In Gaines, first church west of Genesee River served many congregations

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 26 March 2016 at 12:00 am

Volume 2, Issue 13

GAINES – Situated on Ridge Road in Gaines, this structure served multiple organizations during its lifetime and is regarded as the first church constructed west of the Genesee River.

As the pioneer settlers arrived in Gaines, cleared land and established farms along the historic route, they sought to establish their community with meeting halls and churches. Roughly 17 years after Elizabeth Gilbert settled her parcel along the Ridge Road near Brown Road, the Congregationalists and Baptists constructed this building to serve as a union meeting house. Each group agreed to share the edifice, holding services on alternating Sundays.

In 1834 the Congregationalists purchased a site on the north side of the Ridge, just east of the Gaines Road intersection. It was at this time that the congregation sold their interest in the building to two men, who later sold their interest to John Proctor.

The Baptists, meanwhile, remained active in the building despite losing a portion of their congregation following the establishment of the Baptist congregation at Albion in 1830. It was not long after this that 13 of the Baptists at Gaines petitioned to start a church at Carlton, an incident that would greatly weaken the original congregation.

The Baptists continued to hold services until approximately 1860 when the building was vacated, remaining inactive until a Free Methodist congregation was established at Gaines in 1868.

Just eight years after the first church in the denomination was constructed at Albion under the pastorate of Rev. Loren Stiles and nearly 10 years after the expulsion of Benjamin Titus Roberts from the Methodist Church, followers of Free Methodism in Gaines purchased the old union meeting house from the Free Congregationalists. The population of Gaines was first served by Rev. George Marcellus who not only oversaw the purchase of the building, but led the repainting of the structure and addition of stained glass windows.

The Gaines Free Methodist Church was served for a number of years by pastors from the church at Kenyonville, until that congregation disbanded. At that time, the Gaines congregation purchased a house located along a north-running lane behind the church for use as a parsonage. During the nearly 50 years that the church was active, those in attendance received the word of God from a prestigious lineage of preachers in the denomination.

Samuel K. J. Chesbrough, regarded as the co-founder of Free Methodism, served two terms as pastor of the church. The congregation was also led by Joseph Goodwin Terrill, a contemporary of John Wesley Redfield, as well as the future first president of Greenville College, Wilson T. Hogg. Alanson Kimball Bacon, a local resident who lived in the cobblestone home constructed by his father on Brown Road, stepped in to fill the vacant pulpits of the local Free Methodist churches at Albion and Gaines.

According to Helen Allen, the last service held in this building was probably July 6, 1917. Around 1921 one of the last surviving trustees of the church, Robert Woolston of Carlton, sold the building to John Bauer. The building was later converted for use as the Gaines Town Hall and Highway Department.