Beard's Hollow Church looks to tell its story
By Jim Poole
There may be no other church that tugs at the heartstrings as Beard’s Hollow Church does.
The church that straddles the Richmondville-Summit town line has had services only in August for years, yet its allure stretches to many across the county––and across the country.
A committee is looking to capture that historic magnetism in a book, and members are asking the public for photos, stories, records and any other material to document the past and present.
“The thought is that we’re not getting any younger, and we want to preserve that history,” said Bob Holt, a committee member.
“Now’s the time to tell the story.”
Ananias P. Jump built Beard’s Hollow Church in 1862, and a Lutheran congregation formed three years later. At one point, Lutherans combined with a Baptist congregation, Mr. Holt said.
The church continued regular services until 1928, when it closed.
In August 1932, Dr. John Van Schaick Jr.––whom many credit with saving the church––reopened it for a service.
“His wife, Julia Romaine Van Schaick, really got it going,” said Charlie Feezel, a book committee member.
“Women didn’t get much credit in those days.”
Ms. Van Schaick continued to play the organ even after Dr. Van Schaick died in 1949.
August-only services started in earnest in 1933 and have continued ever since, with guest pastors giving sermons every Sunday.
After Dr. Van Schaick’s passing, Dr. Eugene Umberger assumed responsibility for organizing the services and continued for nearly 45 years.
And like Ms. Van Schaick, Dr. Umberger’s wife, Peg, was a major force at the church.
It was shortly after Dr. Umberger started that the Beard’s Hollow Society formed to maintain the church for the August services.
Those services became––and still are––immensely popular.
“They had to have police to direct traffic,” said Joan Sondergaard, who’s collecting old news clippings.
Mr. Feezel described membership in the Beard’s Hollow Society as light––only $1 per year.
“But people from all over the country send money,” he added.
Ms. Sondergaard agreed, adding that on August Sundays, there are few dollar bills in the collection baskets.
“Mostly 10s and 20s,” she said.
The Society keeps only enough money to maintain the church; the rest goes to other worthy causes.
Although church traffic required police 60 and 70 years ago, the August services remain popular.
“You go and see people you know from all different churches,” Ms. Sondergaard said.
“The 10:30 hymn sing is a big draw. Someone calls out the hymn and we all sing.”
So what’s the real draw? What’s the attraction of a church open maybe five Sundays a year, plus weddings and christenings?
“I think it’s a little history, a bit of nostalgia,” Mr. Feezel said.
Mr. Holt believes the draw is a little of both, past and present.
“When I deliver a sermon there and the doors are open, you can almost hear the horse and wagon. And then a motorcycle goes by,” he said, laughing.
Ms. Sondergaard’s take is that the Beard’s Hollow attraction is more spiritual.
“The church is about love, the love of the Hollow,” she said. “In this world today, we need more love.”
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The committee––Mr. Holt, Mr. Feezel, Ms. Sondergaard, John Bagdovitz, Ron Davis and Harold Loder––plan to have the book published by the August services in 2024.
They’re looking for any clippings, photos, records and any other information by the end of 2023.
“Stories, photos, anything that pulls things together,” Mr. Holt said.
Anyone with material can call Mr. Holt at (5180 234-3142.