The former Copake Falls Methodist Episcopal Church is a small, light-frame building consisting of a main block, an entrance vestibule, and a small non-historic rear wing. It was oriented with its primary elevation facing in a westerly direction, tending slightly to the north, and was erected on a flat parcel of land. The main section was built on a rectangular plan; it has a narrow three-bay wide façade with center entrance contained within the vestibule and three symmetrically placed windows on the side elevations. The roofs of the vestibule and main block are steeply pitched and the windows pointed, these being feature expressive of the Gothic tradition. The raking cornices of the main section are moulded and have decorative barge boards and are further embellished near the gable’s apex by a decorative king-post truss; the eaves of the side elevations have exposed rafter tails with jig-sawn ends. The interior is highly intact to the late nineteenth century, the linear worship space retaining its original wood finishes in the form of medium-width pine boards, bead-board wainscot, and narrow bead-board upper wall and ceiling sheathing. The slip pews, fashioned from pine, are moveable and have decorative ends which have incised and applied detailing. Door and window openings have simple wood casings. The upper portion of the walls on the longer north and south sides are sloped, this slope defined by the rafter position and roof pitch. The building was heated with a wood stove, the pipe of which is conveyed out an opening against the rear wall. It remains a highly intact period example of Late Victorian-era religious design in rural Columbia County, New York.
The church is located in the hamlet of Copake Falls in eastern Columbia County, New York, near the intersection of Miles Road and State Route 344, a short distance west of Taconic State Park. The building is oriented with its north flank elevation parallel to the east-west alignment of Miles Road. Residential properties largely characterize the immediate setting, which also includes an early twentieth century store and post office building and the Taconic Wayside Inn. The nominated parcel, which is flat, has scattered deciduous and coniferous trees and also decorative plantings and shrubbery aligned near the building’s foundation.
The façade of the building is defined by the interplay of the smaller and larger masses of the vestibule and main block, the steeped pitched roof of the latter giving way to a belfry with flared pyramidal roof. The exterior of the vestibule and main block are sheathed with horizontal novelty siding trimmed with narrow corner-boards. The entrance is fitted with inward swinging, double-leaf two panel doors which are spanned by a Gothic-arched transom divided into two lancet heads and a central lozenge; this arch is rounded in profile, unlike the remainder of the pointed-arch windows, which are angular in profile. All have simple casings with drip caps and wood sills. The steeply pitched roof of the vestibule has a moulded raking cornice and narrow bargeboard, in addition to decorative rafter tails. Two narrow lancet windows flank the vestibule and bring light into the body of the church. These have plain casings and are hung with wood sash consisting of a six-light lower unit and a five-light upper unit that includes a diamond-pane lozenge. The raking cornice is fitted with moulded bargeboard into which is incorporated a decorative king-post gable truss. The belfry is square in plan and straddles the roof ridge. Each of its four facets has paired round-arched openings fitted with wood louvers. Above these a bracketed eave gives way to a moulded cornice and the pyramidal roof, the lower portion of which is flared. The belfry roof, and that of the main block and vestibule, are clad with rolled asphalt, as is the rear addition. The façade remains entirely as it appears in early photographs of the building, save for the existing wood railing flanking the entrance steps and the small lighting fixtures disposed on either side of the doors.
The north and south flank elevations were identically conceived with novelty-sided walls punctuated by three evenly spaced Gothic lancets. The eaves are embellished by the exposed, scroll-sawn rafter tails. The rear elevation includes two lancet windows, a louvered vent at attic level, and a centrally-placed exterior brick chimney which rises upwards through the bargeboard and raking cornice of the roof. As for the non-historic addition, it is located at the building’s northeast corner, and has a square footprint and low pitched roof.
The interior, which is all but given over the worship space, is accessed via the façade entrance and associated vestibule, through a second pair of double-leaf doors. Flooring consists of tongue-and-groove pine board of a medium width, which is aligned from side wall to side wall, the nailing pattern betraying the location of the floor joists. The lower portion of the wall is fitted with stained bead-board wainscot terminated by a simple moulded chair rail, aligned in relation to the level of the window sills. Above this the wall is sheathed with narrow, horizontally laid bead board, which rises to a sloped section that gives way to the flat ceiling, which is sheathed in the same manner. Electric lighting fixtures are suspended from the ceiling, and augment the natural light provided for by the windows. The liturgical area was centered along the rear wall, and includes a rectangular-plan dais with balustered rail. A non-historic glazed and paneled door leads from the northeast corner into the modern addition. As for the moveable slip pews, they were fashioned from pine, and feature ends that have incised decorative motifs, a flat armrest, and a decorative boss.
The former Copake Falls Methodist Episcopal Church, dedicated in 1892, is a highly intact example of rural Late Victorian era ecclesiastical design in Columbia County, New York. Built on land donated to the group by the Miles family, which was associated with the nearby Copake Iron Works, the nominated building was erected at the cost of approximately $2,000 a decade following this religious group’s formation. Stylistically it was cast in a modest Late Victorian era interpretation of the Gothic style; however, in form and layout, it remained largely indebted to rural meetinghouse models popular in previous eras of the nineteenth century.
The building remained in service as a worship space for area Methodists from its completion in 1892 until 1955, at which time it fell into a period of disuse and neglect. It was later purchased by the Town of Copake and in more recent times has been maintained and operated by the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society as a museum facility. The building is being nominated at the local significance level in association with Criterion C, in the area of architecture, as a substantially intact example of period religious design. It survives with a high degree of physical integrity to its period of construction, c. 1891-92, and is an important architectural vestige of the rural community which developed alongside the Copake Iron Works during the course of the nineteenth century.
The Copake area of Columbia County is situated immediately west of the Taconic Mountain range, a geographical feature which separates New York State from Massachusetts in this region. Robert Livingston (1654-1728) encouraged the early settlement of this area in order to secure his title to the 160,000 acre Livingston Manor, and to that end he established Taghkanic Flats about a decade in advance of the construction of his own house at the mouth of the Roeliff Jansen Kill in 1699. Tenant farmers working Livingston’s lands emerged as the region’s first permanent settlers, with the cultivation of wheat and rye forming the principal agricultural pursuit at an early date. The construction of the Columbia Turnpike in 1799 connected the region’s farm interests with the Hudson River to the west, opening up new markets for surplus goods and thereby aiding in further settlement at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Like many parts of the Hudson Valley the Copake region, with its fertile agricultural lands, experienced a substantial influx of New England settlers who came seeking opportunity in the post-Revolutionary War period. These settlers, moving westward from earlier settled areas of New England, joined Dutch and Palatine German families who had settled here previously.
The Roefliff Jansen Kill traverses this area before meeting with the Hudson River. This watercourse failed to provide adequate hydraulic power, however, given it drops a mere 150 feet in its nine-mile route through the Town of Copake. Bash Bish Brook, which descends from the Taconic Ridge, provided a more reliable source of hydraulic power and supported the establishment of iron processing operations at Copake Falls in the nineteenth century.
The opening of the iron works in the mid-1840s was among the more significant events in the immediate region from an industrial standpoint in the antebellum era. With the closure of the blast furnace established in 1743 at Ancram—the first iron furnace in the Colony of New York—Lemuel Pomeroy II, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts native, moved his operation to Copake Falls in 1845. Iron from the Copake furnace was shipped to Hudson on the Columbia Turnpike until the establishment of the New York & Harlem Railroad, which provided a more reliable and efficient form of transportation, bolstering the efficiency of distribution. Under the direction of Frederick Miles the Copake Iron Works was a thriving enterprise by the 1870s, and the village had grown to approximately 200 citizens, and included two stores, a hotel, the railroad depot, and two churches. Most all of this growth was the direct result of the establishment of the iron works by Pomeroy and its subsequent improvement under the Miles family. The iron industry remained a significant regional industry in Columbia County throughout the nineteenth century. Active mining and processing activities were first undertaken at Ancram, followed later by those at Copake Falls, Hudson, and Chatham, and in the last quarter of the century in the Livingston area by the Burden family. Reverend George Daniels conducted the first Methodist services at Copake Falls, or what was known otherwise at an early date as Copake Iron Works, in Mile’s Grove in the summer of 1882. The community already had an established Episcopal Church, St. John in the Wilderness, the c. 1852 Gothic Revival edifice of which was built to the designs of architect Richard Upjohn’s office. Construction of that building was underwritten by the Pomeroy family to serve the small rural parish then growing up alongside the iron works.
In 1887 that building was the site of an unusual event relating to the early history of the Methodist Church. In that year Fanny Pomeroy Chesbrough Peck and a small number of fellow Episcopalians locked themselves in the church so as to prevent it from being used by the Methodists, who had yet to erect their own building.
By that time the St. John parish had decreased in number—services were sporadic there between 1878 and 1883—suggestive of the changing ethnic and religious composition of the iron works community and its workforce. In addition to the hamlet’s Episcopalians and Methodists, an influx of Irish and other Catholic workers led to the eventual establishment of a church serving that denomination’s needs.
Prior to completion of the nominated building local Methodist services were held for two years in the house of John H. Pulver and attended to by the Reverend Grenville E. Kerr. The Episcopal Church was also used for a time previously, during the downturn in that parish’s activity, notwithstanding the documented effort in 1887 by Peck and others to deny such. Continued and growing interest in the Methodist cause in Copake Falls led to the circulation of a subscription list to fund a construction campaign for a new house of worship.
An indenture dated November 28, 1891 between Frederick Miles and his wife, first part, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, represented by trustees Platt Rogers, Norman Plass and Timothy Loomis second part, deeded the land on which the new building was erected to the group, in consideration of the sum of one dollar. The new church was built at the cost of about $2,000 and was described around the time of its completion as “neat and comfortable and sufficiently commodious.”4 Copake Fall’s Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated on January 13th, 1892, by the Reverend W.F. Compton, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Chatham, New York. Methodist religious services continued to be conducted at the building until 1955, at which time organized Methodist activities there ceased. In 1982 the then-abandoned former church was purchased by the Town of Copake and in 1983 the building was dedicated for its present use, as a museum facility operated by the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society. The small wing was added c. 1991 to support the building’s function in relation to historical society operations.
The former Copake Fall’s Methodist Episcopal Church was largely conceived along straightforward utilitarian lines with a modest level of architectural embellishment. Although the traditional meetinghouse form had been supplanted by more stylish and costly church edifices in most quarters by the end of the nineteenth century, the limited means of this working class, rural congregation kept such a building out of immediate reach. Circumstances instead called for a building which was in many ways still wedded to the traditional meetinghouse type, pleasingly but simply finished and presumably erected by local builders without the services of a professional architect. By the 1870s the Methodist Episcopal Church had begun to take a more active view of architecture, and in 1875 established a Department of Architecture, which disseminated designs by publishing catalogs of architectural plans beginning in 1877. By the early twentieth century many Methodist groups chose to erect substantial works of architecture, as a means of furthering their evangelical mission and as statements of Methodist influence in contemporary American society. The Copake Falls church was nevertheless bound by the generally limited circumstances of its projectors, and erected for a group which had only been established a decade previous.
Stylistically the new church’s design was indebted to Gothic sources; the building’s high end walls and steeply pitched roof provided it with a distinctive vertical emphasis, an effect reinforced by the tall Gothic-arched lancet windows which punctuate the exterior walls. Exterior detailing, notably the barge boards, decorative gable truss and sawn rafter tails, were somewhat commonplace design features by this date and characteristic of the Late Victorian era; these were disseminated in period architectural source material. The interior wall and ceiling surfaces were finished exclusively with beaded-board sheathing, the walls consisting of horizontal boards arranged above vertical wainscot. A modest liturgical area was situated opposite the entrance against the east wall, defined by a shallow dais and a balustered rail. The pews were moveable, allowing for some measure of flexibility so far as use. Heating was accomplished through a wood-burning stove. The building satisfied the modest needs of its congregation and remains today largely as conceived and executed, with a high level of physical integrity.
The Copake Falls Methodist Episopal Church, now the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society Museum, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 11, 2012. The building is owned by the Town of Copake, NY.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, which is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.