A Short History of the Origins of
The First Reformed Church of Bethlehem
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the history of the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem is the mystery surrounding its establishment.
Tradition has it that the church was first organized in 1763. Although no precise date for the beginning of services has yet been determined, recent investigations indicate that they were being conducted in the Selkirk/Jericho part of Bethlehem in the early 1760's. At that time, Bethlehem was part of the town of Watervliet. These services were probably conducted by the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schodack who crossed the Hudson River to minister to worshipers.
The mystery of the church's beginnings is deepened by references of early inhabitants to a "little red church" which existed in the late 18th century and perhaps beyond. Evidence that a building existed prior to the first recorded church may be found in early consistory minutes which refer to the auction of church pews and the purchase of building materials.
In any event, on December 26, 1791, the "Reformed Protestant Dutch at Bethlehem and Jericho" (Selkirk) was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York. Its name was later changed to the present one.
The church property was greatly enhanced by a grant of property from Stephen Van Renssalaer, proprietor of the Manor Van Renssalaerwyck on December 24, 1795. The property was to be held until "divine services shall cease to be performed by the said congregation in the church aforesaid." A later survey showed the size of the grant to be 105.84 acres.
The first permanently ordained minister was the Reverened George Bork, who accepted a call from the church on February 27, 1798 and the first service by him was the first Sunday in March of that year. Services were conducted in English and Dutch on alternate weeks.
The first church building of which there is a written record was erected in 1821. In March 1890 it was destroyed by fire. Immediately thereafter, work was started on a new building on the same site. This church was rapidly completed and was dedicated on November 20, 1890.
After more than 123 years, services for the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem continue to be held in this building.