A Brief History of New Hartford and St. John the Evangelist Church
By Wanda Gregory

New Hartford, New York, the name of a wonderful village and town, and a great place in which to live. When asked to give an address and residents begin to answer, “New Hartford,” the immediate question is, “Oh, Connecticut?” And of course the answer is “No, New York State!” People often wonder where a town’s name originated. The name given to the township of New Hartford was from the Salmon Kellogg family who came from Hartford, Connecticut in 1772. The Kelloggs built a small home in the present Kellogg Road area on land purchased from George Washington. They then bought land in many surrounding areas and eventually moved to Paris Hill.

If you have lived in New Hartford for any length of time or attended New Hartford schools, you undoubtedly learned that Jedediah Sanger was the true founder and builder of New Hartford, arriving here from New Hampshire in 1788. At that time, New Hartford was part of Whitestown, which included many settlements, north, south and west, some of which are now big cities, like Buffalo. Another anecdote learned in school is that when Jedidiah arrived, he spent his first night sleeping in a tree. After exploring the area, he decided that it was a good place to settle, the Sauquoit Creek probably playing a big part in his decision. He soon built a log cabin home and then started many mills and factories. He also built other homes, one on the corner of Genesee St and Oxford Rd. He was the true builder of New Hartford.

An excellent book to explore is “The Builders of New Hartford” by Janice Trimbey-Reilly. You will read and note many familiar names and places.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church on Oxford Rd had its beginning as part of a new parish, St. Paul’s, organized in Whitesboro in 1883, with St. John’s as a Mission Church. There were only about 20 Catholic families in New Hartford at that time who had to go to Utica or Clinton to attend Mass. Reverend John Mullany, who was in charge at that time, celebrated St. John’s first Mass on January 13, 1883 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church through the kindness of the rector and his wife. After that, mass was celebrated on Sundays and Holy Days at Patterson’s Hall in the village.

St. John’s first cornerstone, now in the plot of land on the handicapped parking side, was laid October 21, 1883. The property on the Corner of Oxford Rd and Sherman St (the present parking lot) was purchased as the Church site from Silas Root for $1,200. The estimated cost of the land and Church was $20,000. On May 31, 1885, St. John’s Church was dedicated, while still a Mission Church. St. John’s Parish was formed on August 24, 1886 with Rev. William H. Griffin as first resident pastor. Until a rectory was available he resided in a house on the corner of Genesee St. and Richardson Ave. This section was then part of New Hartford. In 1890, an already built home was purchased as a rectory at 66 Oxford Rd, the site of the present church. The 13 room house was purchased from Mrs. Carrie Sherman, wife of the Honorable James Sherman, who later became Vice President of the United States.

Father Griffin was pastor for 37 years and died at the rectory November 30, 1933, after a brief illness. Father Edward Kenefic acted as administrator until January 16, when Father John R. O’Brien was named pastor. Many changes occurred over the years. As the parish grew, and with Father O’Brien’s guidance, plans were begun to erect a school. A convent to house the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet was built and opened in 1952. Construction of the school began in 1953 and was opened to grades K-4 in September, 1954. It was soon a K-8th grade school. St. John’s School faithfully served the community, eventually with many lay teachers, for 32 years. Because of declining enrollment, the school closed in June 1986.

But the spirit and heart of St. John’s School is still with us. It now houses a wonderful nursery school, welcomes and embraces so many children to our Religious Education classes and has a wonderful atmosphere in its Senior Center as it serves lunch and provides numerous entertaining and informative programs.
During the time when Father O’Brien was still with St. John’s, need was seen for a second New Hartford church. In 1955, with 982 families registered and with Bishop Foery’s directive, Father O’Brien purchased land for a new parish on Clinton Rd to be named St. Thomas. The new church was dedicated March 20, 1958, with Father Alfred Goulet as pastor.

After 28 years as active, devoted and well-loved pastor, Father O’Brien retired in 1962 because of poor health. Upon Father O’Brien’s retirement, Father (later named Monsignor) Thomas J. Hayes became pastor. As time went on, even with the opening of St. Thomas, and 5 Sunday Masses in the church and school auditorium, it became evident that the present St. John’s Church was too small and a new church was needed. A parish drive was held and by February 16, 1964, $276,000 had been pledged. On August 24, 1964, the first spade of earth was overturned. A temporary rectory was purchased for the priests and the Sherman Mansion Rectory was demolished as the site for the new church.

The dedication of the new St. John the Evangelist Church was January 23, 1966 at the 10:45 Mass celebrated by Monsignor Hayes, Bishop Walter A. Foery and Auxiliary Bishop David Cunningham. St. John’s can be most proud of the priests and nuns who were once St. John parishioners. They are Father James Bartlett, Father Thomas F. Costello, Father Anthony LaFache, Monsignor John Madden, Father Edmund Morrelle, Father Alfred Patterson, Father John Rose, Father Dan Ruff, and Father John Ziegler. Nuns are Sister Michele Marie Bennet, Sister Anne Daniel Cleary, Sister James Ann Dunn, Sister Paul Marie Hernon, and Sister Martin Theresa Woolheater.

Many St. John’s parishioners can still remember all the wonderful priests we have had, some as far back as Fr. Obrien. We recall the “old” church, standing in a long line for confession, the changes in liturgy, music, functions and various groups formed to help the church and community. Whoever dreamed that lay people would one day distribute communion, or that funerals whould no longer be dark and sad but would be a celebration of life. The change from Latin to Englis was very hard for many.

Yes, change is difficult, but God has not changed. Our beautiful St. John’s Church helps us to keep our faith. It is a place of peace and comfort for young and old to worship, and inspires us to live and uphold our Mission Statement:

We, the Catholic Christian Community of St. John the Evangelist Church, embrace Jesus Christ and are committed to drawing others to him by sharing the example of his life and teachings through the sacraments, liturgy and service to others in our local and extended community.