THE EARLY YEARS
Fifty-five men and women petition the New Brunswick Presbytery on November 1, 1791, requesting their own church in Flemington. Some had been worshipping at Amwell First in Reaville, a distance of six miles or about two hours by ox and cart. George Washington was then President. As many in the area at the time were from Europe and spoke many different languages, the legal entity name it took was the Flemington English Presbyterian Church in Amwell, with English being the language used in worship but not necessarily the national origin of its members. A few more than half of the first fifty-five families had distinctly English names; the rest were Dutch, German, Irish, Scottish and French. The petition did not come without controversy, as the Amwell First and Amwell Second churches were concerned a Flemington church would draw from its membership. The Presbytery developed a compromise of sorts by allowing the Flemington church to organize and share The Rev. Thomas Grant as pastor with the Amwell churches, preaching one Sunday a month in Flemington. None of the churches, on their own, could afford a full-time pastor.
The congregation purchased more than an acre of land to the north of a line running east and west about where the War monument now stands, this line marking the northern limit of William Penn's holdings in New Jersey. There, in the part of the present graveyard lying nearest to the church, they broke ground for their own meeting house in the spring of 1793. The original structure was 55 feet by 45 feet.
Still without a full-time pastor, the first two elders were elected by the congregation and ordained, with The Rev. Thomas Grant giving them a "lengthy charge" on their own responsibility. One of the two was Thomas Reading, son of one of the last royal governors of New Jersey. The other was Jaspar Smith, a graduate of the college of Princeton in 1758, an ardent patriot during the Revolution and the president of the board of trustees of Amwell First. It was he who circulated the proposition of relocating the church in Flemington. Failing to achieve this, he signed the petition to Presbytery to establish a separate congregation here, acting as spokesperson for the Flemington Fifty-Five. For the first twenty years or so, the Presbyterian Church in Flemington was little more than a preaching post. The Rev. Thomas Grant led worship, at most one Sunday in three. From 1791 until 1809, when he resigned, he lived near Reaville, too far by the travel time of that day for the congregation to see him very often.
GROWTH IN THE 19TH CENTURY
The interior of the church was completed sixteen years after the exterior was finished. Migration was not to, but through, Hunterdon County for the West, as the land beyond the Appalachians was called in those days. The result was that the congregation was not growing. Enthusiasm was beginning to wane. Faith was at a low ebb. Unable now to have even a part-time minister, and with Jaspar Smith no longer around to bail them out, the congregation elected to go for broke, to call their own full-time minister and to hope they could support him. They called The Rev. Jacob TenEyck Field, who came to live in Flemington, thus making him readily available to the congregation. However, he remained only three years with sincere regrets to the people.
The ruling body of our congregation, the session, resolved to invite Christians of other denominations who were in good standing and in full communion in their own societies to take part in the Lord's Supper with us. The minutes go on to say: "Session was induced to adopt this measure hoping that it would have a tendency to remove some disagreeable prejudices and that charge of uncharitableness which is frequently made against those who pursue a contrary practice." No session since has ever rescinded their action.
The county experiences a depression with frost and ice destroying crops, and extensive migration to Ohio occurs. The congregation, which had so enthusiastically called its own full-time minister, found itself in arrearage of salary to The Rev. John Flavel Clark by $580, more than a year's pay in the dollars of those days. The result of this financial bind was a new arrangement whereby The Rev. Clark became the pastor of both Flemington and of Amwell First, preaching in each place on alternate Sundays. The compromise lasted with considerable success for sixteen years. Relations all around were cordial before, during and after the union, but then Amwell First came to the conclusion that each church would be better served by its own pastor. Given the choice which parish he would take, Mr. Clark chose Amwell First, for reasons unspecified, but perhaps having something to do with the regular payment of his salary, an advantage over his experience in Flemington.
Once more this congregation was on the search for a pastor all its own, but this time the circumstances were more favorable. People were now moving into the area. The Baptists built a new sanctuary. The Methodists established their church. Streets and sidewalks were paved. The Hunterdon County Democrat was founded. The congregation became more and more active in its support of redeeming causes. By the time that The Rev. James Munson Olmstead succeeded Mr. Clark in 1837, the church, now with 101 communicants, was moving steadily forward. During Mr. Clark's pastorate of 21 years, only 127 new members were received. In the eleven year ministry of Mr. Olmstead, the figure was 141. The difference was probably due to the increase in population in the county, up by about a third in the next twenty years. Rev. Olmstead petitioned presbytery for retirement for reasons of health in 1849.
THE CHURCH AND THE CIVIL WAR
All during the decade of the 1850s, the town was continuing to develop. A railroad opened up in Lambertville. Gas lighting was introduced. Municipal water now came through pipes. With a growing church and a growing community, the original meeting house was becoming crowded. Despite many years of improvements, the time had come for a larger church. The old one was torn down, and some of its timbers were used in the new construction, from which again they were taken when the third sanctuary was built and incorporated into its structure. The second church, which stood on the same spot as the present sanctuary, measured 56 feet by 90 feet, twice the size of the original. It was dedicated on May 14, 1857.
In April 1861, the Civil War brought the acceleration of growth in the cities and away from farming villages. The trend was not reversed until the rapid expansion of suburbs after World War II, when Flemington began to grow rapidly again. President Lincoln issued a first call for troops; Governor Olden of New Jersey appealed for volunteers. The first offer in this State was made by the 1st Regiment of the Hunterdon Brigade on the day following the Governor's proclamation. Before the month was out, farewell services were held for troops in the Presbyterian Church. From this small congregation of around 200 members, four men died; two of them, Lambert Boemen and Paul Kuhl, lie buried in our churchyard along with five Revolutionary War soldiers. The pastor himself, The Rev. John L. Janeway, D.D., was given leave of absence on his own request to serve as chaplain in the local regiment.
The Civil War is regarded as the watershed of American history, not simply because it stamped out slavery and secession, but because it marked the beginning of the change from what had been a primarily agricultural to an industrial nation. In 1869, when the Presbytery of New Brunswick installed Dr. Mott as the sixth pastor of the church, membership stood at 210. During the 25 years that followed, 751 new members were added to the roll, 431 by confession of faith and 320 by letter of transfer from other churches. Total membership was 551 net of departures by 1894. One reason for this increase was the leadership of Dr. Mott himself. Small in stature and dynamic in drive, he was very popular. His whole pastorate was marked by growth, not only in membership but in every area of the church's life. With the doubling of membership, the second sanctuary built in 1837 was becoming overcrowded.
A NEW SANCTUARY
Construction began in 1882 on the present sanctuary, which was dedicated on November 1, 1883, the 107th anniversary of the Church, at a cost of $33,000 furnished. The sanctuary is a distinctly period piece, an excellent example of the Akron plan, the church architecture of its time. The stained glass windows, some of them by Tiffany given in memory of church members and Dr. Mott, create an aura of dignity and reverence. It was designed originally for a central pulpit with the communion table standing below it in the pit. Later generations have to some extent divided the chancel by placing the ornate pulpit, a memorial to Dr. Mott, on one side of the platform and the lectern on the other. A great cross, twelve feet high, illuminated by a spot light, floats clear of the organ screen. The form of the cross was suggested by the seal of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as it was then. It is a Celtic cross with a circle behind it, signifying the rising sun of Easter, the emblem of resurrection to eternal life.
Norman Landis, a young man from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, settles in Flemington to become the church organist and choir director, a position which he held until his death in 1956, a total of sixty-one years. Organist, composer, and choirmaster, he lived for the music of this church. He was elected an elder in 1914 and served as clerk of session until 1949. The graciousness of his personality and the high standards of his music are both part of the rich heritage of this congregation. Dr. Mott also retired this year. Dr. Mott was succeeded by the Rev. James Rogan, who expressed his belief in short pastorates. He was succeeded upon his resignation in 1908 by The Rev. August Whitman Sonne, D.D.
Dr. Sonne was of German descent and the only one of the first twelve pastors to leave without expressed appreciation in the minutes of session. His sympathy lay with Germany during World War I, and he left nearly five years after the Armistice that ended the war. He was followed in 1924 by The Rev. James C. McConnell, during whose pastorate a second floor was added to what was then called the Chapel, and which has since been named Fellowship Hall.
THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
The most spectacular event in the history of the county took place with the Lindbergh kidnapping trial. Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh was an aviator and the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. His son, only twenty months old, was killed in the course of abduction. Dr. Barclay S. Fuhrmann, a member of the Flemington Church, was the county physician at the time. It was his duty to visit the accused, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, in his cell every day. Another church member, George K. Large, Esq., a former county judge and prosecutor, was appointed deputy attorney general for the trial under George Wilentz. The trial was held in the county courthouse in Flemington, and it is still referred to by old Flemingtonians, as "the trial." To them there could be no other.
The church's fine pipe organ was built in 1913 by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, CT as Opus 463. The organ was designed by Norman Landis, who was the organist/choirmaster for sixty years (1896-1956). During the 1960s, a new console was installed. In 1970, the organ was renovated under the guidance of George See (son-in-law to Norman Landis) and the church organist John VanSant. The organ consultant was Charles Dodsley Walker, noted New York City organist and past president of the American Guild of Organists. This renovation removed most of the original pipework and resulted in a new organ with 36 ranks (sets of pipes). In 1996 a doppelflöte was added, and in 2002 a tuba was installed. In 2016, a new organ façade on the front wall of the sanctuary was erected that consists of 49 gold speaking pipes ranging from 10-16 feet. It is surrounded by new woodwork made of quarter sawn oak. The centerpiece is the 10 foot Celtic cross that was retained from the former façade. The new pipes are a speaking stop consisting of the pedal violone 16'. Now totalling 39 ranks, the organ has three manuals with a little over 2,000 pipes ranging in size from 16 feet to the size of a pencil. Organ specifications can be found here.