For sanctuary with storied past, the future awaits
The South Newfane Baptist Church in this 1921 photo by Windham County traveling photographer Porter C. Thayer.

For sanctuary with storied past, the future awaits

South Newfane Baptist Church property is transferred to South Newfane Community Association; community members hope future owner will retain structure’s historical integrity and find new uses for space

SOUTH NEWFANE — After just two weeks on the market, the South Newfane Baptist Church at 380 Dover Rd. is seeing interest by potential buyers.

Community members have come together to facilitate the next phase for the 180-year-old church in the village center with the Board of Trustees of the South Newfane Baptist Church having transferred its assets, including the historic church, to the South Newfane Community Association (SNCA) in March.

The transfer is the result of the dissolution of the South Newfane Baptist Church and the outcome of discussions that began nearly a year ago between the two organizations.

“Our organizations have been neighbors sharing members since the beginning of the South Newfane Community Association,” said SNCA Board Chair Maia Segura.

A strategic planner, Segura is principal and co-founder of Creative Catalyst Communications, an integrated marketing communications firm focused on education, community, and economic development projects for both corporate and nonprofit clients.

“As community members, we look forward to continuing to work together to create a more vital community center for everyone,” she said.

In turn, the South Newfane Community Association is looking to sell the church to an owner who will maintain its historic structural integrity over the long term.

Facilitating the church's transition into its next life will allow proceeds of the church sale to remain in the community, “where benefits from the sale will continue to improve life within the village as a legacy of the South Newfane Baptist Church.”

The last service in the building was held on June 2, 2019. By then, the congregation had thinned to a handful of parishioners. Due to the pandemic, no additional services followed.

The possibilities

Overall, the church, listed for $299,000, is in “excellent shape,” said Segura, although one piece of work must be undertaken to secure the foundation.

And, given the age of the building, the SNCA assumes the building contains lead paint.

“What is most impressive is for a building so old is that the roof doesn't leak and there is no mold,” Segura said.

The church still has its original stained glass windows from the early 1900s, and they will be sold with the building. Segura said “most likely” the pews will also remain intact.

Renovation costs depend “on what folks want to do with it,” she said.

The classic New England white clapboard church, built in 1841, includes a four-spire steeple, stained glass windows, choir loft, and working hand-operated steeple bell.

The building includes a 2,000-square-foot sanctuary space with a high, open ceiling and a large separate meeting room with full kitchen and a bathroom.

In back of that is a two-bay, post-and-beam storage shed with the original outhouse still intact, and a view of the Rock River.

Church and town history intertwined

The history of the church is integral to the history of South Newfane, says Segura.

The “Baptist Society of Marlboro and Newfane” was established in 1791, meeting at the home of Nehemiah Fisher on Auger Hole Road, a half mile from the current site of the church.

In 1840, Pardon Perry deeded land for the current building site in the village for $40, then known as Perry's Mills. The following year, the present church, with its four-spire steeple and choir loft, was built at the cost to parishioners of $1,500 - about $46,000 today.

When the building was completed, a bell was presented to the Society by Caleb Pond, a wealthy Hartford, Conn., merchant and former church member, “to be rung on the Sabbath and on all funeral occasions.”

For his kindness, the village was renamed Pondville until 1884, when it settled on its current name of South Newfane and the congregation became the South Newfane Baptist Church.

Throughout the years, the assembly took a strong stand on issues.

In 1848, the congregation added an article to its original covenant expressing its opposition to slavery: “We will not admit anyone to our communion table nor to preach in our desk who holds slaves or upholds the system of slavery.”

Other resolutions were adopted in the early years which included disapproving of selling or buying lottery tickets or engaging in other acts of gambling, disapproving of secret societies such as Odd Fellows or the fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, and promising “not to use any intoxicating liquors or traffic in them or provide them as beverages for our friends or person in our employ - except as medicine - and we will, in all suitable ways, discountenance their use throughout the community.”

In 1912, the church's iconic stained glass windows were created in Boston and dedicated. They represent local families, including the Bruces, Swarts, Goodnows, Bickfords, Baileys, and Aldriches.

Throughout the years, the church served the community as a meeting destination and place of worship, actively holding services except in winter months. In recent years, as the local congregation diminished, trustees came to rely on the donations from patrons outside the community.

The South Newfane Village Little Free Library, established by the church in 2016, will move this spring to a refurbished space across the road in the South Newfane Schoolhouse, the home of the SNCA.

The nonprofit SNCA was founded in 1956 to assume ownership of the South Newfane Schoolhouse, built in the 1880s, from the town for $1. Since then, the Association has worked to promote local history and cultural activities for the community.

Countless events have been held at the schoolhouse, including evenings of storytelling, the annual Rock River Artists Tour, craft shows, talent shows, and cabarets, as well as hosting residents who have been married in the schoolhouse.

Community and commerce

Zoned commercial, the lot is half an acre.

The church is across the street from the Treehouse Village Inn, which has been owned by Mike and Ginger Gammel for the past five years and was recently sold to a couple from Boston.

The Gammels rented out five rooms and, in 2018, famed treehouse designer Pete Nelson of the television show Treehouse Masters built a treehouse on their property for guests to stay in. The new owners, said Ginger Gammel, “may end up renting some rooms."

Interest in the church has been percolating.

“We have had a fair bit of interest in the building already,” said Segura. “Some people have expressed interest in turning the building into a home, which is doable given the kitchen and bath that are in the spacious sanctuary, although a new owner would probably want to upgrade both.”

She said a few artists have looked at the space and imagined how it might become a music or painting studio. SNCA board members have also thought the space might work well as a shop with a small home in back, or as a restaurant.

“South Newfane is aching for more business opportunities and this site, right in the center of the village, could provide a great opportunity,” Segura said.

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