Throwback Thursday – Laying the foundation for a community congregation

Montauk Community Church construction, 1928 | From the Reverend John Best collection, Montauk Library Archives

Construction of the Montauk Community Church broke ground during the winter of 1928, with the help of community contributions of labor and resources under the direction of the Pearson Construction Company.

Before they had their own building or formalized congregation, members of the Presbytery of Long Island originally met in the Montauk Theater. In January 1928, the group convened to discuss the organization of a church and chose the name the “Montauk Community Church.” A building council was formed in March to negotiate the construction of a larger and customized space to congregate. The council included Rev. E. H. Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. P. Duryea, Mr. Albin Pearson, Dr. F. L. Satterlee, Mr. and Mrs. S. T. Honey, Mr. Richard Webb, Mr. C. Appleyard, Mr. E. V. Conway, Mr. Clarence Monroe, and Mr. T. E. Ringwood.

In May, Carl Fisher of the Montauk Beach Development Company agreed to donate approximately an acre of land west of the business section on Montauk Highway for the erection of a community church. The catch was that it had to be built within one year. The group immediately began fundraising and requesting bids from construction companies. Richard Webb, a local architectural designer, was assigned to complete the plans and get bids. Mr. A. G. Lamont, an architect specializing in church architecture, was hired to make preliminary drawings.

The church was formally incorporated as the Montauk Community Church in June 1928, and the papers were drawn up under the laws of the Presbyterian Church. While it was founded on Presbyterian beliefs, the congregation has been interdenominational from the start, and it invited Christians of all denominations to join. Later that summer, the church hosted a successful fundraising campaign securing $42,000 for the building. The donations came from the community and $14,000 was loaned from the Board of National Mission. On August 30, 1929, The East Hampton Star reported that community members additionally donated materials and labor including paint, excavation work, electric work, plantings, and the use of trucks for hauling materials.

The Pearson Construction company was awarded the contract in November. Because of the donated materials and labor, Pearson Construction Co. was able to bring the price down on the final cost of the construction so the church could afford to build within the timeline imposed by the Montauk Beach Development Company. The stones were sourced locally, gathered, and transported by men of the church who volunteered to cart them to the construction site. In the Montauk Community Church Yearbook from 1931, Richard Webb recounted “it is interesting to know that these stones had formed the foundations of the building in which it is said that the Montauk Indians held their religious services.”

The cornerstone was laid in a small ceremony on the afternoon of December 31, 1928. The Sag Harbor Express reported on the laying of the cornerstone, and remarked that a “copy of the Herald-Tribune, some arrowheads dug up on the day the ground was broken, and information that will be of value to future generations was placed in the stone.” After three months of hurried construction, the Montauk Community Church held its first service on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1929.

Reverend Palmer laying the cornerstone, 1928 | From the Reverend John Best collection, Montauk Library Archives