For the past few decades, alone and sadly neglected, the Rossville Church and Cemeteries silently stood, a reflection of the soul and spirit of the people of our Town on State Route 32, just a little bit north of the intersection with Mill Street. Uniquely located on both sides of the highway, many people have passed by on their daily commute, it being just glimpsed and quickly forgotten. So let’s take a look at this treasure we have.
In the early 1800s, a devoted group of Town residents took to gathering and celebrating their faith without any formal location in their immediate area dedicated to their religion. Other churches of the Methodist Episcopal Parish had begun to take formation in Fostertown, Middle Hope, and Plattekill. One hundred and ninety-one years ago, one did not simply hop in their automobile and quickly drive to Sunday services at a considerable distance. It took time with a team of horses and a carriage, both ways.
William Penny, along with other strong-minded community members, stepped up and took command of the issue. On March 23rd, 1831, for the meager sum of $10.00, William Penny and his wife, Hannah, conveyed the real estate for the church and cemeteries, along the Plattekill Turnpike, for the purpose of establishing their community’s own place of worship, to the original trustees: William Penny, Gilbert Lockwood, Nehemiah Barber, Thomas Aderton, John Bushfield, Thomas Bushfield, and Alvah Waring.
In 1878, an addition was added to include a choir loft and foyer. The glorious stained glass windows display various family names, including some on my own family tree. On April 1st, 1926, the Rossville Cemetery Association was formally incorporated and came into being.
The original number of directors to facilitate affairs and run the organization was decided to be nine. Some of you will not only recognize the names of these first directors, but also will be related to them: George A. Fowler, Frank E. Lozier, Andrew D. Hartshorn, Cassie M. Drake, Charles W. McConnell, Frank Presler, John D. Fowler, William A. Harris, and Thomas J. Aderton.
As the end of the Twentieth Century was drawing to a close, attendance had dwindled and the decision was made to close the church and deed the church building over to the Rossville Cemetery Association in the hope and intent to establish a library and museum. The building was given a new roof, repairs were made, and everything was painted. Despite contributions from individuals and heartfelt work, the project never achieved this goal.
As a member of the Fostertown Cemetery Association, I was approached to consider taking over everything at Rossville. With a bit of caution, I accepted. Records were unavailable and had been lost and misplaced over the past four decades. I began researching and digging and slowly found most of them one by one, with the hope of finding more in the future. We reformed and re-energized the Rossville Cemetery Association in 2019, to save this historic building, which will reach its 200th Anniversary in 2031, and began putting together plans.
As the interior was empty, we were able to put together some funds by hosting a movie shoot. We had a lawnmower donated and began maintaining the property while taking an aggressive stance at removing brush, vines, and trees which had begun overwhelming the grounds. Grave marker cleaning workshops were hosted to educate our community in the best and desired techniques to clean and preserve the stones. A great local contractor, Eric Hansen, stepped up and donated his services to pressure wash the front steps. Eric’s family were members of this congregation for many years and a number of generations.
The group has refiled and updated all the paperwork required by the IRS for a non-profit, which was a bit slow happening due to COVID. Last year we took an aggressive posture with clearing the fence lines and were blessed with the help of our neighbors and friends, like Steve Williamson. We recognized we needed to protect the structure from the elements while we worked on securing outside funding. One of our members, Wendy Glass, with the help of Lars, another dedicated individual, did an outstanding job of removing all the paint and crud from the front doors, caulking and refinishing them, and then applying a fantastic paint combination which is outstanding.
We also managed to scrape and sand down the bottom portions of the building to bare wood before applying multiple coats of paint to preserve the original wood. We hope to see more community participation to assist in this project as we move forward. We have a series of fundraising projects in the works which will not only improve our meager financial status but also enlighten and provide our community with details of the lives of the people who were committed and associated with Rossville in the past. Watch for upcoming events of this nature which will be posted.
This coming Saturday, April 30th, our Association will begin cleaning the interior. We will also be resurrecting the sign for the church which was graciously restored by Apple Valley Signs. Thanks, Kim! Anyone wishing to drift by in the afternoon will gladly be welcomed. Anyone wishing to participate should contact me and I can provide more details. All are welcome.