as the Fletcher Centenary Church. The church congregation was originally formed in 1807 with three or four members; and was formally organized on October 17, 1866. At that time the land for the church was purchased for $200 from Joseph W. Hait. The church building, with seating for 200 people, was constructed at a cost of $3,169, the building being dedicated the following year in 1867.
As of 1872, approximately five years after its construction, there were approximately 50 members in the church, and the congregation was led by Reverend Charles H. Reynolds. Also as of 1872 the Glen Wild hamlet consisted of one store, one school, two saw mills, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop and eight houses. (Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Sullivan County, N.Y. for 1872-3. Syracuse: Journal Office, 1872. Page 196-I.)
The church bell was removed in 1885 due to its excessive weight posing a threat to the building. Electricity was added in 1914, with light fixtures replacing the original kerosene lamps.
James Eldridge Quinlan in his 1873 book titled History of Sullivan County wrote of the early days of the Glen Wild religious community. “Itinerant Methodist preachers at an early day preached the Gospel as they understood it to the inhabitants of this region, and gathered within their fold the stray sheep of the wilderness of Glen Wild, and the adjacent neighborhoods. A church edifice belonging to the followers of John Wesley crowns a height east of Denniston’s ford. This church is more in accordance with the rules of architecture than other rural meeting-houses of Sullivan, and is very creditable to those who erected it. It was built in 1866. It is claimed that Methodist preachers visited this locality as early as 1807, and that they formed a class here in that year.” (Page 265.)
Quinlan also described how the hamlet of Glen Wild, and thus the church, received its name. “Glen Wild received its name from a remarkable glen or canyon in its neighborhood, through which runs the outlet of Lord’s or Foul Woods lake. At the head of the glen is a beautiful waterfall, which adds much to the impressive wilderness of the scene. On each side of the stream the ascent is so abrupt that the locality was avoided by the lumberman and bark-peeler until a few years since, when, at considerable expense, a road was made to penetrate the gulf. Glen Wild is in what was originally called Miller Settlement.” (Pages 617-618.)
The Glen Wild Methodist Church served the community for nearly 100 years until declining church membership led to its sale in 1964. Osterhout, originally from the Sullivan County region, would purchase the church in the spring of 1995. The former one-story, ranch-style church hall, built in 1944 and located adjacent to the church, became his home. Osterhout, in an interview with Roderick Angle, told of how he came into possession of the historic church.
“Well, with the church, this is one of those weirdo incidents. But there have been so many in my life; I think there’s got to be reasons for it. I spotted the church in 1986, when I was up here driving around on these old country roads. The front door was open, so I pull over to the side of the road and went inside, and it’s a mess. There was junk everywhere, the roof was leaking, with lawnmowers and crap all over the place. I look down and in the rubble, I kid you not, there’s some old birth certificate or wedding certificate with the name Osterhout on it. It sent chills down my spine. So I leave my business card with a note saying, “If you ever want to sell this church, give me a call.” That was that. So, ten years go by and the phone rings. It’s the guy that owns the church, and he wants to sell it. That was it. Fate had it. I bought it in the spring of ninety-five and moved up here.” (Angle, Roderick. “The Passion of Mike.” An interview with Mike Osterhout. www.medium.com. September 16, 2017.)
Despite the changes in its outward appearances and its new-found eccentricities, the Glen Wild Methodist Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church was noted as “architecturally significant as one of the only known examples of a vernacular board and batten Gothic church in Sullivan County” and as “an exceptionally stylish example of vernacular architecture in the county.”