FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Fulton, New York
By 1809, land grants to discharged Revolutionary War soldiers, water power, the famed eel fisheries, and lumbering had made settlement along the east bank of the Oswego River desirable. The Reverend Isaac Teller, a Methodist circuit rider from the Cortland circuit, discovered Fredericksburgh (as Fulton was then called) and, finding his words well-received, made several return trips.
In 1818, two circuit riders began a powerful revival in this growing area. By 1820, the revival had spent itself, perhaps because of a total of 400 souls had been converted and they had run out of people!
It was in April of 1826 when “Agreeable to previous notice, nine men met to form the First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Volney.” The land for the first church building, believed to be the first in Oswego County for the Methodist denomination, was given by Norman Hubbard with the stipulation that it always be used for church purposes. Land was broken in 1928.
It was in 1826 also, that the cornerstone for the first lock for the Oswego Canal was and the importance of Fulton's now becoming part of the Erie Canal System meant that Fulton had a steadily growing population needed to meet the demands of this increasing commerce.
As early as 1838, our church hosted the Methodist Black River Conference. In addition, graduations from Falley Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary until 1849 when it was run by the Methodist Conference, were held in the church.
In 1893 a group broke from the First Methodist Episcopal Church to establish another congregation in the southern part of the village. The State Street Methodist Episcopal Church was built on the northwest corner of South Fourth and State Streets, where it flourishes and serves today.
In 1893, Dr. Daniel Lake, a devoted and faithful servant of his church, offered to exchange his home, which occupied the northwest corner of North Third and Oneida Streets for a "commodious parsonage."Dr. Lake's generosity meant that First Church now owned the corner property plus the adjacent original property given by Norman Hubbard.
The May 15, 1894 cornerstone-laying ceremonies also saw the origin of a collection to build a parsonage on the site of the original church which was to be torn down. The new church would have frontage on Third Street of 80 feet and 104 feet on Oneida Street. But a parsonage was only one project of First Methodist Episcopal Church during the first decade of the 1900's.
In 1903, the church received its first scholarship to Syracuse University. Said scholarship was to be awarded each year at a regular meeting of our Board of Trustees "to that member of the Sunday School in good standing who shall seem most deserving of the honor."
The following year (in 1904) a pipe organ was installed in the First Methodist Episcopal Church. "The cost of the superb instrument and its installation will probably not exceed $6,000."
It was made possible by the generous offer of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, who gave $1,500 on condition the balance of the purchase price should be raised and paid in cash." (The Fulton Times)
One hundred years after Isaac Teller first happened upon the two small settlements at the Oswego River Falls, the First Methodist Episcopal Church had a membership of 289, a Sunday School of 280, and Epworth League of 75 and a church property worth fully $30,000.
The next great anniversary observation at First Methodist Episcopal Church, Fulton was the Centennial of the First Methodist Episcopal Society of Fulton, 1926.
The designated dates of the celebration were April 15-18.This three-day song service to a historical review of the past hundred years. Another feature of the day was the launching of the drive for the Memorial Fund for which a nucleus of $6,500 had already been secured.
Another part of the Centennial observation was the ground-breaking for the Parish House (later to be called the Century Church House). The Rev. A. E. Legg had proposed the idea of a parish house that the church might better serve the community.
In November of 1940, a great celebration was held when Reverend Charles Bollinger announced that the balance of the church mortgage had been paid by two dedicated members. The church was now debt-free! In this same year, the three branches of the national Methodist Church unified and our corporate title was changed to “First Methodist Church of Fulton, New York.”
In 1942 the congregation bade farewell to Rev. Bollinger and welcomed the Reverend Webster Melcher. This was six months after Pearl Harbor and First Methodist members helped with Red Cross work and assistance to local servicemen and continuing the Scouting program. Dr. Legg's vision of a parish/community house had been fulfilled when by 1951 the following groups met there: The Red Cross Blood Bank came ten times a year, the Rotarians and Kiwanians, and the Masons were among service groups holding banquets there, the Garden Club's Annual Flower Show and speakers for large groups.
This accelerating rhythm continued until 1961. On Sunday, August 6, 1961, the usual worship service was held in the First Methodist Church sanctuary. It was the last service held in the 1894 church. On the night of August 10, 1961, the church building was entirely destroyed by fire. Yet faith was not dead. Phoenix-like, it stirred even that day.
Members organized searches of the ashes and debris. They discovered the safe, which had fallen into the basement. The records inside the safe were scorched around the edges, but essentially intact.
Homer Ludington searched through the debris until he unearthed a pair of bronze urns and Paul Driscoll, the custodian, found the 1877 church bell, cleaned it, and after nearly 100 years of service, it sits at the front entrance of our present church.
The Ecumenical and surrounding community organizations pitched in as well. Immaculate Conception offered to print our bulletins the next Sunday. Many churches offered facilities, as did the Chamber of Commerce and the Polish Home. The Polish Home facilities were used for our worship services for the next three years, while weekday activities were held in other churches.
The church office was set up in the former Singer Sewing Machine Store at 72 South First Street. A new parsonage was purchased at 91 Baldwin Road. Wesley Choir rehearsed at the Baptist Church, as did the Cherub Choir. The Women's Society met in the Minetto Methodist Church. The Adult Choir rehearsed at the State Street Church. Senior Youth Fellowship met in private homes, and congregational meetings to plan the Building Fund Canvass were held at the Presbyterian Church.
The Building and Site Committee recommended the ground south on Route 48 overlooking the Oswego River and in 1962 the site was approved. The following guidelines were paramount in considering the style and design of the new church:
1. The church must be functional in every respect.
2. First consideration shall be given to the youth of the church in considering overall requirements.
3. The church plan must look like a church in order to provide the proper religious atmosphere and feeling of reverence from both outside the church and within.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held June 16, 1963, the cornerstone laying service followed on November 3, and the final step came on October 25, 1964, with a Service of Consecration held in the newly completed First Methodist Church of Fulton.
First United Methodist Church and the Christian Missionary Alliance made a historic exchange of buildings, and on September 14, 1986, this congregation moved to its present home on Curtis Street in Fulton. A Service of Dedication was held on November 23, 1986.
Throughout the years, for most of those attending, the corporate fellowship was probably more important than the changes in architecture and location of the places of worship. Certainly Rev. James B. Burwell, pastor from 1964-68 expressed this succinctly in his sermon of the day on “What is the Church?” by saying that, despite the changes in site, location, type of architecture, the church itself lives on, and will live on and outlast even those who believe in the vital pace of the church in the changing storms of life, and that are privileged to play a part in the ongoing mission of the church.
Our Present Day Church