A History of Calvary

A History of Calvary

by Marjorie Hobday

Calvary Episcopal Church was incorporated on May 7, 1849.  Since the Church was founded nearly a quarter of a century before the Diocese of Albany, the Bishop of Maryland acted for the Bishop of New York in consecrating the Parish.  The Church building was completed and services were held for the first time on Christmas Day of 1849.   

Burnt Hills is described in Sylvester's 1878 History of Saratoga County as "a pleasant rural village in the south part of (the) town (of Ballston)."  Paper mills, powered by the Alplaus Creek, contributed to the founding of the Parish.  Mill workers from England, employed by Cady Hollister at High Mills, joined local Episcopalians to found a Church in this small hamlet.  The land for the building was donated by Mr. Hollister and Isaac Woolsey.  

The first Rector, The Reverend Edward Davis, D.D., resigned as Rector of St/ Paul's Church in Charlton (founded in 1804 but now closed) to serve the new Parish for six full years - without salary.  Dr. Davis and his family were Calvary's most generous benefactors.  Their gifts to the Parish included the Rectory house and lot in 1856 and, later, another house and lot adjoining the cemetery, which became the home of the Sexton.

The Davis family lived in what is locally known as the "Buell Mansion" at Midline Road and Larkin Drive.  Family members are buried in Calvary's churchyard.  The inscription on Dr. Davis' monument memorializes him as "Eminent for the gentleness of his spirit and the simplicity and the purity of his character...he was respected and beloved by all who knew him for his faithfulness as a minister of the Gospel, his virtues as a Christian, his worth as a man."  Over the years, many grateful Parish members have made gifts to Calvary Church as memorials to loved ones.

The names of the carpenter/architect of the church building, which originally cost $2,500 to erect, is unknown.  Transepts were added in 1858.  In 1877 the Parish Hall, a one story building with horse stalls in the sloping areas beneath, was built.  A second story was added in 1895.  The Hall has been the site of numerous Church and community activities.  Originally heated by wood and coal burning stoves and watered by hand pumps, the Hall has served the Church and the Burnt Hills community well.

Over the years, Calvary has provided a stable place for the worship of God.  Its unique heritage has proudly passed from one generation to the next.  The Parish has endured… sharing times of joy and sorrow, introducing new people to the Savior… through the Civil War and the two World Wars, through the Depression and this area’s transition from a rural to suburban community.

As Burnt Hills and Ballston Lake experienced the post World War II building boom, Church School attendance rose dramatically.  Even with double sessions and classes in the Rectory, more room was needed.  In 1962 the Sexton’s house was moved to a Charlton site to make room for the present Fireside Room and the annex connecting it to the original Parish Hall.  At last there were sufficient classrooms to accommodate the area’s surge of new families with children.

A fire extensively damaged the interior of the Church in 1966.  After careful deliberation, a decision was made to restore the building.  The goal of the planners was to retain the original charm of the then century-old Church while improving the overall effectiveness by enlarging the Sanctuary and building two additions. The master plan was finally realized in full with the completion of the Narthex and Sacristy in 1978.

In 1954, Frances L. Stevens complimented the Church treasurer on his annual report, then added: “It’s time that we at Calvary stop allowing those who have passed on to pave the way for the Church today.”

Over the ensuing decades, Calvary has consistently sought to meet its many financial challenges head-on.  It hasn’t always been easy, but today Calvary Church is proud to look beyond its own immediate financial needs.  Through the help of many living persons, and not just the generosity of the deceased to whom Mr. Stevens referred, Calvary Church is reaching out to help the community and the world at large.

The successful growth of any Church depends upon the ability of its members to recognize the need for change and, then, courageously undertake the necessary alterations with open hearts and minds.  In this respect, Calvary Church has always been richly blessed.  The quaint white building, with its impressive clock tower thrust heavenward, stands proudly on a knoll along Lakehill Road, its well kept exterior and bright interior reflecting years of loving care bestowed upon its faithful parishioners.  Throughout its 150 year history, Calvary Church has remained a beloved landmark in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake community, its bright red doors extending a cheery welcome to all who pass by.

Taken from “Voices of Calvary: a history of Calvary Episcopal Church.  1999