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Our History

1818: Our Foundation and the Church Building

Our congregation first met on September 8, 1818, when a group of five men and eleven women gathered in a barn... Read More...

1918: Our Centennial Celebration

The most significant change to our church building in the years leading up to our Centennial Celebration was the installation of a new pipe organ in 1917. Read More...

1965: Stained Glass Windows

In 1965, new windows were installed in the sanctuary, as well as the rest of the church. Read More...

1968: Remodeling for Our Sesquicentennial

During the 29-year pastorate of Rev. William J. Cartmell, our building expanded to better serve our community. Read More...

1990s: The Broadcast Era

Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing for about a decade, our Sunday worship services were broadcast on network television. Read More...

2004: Millennial Modernization

The new millennium brought many changes to the church building under our new pastor, Rev. Bev's guidance. Read More...

2018: Our Bicentennial Celebration

In 2018, our newly installed pastor, the Reverend Cara S. Milne, created a small group of dedicated workers to organize an exciting Bicentennial gathering of new and former ministers, members and congregants. Read More...

2020: COVID Shutdown

With only two years in Watkins Glen, Pastor Cara found herself at the helm of another turning point in our congregation's history; or rather, in all of history! A new strain of coronavirus (SARS-COV-2, the virus causing COVID-19) ravaged the world's population as nothing had in the previous century.

Phase I: "New York on Pause"


New York State officially put a stop to all non-essential business starting on 22 March, 2020 at 8:00pm. But we could not forsake the needs of our Christian community, and searched for means to keep assembling as best we could. We examined the problem from several angles, ultimately settling on a multi-front approach:


Personal Contact
In an emergency session, our church Elders voted to contact everyone in the church directory at least weekly. And whether they met with a quick phone chat, a long and deep conversation, a mournful prayer, or even just voicemail, those phone calls were the only contact some church members were able to have with any other human being during those first few months of the "COVID shutdown."


Pastor Cara began recording a brief service from her dining room table each week for publication on our website, beginning on March 22, 2020. These "Sermons from Shutdown" catalog a uniquely strange era in the life of the church; as such, they are included in a separate video channel archive:


Phase II: "Cautious Reassembly"


New York State churches were given permission to resume assembly in June, with caveats that included masking, contact tracing, physical distancing and other sanitary precautions.


Our first post-shutdown in-person service took place on July 12, 2020; months before our Presbytery voted to restore worship services regionally. As such, our Worship and Music Committee drew up a functional set of restrictions, including shortening the service and putting several physical precautions in place. But by this time, of course, we were all accustomed to physical distancing - from Zoom Conferences to Telemedicine - so meeting in person was a blessed event no matter the restrictions!

Physical Distancing

The Building and Grounds Committee discovered that by merely roping off every other pew, we would be able to maintain a 6-foot distance between "sheltering together" families and groups. Masks were required, following state guidelines, and beautifully hand-crafted, multi-layer pocketed fabric face masks were provided at the door, for anyone who might need one. Ushers maintained a list for contact tracing, in case an attendee might test positive for COVID later in the week. Offering plates and 2-Cents-a-Meal collection pots were moved to a table at the back of the sanctuary, and "to-go communion containers" were provided to avoid the risk of passing around any communal objects.



Singing was prohibited until a vaccine could be proven effective. So our initial meetings included only keyboard offerings, as you can see in the video below. But beginning in the fall of 2020, soloists and small groups began performing during the week in our empty sanctuary; recordings were made so that familiar hymns could be played back during worship each Sunday. We would like to thank (in order of first recording) Nan Woodworth, Vicki Kosthorst, Darla Hall, Bob & Bettina King, and especially our keyboardists Joe Orbin (pipe organ and music direction) and Sarah Matthews (piano) for contributing their musical talents in this way.


Cameras were placed around the congregation, and a new Video Ministry was born. After service each Sunday, hymn lyrics were added (along with all those little things that make a video "watchable"), before the videos were uploaded onto our website. Many congregants mentioned attending services and then watching the videos at home in order to sing along with the hymns. These videos are archived in our larger "Worship Services" video channel:

Phase III: "Vaccinated Reassembly"


As medical professionals grew to understand the unique characteristics of this coronavirus more thoroughly, and as congregants received their vaccines and boosters, many of the restrictions have been lifted. But as caring believers, we will always err on the side of public safety, choosing even to inconvenience ourselves so that we might protect the lives of those around us.



We recognize that the death toll from this dreaded disease continues to climb, taking barely over two years to stop the lives of one million Americans, and decimating the lives of millions more. Therefore, we acknowledge that these "phases of reopening" are not necessarily progressive, but could very well cycle back to a complete shutdown again at some future date. We hope that this recounting of events will make it easier to administer if the need should ever arise again, and pray fervently that it never does!

A Final Thought


It should be noted that within the first few months, hundreds of deaths were directly linked to lax assemblies at other regional churches, whose clergy defied all superior knowledge and authority, including the governor's legal orders and health officials' desperate pleas. Our more conservatively phased approach resulted in NO known transmissions from our own gatherings for the entire dreadful 2020-21 period. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

As Pastor Cara wrote in a mailing that outlined our initial restrictions for reopening after shutdown:

"While we recognize that worship may not look the way we remember it, we also know that we are doing our best to keep safe those who are at the most risk around us. None of us wish to be accidentally responsible for the illness or demise of anyone else. Let us always be mindful of our relationship to one another. We are called to be the Body of Christ; and as a body, we are called to show God's love in all we do.

"We are to protect our more vulnerable members from harm and to show them greater deference. We are to serve one another with grace and patience. It isn't ideal, but we know that this situation will not last forever. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!"

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Ongoing: Charitable Programs

As we continue to maintain, repair and refurbish our beautiful Romanesque building, of course, we are ever mindful of the fact that the true Church is the body of believers, and not just a piece of architecture. Read More...

Additional Resources

Much of this information was taken from "A Brief History: United Presbyterian Church of Watkins Glen, N.Y." by Abigail O'Daniels, dtd. October 20, 1968. (Get PDF Reader)


For additional information about the history of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, please refer to extensive resources available at "Presbyterian Historical Society: The National Archives of the PC(USA)."

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Pastors Through the Years
Sixth & Decatur (1868-Present)

2017 Rev. Cara S. Milne

2016 Rev. Cynthia A. Weaver *

2015 Rev. Nancy Meehan Yao *

1997 Rev. Beverly Karr-Lyon †

1996 Rev. Thomas C. Montgomery *

1987 Rev. W. David Ashby
1985 Rev. William R. Knox *
1969 Rev. Clark N. McKinney
1939 Rev. William J. Cartmell
1934 Rev. Clayton T. Griswold
1916 Rev. Arthur B. Herr, D.D.
1910 Rev. James Elmer Russell
1905 Rev. Selden L. Haynes
1893 Rev. Louis F. Ruf
1888 Rev. Bryce K. Douglas
1882 Rev. George D. Meigs
1877 Rev. Milton Waldo D.D.
1876 Rev. William Lowrie
1870 Rev. J.S. McNair

* interim pastor

pastor emeritus


Fifth & Decatur (1847-1868)

1860 Rev. Franklin S. Howe
1855 Rev. Benjamin Russell
1847 Rev. S.B. Shearer


The Savoy Site (1833-1847)

1843 Rev. Samuel Stryker
1838 Rev. Samuel Scott
1836 Rev. Royal West
1835 Rev. Egbert Roosa


The Diven Barn (1818-1833)

1832 Rev. Charles Goodrich
1831 Rev. David Harrower
1829 Rev. Richard Williams
1826 Rev. Jabez Chadwick
1826 Rev. Samuel White
1825 Rev. Henry Ford
1822 Rev. Joseph Crawford
1821 Rev. Lyman Barrett
1818 Rev. Samuel Parker
1818 Rev. David Higgins

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