SOUTH NEWFANE – Community members have come together to facilitate the next phase of a 180-year-old church in the center of the village, as the South Newfane Baptist Church Board of Trustees transferred its assets, including including the historic church, to the South Newfane Community Association (SNCA) in March. The transfer is the result of the dissolution of South Newfane Baptist Church and the result of discussions which began almost a year ago between the two organisations.
As stewards of the church property, the South Newfane Community Association will seek a future owner who will ensure the long-term use of the church property that maintains its historic structural integrity. Facilitating the transition of the church into its next life allows the proceeds from the sale of the church to remain in the community where the proceeds from the sale will continue to improve life within the village as a legacy of the South Newfane Baptist Church. The last service in the building was on June 2, 2019, by which time the congregation had dwindled to a handful of parishioners. Due to the pandemic, no additional service followed.
The history of the church is considered an integral part of the history of South Newfane. The “Baptist Society of Marlboro and Newfane” was formed in 1791, then met at Nehemiah Fisher’s home on Auger Hole Road, half a mile from the present church site. In 1840 Pardon Perry donated land for the current building site at a cost of $40 in the village then known as Perry’s Mills. The following year, the current church with its four-spired steeple and rood screen was erected at a cost to parishioners of $1,500 – the equivalent of about $46,000 today. After the building was completed, a bell was presented to society by Caleb Pond, a wealthy Hartford, Connecticut merchant and former member of the church, “to be rung on the Sabbath day and on all funeral occasions.” . For its kindness the village was renamed Pondville which it remained until 1884 when it settled to its present name of South Newfane when the congregation became South Baptist Church Newfane.
Over the years, the assembly has taken a strong position on various issues. In 1848 the congregation added an article to its original covenant expressing its opposition to slavery: “We will admit no one to our communion table or to preach in our pulpit who holds slaves or supports the system of slavery .” Other resolutions passed in the early years included disapproval of the sale or purchase of lottery tickets or participation in other acts of gambling, disapproval of secret societies such as Odd Fellows or Freemasonry, and the pledge “…not to use intoxicating liquors or traffic in them or supply them as beverages to our friends or any person in our employ – except as medicine – and we will reduce in all appropriate ways to use them throughout the community.
In 1912, the church’s iconic stained glass windows were created in Boston and dedicated, depicting local families such as the Bruces, Swarts, Goodnows, Bickfords, Baileys and Aldrichs. Over the years, the church has served as a place of meeting and worship for the community by actively holding services except during the winter months. In recent years, the local congregation has dwindled and administrators have come to rely on donations from patrons outside the community.
The small free South Newfane village library, established by the church in 2016, will move this spring to a renovated space across the road in the South Newfane Schoolhouse, headquarters of the SNCA. The nonprofit South Newfane Community Association was founded in 1956 when the town sold the South Newfane Schoolhouse, built in the 1880s, to the association for $1. Since then, the Association has worked to promote local history and cultural activities in the community. Countless events have taken place at the school, including storytelling nights, the annual Rock River Artist Tour, craft shows, talent shows, cabarets, as well as hosting residents married to school.