Rensselaerville Presbyterian Church architecture highlighted by Sacred Sites

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

The spire of the Rensselaerville Presbyteran Church, viewed from the cemetery on Methodist Hill Road, pierces the sky. The telescopic steeple has four tiers and is topped by a 30-foot spire.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The architecturally significant Rensselaerville Presbyterian Church will be presented this week as part of the New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Open House, an annual exhibition of select New York religious buildings. It will be the first year the church participates.

The Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program exists to conserve New York religious sites, providing more than $11.5 million in grants since 1986 that assist with various structural projects, according to the organization’s website. 

Its Open House program encourages “sacred sites to open their doors to the general public” and “inspires residents to be tourists in their own town, introducing non-members to the history, art and architecture embodied in sacred places.”

Diana Hinchcliff, who handles communication for the Rensselaerville Presbyterian Church, told The Enterprise in an email that this was the church’s first year participating in the open house. Hinchcliff said she was communicating on behalf of an unnamed member of the church’s congregation, with some information coming from herself.

“While we had been invited to do this in the past for an actual tour,” Hinchliff wrote, “we have never done it because the tours usually occur in the Spring when we are not open.”

Hinchliff wrote that church members don’t know, yet, what will be featured in the slideshow presentation put together by Sacred Sites, which will provide about two minutes per site as it covers 12 sites in 30 minutes, but that the church, built in the 1840s, is “considered one of the finest Greek Revival churches in the country.”  

“It was built along the lines of masonry architecture though executed in wood with the effect of massive stonework obtained by the use of flush siding,” Hinchcliff wrote. “The steeple is architecturally significant because it is supported independently from the main roof.  It is a telescopic steeple with four tiers and topped by a 30-foot spire.  Unlike many earlier meeting houses whose steeples were added later, this steeple was integral to the design of the church.  

“It is supported independently from the main roof over the body of the church by four large columns,” Hinchcliff went on. “Two are on the exterior on either side of the doors.  The other two, incorporated into the design of the interior, carry the load of both the tower and the balcony through to the basement into bedrock.”

The steeple underwent a repair in 2010 that cost $315,000, with some of that money provided by the New York Landmarks Conservancy Sacred Sites Program. 

The church has four two-story windows, Hinchliff wrote, and twelve rows of pews, with a hinged door at the entrance of each.

“The north wall of the sanctuary echoes the entrance, framing the central pulpit, which is raised three steps above the floor,” Hinchcliff wrote. “At the south end, over the entrance to the sanctuary, is a gracefully curved balcony that is reached by narrowly curved stairs on either side of the entrance.  Acoustically, the church is nearly perfect.”

The Sacred Sites Open House will be held over Zoom and feature 30 minutes of presentations followed by a question-and-answer segment. 


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