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Historic Sag Harbor Old Whaler’s Church Celebrates 250th Anniversary With A Homecoming Weekend

"The organ at Old Whalers' is the oldest in a church on Long Island." (Photo: Bob Hardie)

Affectionately known as the The Old Whalers' Church located in Sag Harbor, The First Presbyterian Church will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding with a Homecoming Weekend scheduled for Friday, July 15th through Sunday, July 17th.

Built in 1844, the historic structure has evolved to its present state from the Old Barn Church that was built in 1766 as a meeting house referred to as "a homely structure with a leaky roof," then to a church built in 1816 to accommodate a growing congregation, to the now beautiful church we all see and know today.

Some background information provided by the Church reveals, that "The earliest known record of the Presbyterian Church in the village records 'a meeting of the inhabitants of Sagg-Harbour, Hog Neck and adjacent places, Feb. ye 24th, 1766, in order to consult upon the affair of erecting a house of publick worship at Sagg-Harbour.' A site at the northeast corner of Church and Sage streets, which became known as Meeting House Hill, was selected for the construction of a wooden building referred to for the next 50 years as "God's Old Barn." Until 1789, prominent members read lengthy sermons to the congregation. The first preacher, John Taylor, arrived that year and alternated preaching between Sag Harbor and Shelter Island."

An Old Whalers' Church postcard. (Photo: Old Whalers' Church)

Further, "By the 1840's Sag Harbor was at the height of its prosperity, with 63 whaling ships calling the village their home port. The money was available to build a grand new structure, and ship owners, captains and local businessmen readily agreed to contribute to the project. A well-known New York architect, Minard LaFever, was commissioned to design the building; the property was bought for $2,000 and the building, without furnishings, cost $17,000. The structure, which combines elements of both the Egyptian Revival Style and the Greek Revival Style, was topped by a magnificent steeple of 185 feet, which could be seen by returning mariners as they sailed towards home. When the church was dedicated on May 16, 1844, the vessels in port were granted an extra day at home by the ship owners so that all could attend the ceremony."

In 1994 the church was named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over these many years funds have been raised to complete much needed repairs to the church, including interior and exterior painting, refinished woodwork, new carpets, and important reconstruction and renovation of the 1899 Chapel. It is also hoped to someday erect a new steeple to replace the one that fell during the Hurricane of 1938.

Some upcoming activities planned for the celebration include a Family Movie Night on Friday, July 15th, which will kick off the weekend with a screening of Finding Nemo at dusk on the front lawn of the church. The movie is free, refreshments will be available for purchase, so bring chairs or blankets to sit on the grass. The drawing for a "Fun-Raising" Raffle will take place at a party in the church Social Hall on Saturday, July 16th, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. First prize is $1,000; second prize, $500; third prize, $250. Tickets are a reasonable $50 which admits two to the party and includes two drink tickets and food - only 250 tickets will be sold, however, any tickets remaining on the day of the party can be purchased at the door.

The fun continues on Sunday with a worship service at 10 a.m. in the historic church sanctuary, featuring the choir, led by church music director Dominick Abbate, and bell choir, led by Walter Klauss. Fellowship Coffee Time will follow the service, at 11 a.m. according to the church's announcement, and the celebration will conclude with a free organ recital at 3 p.m. on Sunday, given by Prince Namatai Nyatanga from Harare, Zimbabwe, who among his previous organ teachers is Walter Klauss, artist-in-residence at Old Whalers' Church.

Reverend Christopher Mergener, current Pastor since 2015, relayed, "This celebration is a time for the whole community to come together. There are so many people who have fond memories from experiences they have had at Old Whalers' Church over the years, and this is truly a weekend of celebration. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend!"

And for a bit more history..."The organ at Old Whalers' is the oldest in a church on Long Island. It was built in 1845 by the firm of Henry Erben in New York City. The freestanding case, which contains gilded wooden 'dummy' pipes, is a miniature of the church façade, complete with carved blubber spades alternating with whales' teeth along the cornice, with the addition of carved waves."

The Old Whaler's Church is located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information and/or tickets call 631-725-0894 or email oldwhalers@optonline.net, or go to www.oldwhalerschurch.org.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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