Two hundred years ago 25 people from the rural hamlet of Dutch Neck got together and asked the Presbytery, the governing body of the Presbyterian churches, to allow them to have their own church. At that time, 24 of these people traveled by any means possible to the Cranbury Church, established in 1734; with the 25th person traveling alone to Kingston Presbyterian Church. The original 24 included the names of Grover, Hooper, Post, Atchley, Slayback, Tindall, Updike, Voorhees, and Covenhoven (Conover), and Mershon.
With the authorization of the Presbytery and blessings of the two churches, Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church was launched. In 1797 a log structure, to be used for civic and religious purposes, was erected on the site of the present Dutch Neck Church. Pastors ministered periodically to the people of Dutch Neck. Two hundred years later, the Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church still stands on the same location.
The church will begin celebrating its 200th anniversary on Sunday, November 8, at Cranbury Presbyterian Church, at 22 Main Street, Cranbury. There will be a reenactment of a Dismissal Service which celebrates the sending of 24 Cranbury members to their new church home at Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church 200 years ago. The activities will begin at 9:15 a.m. with adult education led by Cranbury’s Reverend Lou Mitchell. Worship service begins at 10:30 a.m. with Dutch Neck’s Reverend Jan Willem van der Werff delivering the sermon. Choirs from both churches will perform together. After the service, there will be a fellowship hour.
The bicentennial opening service will be held Saturday, November 14, at Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church. As part of the original request to form a new church in Dutch Neck, Kingston Presbyterian Church sent one member to help form Dutch Neck Church. Kingston Presbyterian also supplied the first Pastor, Rev. David Comfort, who came to the church monthly to preach, nurture and support the young church. Dr. Comfort served until 1824 and was followed by other pastors. At the bicentennial opening service, Pastor Reverend Sharyl Dixon of Kingston Presbyterian Church will represent the Kingston Church and preach at the worship service.
This service leads to a year of activities ending with the bicentennial ending service on November 13, 2016. A gala will be held on November 12, to celebrate the culmination of these activities hoping that new connections have been found between Dutch Neck Church, its members and friends, and the larger community.
Committee members include Linda Williams, Peggy Redman, Florence Cohen, Deane Bornheimer, Reverend Jan Willem van der Werff, Kristin Appelget, Diane Marolda, Bob Dix, and Don Hanley. Dozens of other people are also helping, heading up special tasks and events. Bill Davis is the photographer, and Rene Kammeyer Seeland, a lifetime member who is a graphic designer, created the bicentennial logo.
The first Holy Communion was administered in December, 1816. The original log building was replaced by a frame structure in 1816. Additions made through 1885 created the structure you can see today. The first organ, a reed instrument, was purchased in 1850 to be replaced by a fine Esty pipe organ in 1916. In 1942 the interior of the church was renovated and the organ was rebuilt. The present organ was built in 1975 by an organ builder in Hopewell. All of the pews in the church were originally rented and Dutch Neck was one of the last three churches in the Presbytery to abandon rental.
In 1880 a parcel of land across the road (including a tavern) was purchased. The tavern was moved further back on South Mill Road, and a chapel built. The chapel was completed and dedicated on July 4, 1882. Later a library and a kitchen were added, and in 1924 a small balcony. Two wings were added in 1938. This chapel served as a church school until 1965, when the present Christian Education building was completed.
In 1966 the chapel was sold to West Windsor Township and converted into a branch county library and a municipal court. It then served as the WW-P Board of Education offices for many years.
Deacons now include Linda Benfer, Bonnie Benkard, Simon Brooks, Terri DeVincenzo, Julie Donaldson, Eric Dunn, Jim Gladwin, Kerri Hamm, Don Hanley, Pam Hansell, Donna Kramer, Diane Mendes, Ruth Nieckoski, Marybeth Ruddy, Gail Shook, Benny Sun, Joy Whipple, and Frances Wonnell.
Members of session include Shannon Cirullo, Florence Cohen, Bill Davis, Robert Dix, Sharon Gladwin, Cindy Haegley, Megan Haegley, Diane Marolda, Robert Murray, David Redman, Clerk Anne Reilly, Michael Ruddy, Greg Slonaker, and Scott Weingaertner. Reverend Jan Willem van der Werff is the moderator.
The cemetery, behind the church, is home to some of the oldest headstones, some with names and dates worn away over time. Wandering around you will see names of people who made a difference in their town and have had schools and roads named after them. “The grave markers in our cemetery, which is open to the public, read like a road map of West Windsor Township, with names like Conover, Tindal, Everett, Post, Wallace, Van Nest, and Grover,” says Peggy Redman, a longtime member of the church. “Maurice Hawk is buried here, as is West Windsor Police Lieutenant Keith Hillman, whose early death in 2006 saddened so many in our community.”
“The cemetery has existed since the earliest days of religious activities in this area, and the earliest legible marker is dated 1771,” wrote Russell B. Post in the church’s “Sesquicentennial History: 1816-1966.” “Among others, there are early burials of Covenhovens (Conovers), Posts, Roszels, and Voorhees. The first burials were immediately around the existing church, which was the central part of our present day church. There were graves under the additions to the original building, and the markers or headstones were moved elsewhere. There are small brown markers in existence that denote early burials.”
There was once a log school house and then a red school house in the cemetery. “The fathers and mothers of some of our present church members attended there,” wrote Post in 1966.
Some of the people working for the church include the pastor, Reverend Jan Willem Van der Werff; the director of music ministries, Gail H. Lee; the organist, Martin Tel; the youth pastor, Ben Johnson; the children’s and youth choir director, Zachary Gates; and the sexton, Simon Gathaiya. Robbin Albert is the church office administrator.
“Members of the Dutch Neck church have been volunteers on the town council and town committees, in the fire companies, in the school board and PTA, in scouts and children’s sports teams, as well as working in all sorts of trades and professions locally and within reasonable and unreasonable communities,” says Redman.
Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church, 154 South Mill Road, West Windsor. 609-799-0712 www.dnpccns.org.
Anniversary events include:
Sending Service, Cranbury Presbyterian Church, 22 South Main Street, Cranbury. Sunday, November 8, 10:30 a.m. Meet at the founding church and travel to Dutch Neck after the fellowship hour.
Opening Service, Saturday, November 14, 4:30 p.m. Pastor from Kingston Presbyterian Church preaches. Light supper follows.
Worship Celebration, Sunday, November 15, 9:30 a.m. Start the bicentennial year in the sanctuary.
A Service of Celebration in Music, Sunday, December 13, 4 p.m. “In Sweet Rejoicing” presented by the chancel choir augmented by members of choirs. Richard Loatman, the former choir director, and Gail Lee, the current choir director, coordinate.