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Church History

The Neshanic Reformed Church has a long history and rich tradition in serving the central New Jersey community. It is the oldest church in New Jersey that is still in continuous use for its original purpose.

God has richly blessed our Church through the years with gifted pastors, a faithful congregation and many opportunities to serve Him.

Originally founded by the early Dutch settlers who were mostly farmers, today, the Neshanic Reformed Church welcomes members from a wealth of diverse backgrounds, and from all walks of life.

We come together to worship and serve.

 

The Founding of Neshanic Reformed Church

Early Neshanic pioneers traveled for worship to Noortbrensch Church at the junction of two branches of the Raritan River until 1737 when, records say, the church was destroyed by fire. The congregation rebuilt the church nearly on the site of the present Readington Church.

Because of the long distance to Readington, the almost impassable roads, the difficulty in crossing the South Branch in times of high water and the increasing population in Neshanic, a group of prominent Neshanic citizens petitioned the Noortbrensch consistory for the right to organize a new church at Neschennick. The petition was drawn up under the supervision of Rev. John Frelinghuysen who had been serving Raritan, Six Mile Run, Sourland (Harlingen) and Noortbrensch (Readington).

On the 25th of August, 1752 at Neschennick, the consistory of Noortbrensch elected elders and deacons for the new church. The site of the church was determined to be “on the Amwell Road between the residences of Laurence and John DeMott on the knoll on the North side of the road". Work on the present stone structure was begun in 1759. The walls, windows and roof were completed by January 1763 and it is concluded that the congregation met in the church unfinished until it was completed in December 1772.

The construction of the church was begun during the pastorate of Rev, Jacobus Rutsen Hardenberg who married Dinah, the widow of Rev. Frelinghuysen. For two winters of the war of the Revolution, Dominie Hardenbergh and General George Washington lived side by side in Somerville, the former in the old Dutch Parsonage and the latter in the Wallace House forming “a friendship warm and enduring”.

In 1761 Neshanic united with the Sourland (Harlingen) Church in calling Rev. Johannes Martienis Van Harlingen. At this point the walls of the church must have been about half way up. Rev. Van Harlingen was born near Millstone and lived in Sourland while he served both churches for the rest of his life. He must have been well thought of in Sourland, for they named the church for him. He preached almost exclusively in the Dutch language until near the close of his life when he attempted to preach in English to satisfy the younger people of the church.

During Van Harlingen’s pastorate, in January of 1774 New Shannick and New Millstone consistories met together to call jointly Rev. Christiaan Frederick Foering, the preaching at Neshanic to be in English. Rev, Foering was born in Hanover, Germany about 1736. To escape the dreaded time when her son would have to serve in the army and perhaps lose his life like his father, Christiaan’s determined mother strapped her seven year old son to her back one cold winter’s night and skated across the Rhine to freedom and finally arrived in America. When Washington’s troops were camped near the Millstone River in January of 1777 on their march from the battlefields of Trenton and Princeton to their winter encampment at Morristown, the patriotic Foering scoured his parsonage for all the food he could find and divided it up among the half starved troops, Foering preached a very patriotic sermon which lead to the formation of a company of soldiers from his congregation. The British sent out a party of troops to capture him, but, forewarned, he escaped. The Red Coats came and searched the house for "that rebel Foering", thrusting swords through every bed in the house. They did not find him, but because of having left the house sick and suffering from exposure to the cold and bad weather, he returned to his home and died. He was buried under the church in Millstone, where his body still lies.

A charter was granted to the "Reformed Protestant Dutch Church at New Shannick in Hillsborough in the County of Somerset" on April 6, 1775 by George the Third, just thirteen days before the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was signed by the Governor of the New Jersey Province by William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin.

 

Highlights From Our Past To The Present

1752 - Organization of the church.

1759 - Construction of the present structure began.

1760 - Land deeded.

1761 - Johannes Van Harlingen called to be the church's third pastor; active, not only in the service of his church, but in establishing first Reformed seminary in colonies.  He served 33 years.

1762 - Building finished except for the galleries.

1772 - Galleries built.

1775 - Church charter granted.

1775 - Rev. Christiaan Frederick Foering, fourth pastor, called to serve jointly with New Shannick and New Millstone. Served 1775-1779.

1775 - In May, the first Somerset Minutemen formed in the Neshanic church lot to serve with General Washington in the American Revolution.

1780 - Rev. Solomon Froeligh called to serve Millstone and Neshanic. He resided in Millstone. Served 1780-1786.

1794 - William Smith called to be church's sixth pastor. To accommodate the many younger members, he conducted one of the two Sunday services in English. Served 26 years until 1820.

1796 - Church seal adopted.

1797 - A petition was brought before the consistory to adopt a certain set of tunes "suitable to the different metres in the low Dutch Psalm-book and proper to be sung in church."

1798 - Rev. Henry Polhemus called to serve Harlingen and Neshanic, as Neshanic's seventh pastor. He served with Rev. Smith until 1808.

1803 - At a congregational meeting it was decided to repair the roof at a cost of $660.00 and to not have a “belfry”. 1809-1821 - Rev. Peter Labagh served Harlingen and Neshanic.

1821 - Neshanic Church decided it was strong enough to walk alone and it was decided that Rev. Labagh should serve Harlingen alone.

1821 - Gabriel Ludlow is called to be church's ninth pastor. Served 57 years.

Rev. Ludlow was paid a “sallery” of $600.00 a year, later changed to $580.00 and 15 cords of wood.During his ministry he received 728 church members, baptized 910 infants, married over 500 couples and preached nearly 8,000 sermons.In 1828 Rev. Ludlow’s house and farm of 100 acres was bought from him near Flagtown and became the parsonage “rent free on condition that he obligate himself to keep it in repair at his own expense".

1830 - The school district was permitted to erect a school on the church grounds.

1832 - The church edifice was enlarged by a 15 foot addition toward the North. While the church was being repaired, the congregation met in barns.

1837 - The cupola is repaired. Church bell bought about this time.

1850 - Nineteen members dismissed at formation of the Branchville (South Branch) Church.

1853 - Third parsonage purchased.

1869 - Sugar maples were planted on the church grounds.

1871 - Fiftieth Anniversary of Dr. Ludlow’s ordination celebrated.

1875 - John Hart called to be church's tenth pastor. Paid $1,200 per year and given use of a parsonage and six acres of land. Served 47 years, during which time he received 756 new members, baptized 456 infants, married 338 couples and officiated at 725 funerals.

1879 - New School house built on church grounds. The school is now the central part of the chapel.

1880 - New hymnals of the Reformed Church in America were bought.

1880 - The offering envelope system was introduced.

1881 - Consistory passed resolution to have monthly collection of pew rentals rather than quarterly. Envelopes for this purpose were placed in the pews.

1890 - Church repaired and ceiling frescoed.

1890 - Grape juice substituted for wine in the communion service.

1893 - Iron pipe was bought for tie-posts.

1902 - The 150th Anniversary of the church was celebrated. Seven hundred persons attended. Extensive and substantial improvements were made in the interior of the church. A stamped steel ceiling and sidewalls were put on, the wood of the interior walls was freshly painted and varnished, a new carpet was laid, four new stoves were installed and the stained glass windows were repaired.

1915 - Pipe organ installed.

1922 - Consistory resolved that pew rentals be discontinued and that there be "free pews" in church.

1922 - The Daily Vacation Bible School was inaugurated.

1922-1926 - Rev. John J. Van Strien served as our 11th pastor.

1925 - Stone chimney erected at North end of church

1926 - Church struck by lightning causing damage to interior and setting tower on fire. Since there were no fire engines in town as yet, the fire was put out by a bucket brigade.

1926 - George B. Scholten called to be church's 12th pastor. Served over 30 years.

1928 - Church wired for electricity.

1929 - The church interior was redecorated by the Ladies Aid Society. A new hardwood floor was laid, choir drapes were hung and seat cushions were recovered.

1932 - The first pancake and sausage supper was put on by the consistory. The hog cost five cents a pound. $47.08 was cleared.

1933 - Running water was installed in the chapel by connecting with the water system at the parsonage. The ditch was dug by the men of the church.

1943 - The parsonage was reshingled.

1949 - A new stoker furnace was installed.

1949-1951 - Chapel enlarged by addition of wing to the East.

1950 - Church incorporated under name of Neshanic Reformed Church; a new seal was secured.

1951 - The last of the tie-posts were removed.

1952 - Two Hundredth Anniversary celebrated.

1957-1961 - Rev. Richard E. Dietrich served as the 13th pastor.

1958 - Low voltage, pulpit-controlled lighting was installed.

1962-1968 - Raymond C. Ortman served as church's 14th pastor.

1963 - Two hundred fifty hymnals were purchased for use in worship services.

1965 - Drive-in speakers were installed for the handicapped.

1967 - New stained glass windows were installed in rear and side walls of the church.

1968-1976 - Rev. Forest L. Decker served as 15th pastor.

1972-1976 -- Chapel renovated and expanded; pastor's study and fireside room added; parking lot extended.

1976 - Church celebration of the Nation’s Bicentennial with special worship services and display of records and artifacts.

1977 - The fourth parsonage was sold.

1977 - Glen O. Peterman called to be church's 16th pastor. October 30, 1977 - 225th Anniversary service with Rodney Frelinghuysen, a direct descendant of the church's first pastor, as guest speaker.

1982 - The Harry and Alida K. Totten organ installed. Organ has 20 ranks and 1,097 pipes.

1984 - Neshanic Hotel across the road from church was purchased to allow space for growing Christian education program.

1990 - Work on music building, "The Link," begun.

1991 - "The Link" was dedicated. Construction of the education building was begun.

1991 - Consistory hired Tom C. Comella, Sr., as the Assistant to the Minister.

1993 - Rev. E. Royden Weeks was hired to serve as Interim Minister upon the retirement of Glen Peterman.

1993 - A Director of Children's Music was hired to continue the fine music program instituted by Charlotte Peterman.

1993 - Education building (The Nurture Center) was completed and dedicated.

1993 - The Christian Nurturing Center nursery school was opened with an enrollment of 57 students. Christine Herbst was hired as the school's director. Initial start-up monies were acquired from loans made by church members.

1994-2000 - Rev. Richard J. Tiggelaar served as 17th pastor.

1996 - The "church house" (former Neshanic Hotel) across Amwell Road was sold.

1997 - The Christian Nurturing Center flourished with an enrollment of 150 children-- almost all from non-church families.

1999 - Library and resource center opened in the Nurture Center building.

1999 - New church steeple built and installed by Bell Atlantic Mobile at no cost to church.

2001 - Rev. Ruth Robbins was called as Interim Pastor from April to September.

2001 - Rev. David J. Hill called to be the church's 18th pastor and was installed on October 14.

2001-2003 – Sanctuary refurbished through the Anna Mae Labaw bequest.

2002 - Two Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary celebrated.