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Brier Hill Church Has Treasures To Be Preserved

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BRIER HILL - When historian David E. Martin began researching his upcoming book on stained glass in the North Country, he started with the Young Memorial Congregational Church of Brier Hill.
"They are treasures to be preserved," Mr. Martin says of the Harry J. Horwood stained glass windows in the Brier Hill church. "On a Who's Who list, Horwood's are some of the best stained glass work in the world."
Mr. Martin should know. He is working on a book, his fifth, which will examine and portray the work of Harry J. Horwood and his father, also named Harry.
"The Horwood family goes way back," Mr. Martin said. "Originally from England, the family moved to Canada and eventually to Ogdensburg."
Mr. Martin said the younger Horwood spent the last 60 years of his life in Ogdensburg from 1887 to 1947. The family ran their stained glass window business out of a building on the corner of Paterson and Washington streets, near the old Newell Manufacturing building.
"In Canada, they did a lot of important windows," Mr. Martin said. "His father did all the windows for the parliament buildings in Ottawa, which were all destroyed in the fire of 1919. In 1887, they got the contract for the Ogdensburg Opera House, and moved their operation over here, where they found they were the only glass shop in northern New York."
With the move, Mr. Martin said, the Horwoods began to put their mark on the North Country.
"They were swamped," he said. "A tremendous workload which included making windows for most of the churches in this area."
According to Mr. Martin, nearly every church in Ogdensburg, as well as many private homes within the city, contain Horwood windows.
"That's probably how the folks in Brier Hill got word of them," he said.
Mr. Martin says work for his book has allowed him to photograph every stained glass window in St. Lawrence County, and that the 'Young Memorial Church Revitalization Group' has stumbled upon a masterpiece with the stained glass in its church.
"When I got the idea for the book," he said, "the Young Memorial Church was the first place I took photos. It got me excited about the project."
He said the mystique with stained glass, for him, lies in its traditional techniques.
"It's (stained glass) an art form that hasn't changed in thousands of years - completely done by hand, with no mechanization whatsoever. The Horwoods were masters at it," he said.
The revitalization group met Monday at the vacant church to discuss the plan of attack for moving forward with their effort project. Group members include Frank L. Putman, Ron E. Tully, David W. and Nellie Stout, Mary Ellen Mace, Reggie and Carol McLear, Wayne Latham, Clara Jane Warren, Patti and Mike Warren, James Lowery, Bill and Sue VanVleet, Bridget C. Whalen-Nevin, and Dan and Lynn Lockhart.
The group toured the church, pointing out water and roof damage, animal and bird waste, and some brick work and grouting that needs to be done.
Mr. Lowery toted an axe that apparently was used by Chas Schermerhorn to fell the first tree for the church in 1904, and Mrs. Stout came across a bible inside the church from 1873. Another bible turned up from 1846.
"It's a unique structure," said Mr. McLear. "I'm not that worldly of a man, but in all my travels, I've never seen anything quite like it."
Mr. Putman said the first step in the group's mission will be to get on the state's historical registry.
"We'll see what their requirements are, which will determine the direction in which we go," Mr. Putman said.
On Thursday, Mrs. Whalen-Nevin, librarian at the Morristown Public Library, reported to The Journal that Young Memorial Church has been determined eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historical Sites.
"It has begun the nomination process by Linda Garofalini, historic preservation program analyst," said Mrs. Whalen-Nevin. "She (Mrs. Garofalini) gave us so much hope about funding opportunities and directions we might like to go in.
"It's really exciting," she said. "This will really open us up to recognition and funding. It's the first stage for any type of historical preservation work."
In the meantime, according to the group, fundraising opportunities will continue to be brainstormed.
A community-wide letter of intent and request for support will be circulated in mid-May. The group says they are looking to refurbish the building as a structure only, and not as a church. Mr. Putman has described the efforts as being "non-denominational."
The church hasn't been used since the late 1980s, according to Mr. Tully, who said a Baptist group was the last to use the church. The church was also formerly known as the Brier Hill Congregational Church up until the late 1950s.  

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