Hinchey, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, secured the funding as part of the Fiscal Year 2011 Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. The money will fund the third and final phase of a project which began six years ago as an emergency effort to shore up a section of the church’s east wall which had begun to buckle. Speaking at a press conference alongside First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church minister the Rev. Kenneth L. Walsh, Hinchey said that the Renaissance revival-style church, one of only 2,500 buildings in the U.S. to enjoy status as a National Historic Landmark, was a key part of Kingston’s heritage and economy.
“This is one of the most historic places in this region, it’s one of the most historic places in New York, one of the most historic places in America,” said Hinchey, who is running for a 10th term in Congress. “This is a building which has to be sustained and has to be made stronger and better.”
According to Walsh, the eastern wall of the church had been a problem since 1854 when the steeple collapsed just two years after the building was completed. By 2003, the wall had developed a noticeable and alarming sag, prompting church officials to seek grants and donations for a major repair job. In 2004, Hinchey secured $100,000 through a National Park Service grant program to carry out emergency stabilization work to shore up the wall. The steel and wood buttresses remain in place as the contractors recently began work on the second phase of the project, which calls for the wall to be re-pointed using historically appropriate cement to replace old mortar that Walsh described as now having the consistency of gravel in some places after being eroded by water. That work is funded with a $150,000 grant through the state Environmental Protection Fund with matching funds through the non-profit Friends of the Old Dutch Church.
The $350,000 appropriation from the HUD bill is expected to pay for half of the total cost of the third and final phase of the project, the installation of interior trusses to permanently secure the walls. Walsh described the church as a “small struggling congregation” which would have been unable to pay for repairs to the historic church without the infusion of state and federal funds. “This has been the whole of our focus,” said Walsh.
The church stands on a half acre parcel granted to the congregation by New Netherlands Director-General Peter Stuyvesant in 1659. In 1719, with the British now in charge and the colony renamed New York, King George I granted the church a charter of incorporation and confirmed its title to the half-acre parcel. The original church buildings were burned by Redcoats in the 1777 British raid on Kingston. The church was rebuilt and expanded until the early 1850s, when the current building was designed and built by noted church architect Minard Lafever. The church gained National Historic Landmark status last year.