CHESTERTOWN - Along a byway three miles south of Chestertown is the skeleton of a small but proud-looking country church.
Despite its modest appearance and out-of-the-way location, the Darrowsville Church played a pivotal role in the growth of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the North Country, as well as transforming many lives - likely saving them from servitude or death.
Reputed to be one of the first churches formed by the Wesleyan Methodist movement after a landmark stance against slavery, the Darrowsville church is believed to be a welcoming shelter for African-Americans escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad.
In 1843, a convention of Methodist church leaders was held in Utica, and their prime focus was protesting slavery condoned by the southern Methodists.
After years of their pleas being ignored, the leaders formed their own church at this meeting, called the Wesleyan Connection.
Some of the preachers ventured out to organize new Wesleyan Methodist congregations, and one of these was the Church at Darrowsville, then called the "Warrensburgh Class," organized in 1843, by Myron Tripp of Chester. The church was founded about a mile south of the homestead of Joseph Leggett of Chestertown, one of the earliest active abolitionists in Warren County. The Wesleyan Methodist circuit riders visited Brant Lake, Stony Creek and Johnsburgh, where they eventually established congregations.
The historic split in the Methodist churches, sometimes referred to "The Great Schism," was influential not only regionally and nationally, but it had its reverberations locally as the other church in Darrowsville was a Methodist Episcopal Church with a more traditional dogma.
The Wesleyan Methodist congregation, however, survived while the Methodist Episcopal did not. The Wesleyan group prohibited and protested slaveholding, and the use of alcoholic beverages, among other dictates.
The Darrowsville Church building was built in 1845. Thomas Baker, an abolitionist minister active in the Underground Railroad, helped build the church, which has been documented as being a link in the Underground Railroad, according to documents at the Town of Chester Historical Museum. By 1853, the Darrowsville church had a thriving congregation with 214 members, according to Wesleyan church archives.
Thomas Baker, who became the church's second minister and served in that role from 1845 to 1855, is reputed to have hidden and provided sustenance for fugitive slaves at the Darrowsville church parsonage, once located next to the church. Baker was well-known in Essex and Warren counties for his active opposition to slavery.
In the 1980s, an effort was launched to spruce up the church, but since then it has substantially deteriorated. More recently, some history enthusiasts, however, have talked about a restoration effort.
(This article is based primarily on the detailed information contained in Tom Calarco's "Moral Rearmaments: 1820-1870" chapter of the new book, "Warren County - Its People & Their History" published by the Warren County Historical Society.)