The founding of Old Dutch Church in 1659 was a result of direct solicitation to Peter Stuyvesant by early settlers of the area, the third oldest settlement in New Netherland. The Classis of Amsterdam, Holland, responded by sending a Dominie (Pastor). Local settlers immediately organized the church. This first Dominie was particularly active in the Second Esopus War of 1663, administering to the sick and dying and reporting this incident to the authorities in New Amsterdam and Holland.
From its founding, meticulous preparation of baptism and marriage records have been kept, from 1659 to the present. The details included in these records make them a boon to historians and genealogists alike. The church maintains a museum that houses these records and other artifacts. The museum is open to the public for research, under the direction of a church historian.
The present church structure is the third to be sited on the same plot of land inside the Stockade Area of Kingston, as established by Peter Stuyvesant and later confirmed by the first British governor of New York in 1664.
In 1719, a charter of incorporation was granted to the Old Dutch Church by King George of England, confirming title to the half acre of land on which the church and cemetery are located.
At the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Dominie at the time used the pulpit of Old Dutch Church to zealously advocate the cause of liberty. In 1777, the British marched on Kingston, the capital of New York State, sacking and burning the city, including the church, in retaliation against the spirit of independence. The first church structure, built in 1680, was restored following the Revolutionary War.
The burial ground surrounding the church has existed since its inception. The earliest gravestone, preserved in the museum, dates to 1710. There are at least 71 Revolutionary War veterans interred in the churchyard.
A later burial in the churchyard is that of Governor and Vice-President George Clinton, whose body was transferred from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to the Old Dutch Burial Grounds in 1908.
In 1782, then General George Washington visited Old Dutch Church and sent a letter acknowledging his visit. The original of this letter has been preserved. This visit is commemorated each year by the Washington Day Dinner, a tradition of 84 years. Speakers at this annual event have included such notables as then Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
Other presidents who have worshiped at Old Dutch Church over the years were Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant, and Chester Arthur.
For over 175 years, Old Dutch was the only church in Kingston, ministering to the needs of people of a variety of faiths and nationalities. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Old Dutch Church spawned over 50 daughter churches throughout the Hudson River Valley.
In 1816, Old Dutch Church established the first Sunday School in Ulster County "to teach the people of color to read the Bible" and also looking forward "to the time when people of color will be entitled to the rights of citizenship."
Prior to and during the Civil War, the Dominie of the time vigorously supported the Union cause. Many men from the congregation were enlisted in the N.Y. 120th Infantry under the command of General George H. Sharpe, a prominent parishioner. The flags presented to this regiment and carried into battle are displayed in the Narthex of the present structure of Old Dutch Church. Following the Civil War, General Sharpe presented a statue, entitled "Patriotism", as a memorial to the 120th Infantry. The statue, placed in the church graveyard, is unique, being the only one ever erected by a general to his men on a plot deeded to the monument itself.
During the Civil War, the 1832 structure of Old Dutch Church housed a New York State Armory and field hospital. By that time, the Sanctuary was housed in the third and present structure built in 1852, a hundred yards from the second and just a few feet from the site of the first.
In 1882 or 1883 the first reinforcement (stone buttresses) were placed on the east wall.
During WWI, WWII and as recently as 9/11, Old Dutch Church has served as a bastion of support and comfort for the residents of Kingston and beyond.
The significant role of Old Dutch Church throughout American history was recognized in the 20th century by visits from both Queen Juliana and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
Evers, Alf. Kingston, City on the Hudson
Overlook Press 2005
Partlan, Martha B. And Dorothy A. DuMond. The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, New York
Three Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Printing 1984
Schoonmaker, Marius. The History of Kingston, New York
Burr Printing House 1888
Oudemool, Arthur E. "In God We Trusted" Kingston Bicentennial 1976
ARCHITECTURAL HIGHLIGHTS OF OLD DUTCH CHURCH
The noted American architect, Minard Lafever, left a strong imprint on American ecclesiastical architectural design in the pre-Civil War period. During the last 20 year period of his life, from 1834 - 1854, he was responsible for twenty church designs, mainly in the Northeast. Of these, 9 are still extant. Old Dutch Church, completed in 1852 near the culmination of Lafever’s career, is one of two that demonstrates his penchant for Renaissance Revival style and the only extant example that remains unaltered or modified.
For his design of Old Dutch Church, Lafever abandoned the symmetrical center-tower format of the Christopher Wren tradition in favor of a 65 foot tower and 200 foot spire situated along the flank of the building.
For the exterior walls, Lafever employed the use of locally quarried bluestone which was laid up with random-range ashlar.
The bluestone exterior trimmed with fossil-rich limestone allow it to blend harmoniously with the surrounding graveyard.
The south (main) elevation is designed with pilasters, a single Palladian-inspired window and a center entrance with fanlight and keystoned casing, all of which set off the center block of the building.
The interior design of the Old Dutch Church borrows heavily from Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s in London and the New Church at Delft, Holland, with its ribbed vaulted ceiling, simulated clerestory windows and Corinthian columns.
The focal point of the interior space is a back-lighted Tiffany stained glass window installed in the Palladian motif behind the pulpit.
All of these exterior ad interior features exist just as designed by Minard Lafever without alteration or modification. Following the church’s completion, Calvet Vaux said of the architect’s design: "I cannot change a thing without impairing the exquisite unity. Le Fever’s [sic] construction embodied a mathematical ideal. If the span of these arches were one foot more or less, or these columns a foot taller or shorter, there might have been those to whom it would have made no difference, but as it is, it is ideally perfect."
Krattinger, William E. First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, New York Historical Narrative - 2006 (Historic Structures Report)