Edgehill Church in Spuyten Duyvil opened its doors last Sunday for the first time since it became the new headquarters of the Kingsbridge Historical Society. It is a windfall and an enormous responsibility for a small group of local history buffs who plan to restore and make it into a hive of activity in northwest Bronx.
Edgehill Church’s two remaining members — Carolyn Abernathy and Thomas Bird — dissolved its religious corporation and gifted the property to the nonprofit organization in December.
More than 500 people poured into the chapel over the course of the afternoon, many of whom hadn’t laid eyes on its familiar charms for decades. Copies of the Pilgrim Hymnal were still tucked into the seating.
It seemed everybody wanted to shake Abernathy’s hand.
“I’m very happy that I signed it over to the right people,” she said. “Everybody in the world wanted to buy this property.”
The “sneak peak” came with a few caveats. The church is unheated and has had no running water since 2018, when a pipe broke in the basement and the city shut off the property’s water main to halt the deluge.
“So bundle up,” the organizers warned in their invitation.
Most kept their coats and scarves on, but it was a balmy day for late January.
“Personally, I think having a historical society in a historical building is wonderful,” said Terri Levine, who has lived on Palisade Avenue for more than 50 years.
Richard Reay, a former Edgehill Church member, said he was happy to see it become a gathering place once again. “It’s part of our collective memory,” he said.
The event was a homecoming for Reay, who moved to Duchess Country three years ago. Reay and his late wife, who passed away 10 years ago, were married in an interfaith ceremony at the church in 1982.
It was an overcast day, he recalled. “When the ceremony was over, we all stepped outside, and just as my wife and I came out, the clouds broke, and a shaft of light landed right on the door.”
At the time the Rev. William Tieck said it was a good omen.
“I could see us doing that again,” said Tom Carey, a board member of the Kingsbridge Historical Society.
Members have been dreaming up a variety of future uses for the venue, he said. Aside from the historical society’s meetings, small weddings, baptisms, local group meetings, and even string concerts and choral groups might be in the cards.
They hope to make their archives available to researchers and members of the public.
Of course, it will take a lot of work to get there. Kingsbridge Historical Society president Nick Dembowski said the first phase of fundraising will go towards surveying the building and assessing its state of repair.
The church needs a lot of work, especially in the basement where the brunt of the damage occurred from the burst pipe five years ago. The boiler will need to be replaced.
More than 80 people signed up to become members of the Kingsbridge Historical Society during Sunday’s event.
The organization charges a rock-bottom price of $10 for annual membership.
Prospective grant funders will look favorably on their increasing membership, Carey noted.
Edgehill Church has more or less maintained its autonomy over the centuries. It was affiliated with the Presbyterian church in the 19th century, though trustees referred to it as a “union church organization” in their minutes. The trustees voted to incorporate the church in 1917 and sold the chapel and its land to the new entity, Edgehill Church of Spuyten Duyvil, for $1. In 1939, Edgehill joined the Congregational Church, now the United Church of Christ.
The late Rev. Tieck, the founder of the Kingsbridge Historical Society and one of the borough’s preeminent historians, became Edgehill’s pastor shortly after retiring from St. Stephen’s Church in Kingsbridge.
The two organizations will now remain intertwined in the era to come.
“There’s been wave after wave of people today,” said Carey.
“The place is really crowded. Originally, I thought there’d be about a hundred people. It’s the winter, there’s the (NFL playoffs) football game. But we’re really happy with the enthusiasm.”
To become a member of the Kingsbridge Historical Society or make a donation, visit KingsbridgeHistoricalSociety.org/donate.