First Society of the "Methodist Episcopal Church in the Town of Amherst"
The end of the War of 1812 saw the City of Buffalo burnt almost to the ground, and the surrounding Lake Erie plains almost deserted. However, there were two abundant natural resources in Town of Amherst: water power from the cascading creek that flow through Williamsville and hydraulic limestone that could be quarried and burned to produce much-valued water lime for agriculture. In the post-war years, these two resources assisted in a steady population growth in the Town of Amherst.
The first recorded Christian religious celebration in the Town of Amherst in 1809 was presided over by Rev. Glezen Fillmore in the Maltby home, which was attended by all six families in the area. After this first service, Methodist services and classes continued to be held in Williamsville and a society was formed. The Methodist society that was started in 1809 filed incorporation papers confirming its expectation of continuing. This society was chartered in 1821 as the "Methodist Episcopal Church in the Town of Amherst." In later years, this early society became known as Williamsville United Methodist Church. Based on this history, we celebrate 1821 as the first anniversary of our church. After the society was chartered, worship services continued on a regular basis by itinerant ministers and were held in the schoolhouse.
The Holland Company, owner of most of the land in the Genesee Conference, sought to encourage migration and settlement in the Conference. One way it did so was to offer the first religious society to establish in the newly minted Town of Amherst a grant of sufficient land on which they could build and maintain a church. Since the Methodist Episcopal Church was the first religious society to organize in the Town of Amherst, they were entitled to the plot of land set aside by the Holland Land Company. This land, which was known as the "Gospel Plot," was not obtained until 1828, seven years after incorporation of the society.
Unfortunately, the plot, which was located on what is now the corner of Transit Road and George Urban Boulevard, was considerably south of the main road and away from the center of population. In 1844 when the Trustees decided it was time to build a church building for their worship, they did not want to build on the Gospel Plot. During their search for an appropriate plot of land, the Evans family donated one-quarter acre of land on Main Street with the stipulation that the land be used for "the purpose of religious worship and no other."
The Trustees then obtained permission to sell the Gospel Plot to Harvey May. In exchange, Mr. May built the first church building on the small lot on Main Street in the center of the village of Williamsville, which is the current location of our church. It is believed that Mr. May erected the building, finished the outside, and painted the building as payment for the Gospel Plot. That original building has been retained and incorporated into every reconstruction and renovation of this church.
The first church building reflected the primary need of the society, which was to have a place to worship as Methodists. Parishioners entered by a center door that faced Main Street. The chancel, which was oppposite the door, was on a one-step raised platform that was furnished with a small pulpit in the center and three chancel chairs. Undoubtedly there was an altar rail. Just below was the communion table. A small pump organ, a piano, and two choir benches indicated the importance of music to this group of believers. Members sat in straight-back pews. Two wooden stoves with chimneys piped through the roof provided warmth. Although there may have been kerosene lamps, most light was provided by the eight long, clear, windows that had small panes. Three windows were along each side of the building and one was on each side of the entrance.
This first building, which was 55 feet by 36 feet, was completed and dedicated in 1847, three years before Williamsville was incorporated as a village.
Among the founding members of the First Society, one of the most notable was Timothy Hopkins. Like Rev. Glezen Fillmore, Hopkins was born in New England and left at an early age to seek his fortune in Western New York. He purchased a lot in Williamsville in 1804, married, raised a large family, and lived a long and productive life. Hopkins was appointed Captain in the New York Militia in 1803 by Governor George Clinton, rising through his valor and success on the battlefield to the rank of Brigadier-General during the War of 1812. Always a man of restless energy, he resigned his post when peace was declared, becoming in 1819 the first Supervisor of the Town of Amherst. Mr. Hopkins was known as a trusted confidant and advisor. In his personal life, he was known as being committed to living a traditional Christian life, and exhibited great tolerance and understanding of the religious views and practices of others.