Old Stone Church
Historic Stone Arabia Stone Church
The early history of the Stone Church is entwined with the Palatines who first came to the area upon receiving the Stone Arabia Patent in 1723. This patent conveyed 12,700 acres to 28 families. Initially worshiping in each other's homes and barns, the Palatines were of the Reformed and Lutheran faiths.
The first pastor was probably the Revered John Jacob Ehle. Reverend Ehle was ordained in Germany in August 1722 and arrived in New York in October of the same year. In June 1723 he married Johanna Van Slyck in Albany. Making their way through the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys, Reverend and Mrs Ehle eventually helped establish a mission at Fort Ehle, in what is now the Village of Nelliston.
Around 1733 the Reformed and Lutheran congregations began to erect a frame church building across the creek from their earlier building. However, agreement could not be reached as to the naming of the church and the Lutheran withdrew back across the creek to worship in their log church. The new congregation was known as the Dutch Reformed Church of Stone Arabia. The earliest record book is dated 1743, and the first record of members was noted in 1749 when ten people were admitted by Confession of Faith.
The Reformed Church was left in ashes following the October 19, 1780 raid of Colonel Sir John Johnson. Colonel Johnson was a son of the powerful loyalist Baronet, Sir William Johnson. The cemetery located behind the church holds the remains of Colonel John Brown and others slain during the battle of Stone Arabia.
The graceful present day limestone edifice was built in 1788 at a cost of $3,378 and is considered to be one of the finest church buildings west of Albany. Early church records indicate that pastors preached in three languages, English, German and low Dutch. The original architecture was changed in 1840 when the entrance was switched from the eastern to the present southern position. A beautiful arched ceiling was blocked from view for the practical purpose of better heating. Finally, the "singing gallery" or choir loft and pulpit exchanged positions, which necessitated a change of seating arrangements. In the west balcony are benches that are said to have been occupied by the congregations' slaves and house servants. Above the six foot cross in the sanctuary is a plaque, a reminder that former pastor Benjamin B. Westfall is buried in the undercroft.
The adjacent parsonage was built in 1859. Two former parsonages had served the congregation, one in 1749 and the other in 1797. Records indicate that school was held in each of the earlier buildings. Renovations were begun of the parsonage in 1990 and still continue.
In 1978 the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gracefully rising from the fertile soil, the Stone Church stands as a tangible reminder of the stalwart sons and daughters of the Mohawk Valley who were instrumental in shaping our nation's future.
The minister buried beneath the pulpit
Benjamin B. Westfall (October 15, 1837, to April 27, 1844). He was born at Claverack, Columbia County, February 18, 1978. He graduated from Union College in 1823 and New Brunswick Seminary in 1826. He was licensed by the Classis of New Brunswick in 1826. He was in employ of the Missionary Society for a time; missionary at Sand Beach from 1827 to 1828. He remained pastor of the Cove (High Falls, Ulster County) until 1834 and at Rochester (Ulster County) until 1837. During his ministry there about three hundred persons joined the church as the result of his arduous labors. His call to Stone Arabia was dated September 16, 1837. It provided the meagre salary of $2250.00, and the use of the parsonage. He was required to preach every Sunday, alternately in the morning and afternoon. At the meeting of the Classis of Montgomery held on November 21, 1837, Mr. Westfall presented a dismission from the Classis of Ulster and signified his acceptance of calls from Stone Arabia and Ephratah. His installation was set for December 25th, On February 7, 1838 the church at Ephratah made application to Classis for a dissolution of their call on Mr. Westfall, and the pastoral relation was accordingly dissolved. According to the Ephratah church record, Mr. Westfall was called on September 16, 1837, Reverend Samuel Robertson of Canahoharie, moderator; and he was dismissed as pastor on May 2, 1838, Reverend James Stevensen, moderator. On April 16, 1839 at a meeting of Classis, supplies were appointed for Ephratah once a month; Mr. Westfall was one of them. On April 11, 1840 a committee was appointed to visit Ephratah. On May 27th they did so but, but accomplished nothing because it was still vacant on September 15, 1840. The Reverend John Robb was supply at Ephratah from October 2, 1841 to about April 1843. Then his services were not desired and the congregation refused to pay for his support. On September 20, 1842 Ephratah was recommended to the Board of Domestic Missions. The Classis urged the congregation to secure a regular minister. For his salary, provided they can raise $300.00, the Classis will provide an additional $100.00 for a term of three years.
The records of the Classis describe more eloquently than I can, in a few words, what the Reverent Benjamin B. Westfall accomplished during his pastorate at Stone Arabia. Repairs to the parsonage, costing $500.00, were made: to the church, costing $2,000.00. A new bell, costing $355.00 was purchased. He established a Sunday School, in 1842. He organized weekly prayer meetings, in different parts of the congregation. Toward the close of his pastorate, there were seven or eight of these prayers meetings. Seventy eight members were added to the church during his ministry. His diligent labors were rewarded by a soul stirring revival in the spring of the year 1843. No greater tribute to his unselfishness and self denial can be paid, than to say that on November 9, 1843 his pitifully small salary was in arrears to the amount of $400.92. Mr. Westfall's indomitable zeal overtaxed his bodily strength, and he gave up his life for his church. He lived long enough to know that this, his last sacrifice was fully appreciated by those who loved him.
As the result of his labors, Mr. Westfall contracted consumption in the spring of 1843. Within a few months he was so stricken that he was unable to preach. He was confined to his room from October 1843, except for one occasion. On one communion Sabbath he was carried to the church to receive the last sacrament once more with his beloved flock. On April 7, 1844, the Consistory met and it was resolved that he should keep possession of the parsonage until May 1, 1845. This action was taken to free him from all worldly cares, as he was upon the brink of the grave. The Classis of Montgomery convened on April 16, 1844. One of the ministers delivered a message from the Reverend Mr. Westfall to his brethren bidding them farewell, stating that the was in hourly expectation of death and that his thoughts were with them. Prayers were offered for him. Resolution was passed of praise and in appreciation of his labors, of support and sympathy for him; resolutions being sent immediately. They dying pastor asked the consistory that he might be buried beneath the altar in front of the pulpit in the church. His request was granted. A few days before he died, he said to his brother minister, while discussing the solemnities to be observed at his own funeral: "Tell the people I am buried at the spot where I used to kneel and pray for their souls' salvation." Thus he left a message to live in the years to come, after he had gone to his reward.
Benjamin B Westfall died on April 27, 1844. A copy of the inscription upon the memorial tablet erected to his memory in the Stone Arabia Church follows.
In memory of our beloved pastor the Rev. B.B. Westfall, who by the grace of god preached the gospel of Jesus Christ 17 years 6 years the pastor of this church. Died April 27, 1844 aged 46 years.
Benjamin B. Westfall and Elizabeth Rhody Westfall
Elizabeth Bevier Westfall baptised 2/15/1840