Old St. Peter's Church
One of the oldest surviving houses of worship in Westchster County, Old St. Peter's Church was built in 1766 to serve the adherents of the Church of England in the northwest portion of Cortlandt Manor. The land on which the church stands had been acquired from one of the heirs of Cortlandt Manor in 1750, and was in use as a cemetery at the time the church was built. Among those who interred in the cemetery are several French soldiers who died in the church while it was being used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War. The largest monument in the cemetery marks the grave of John Paulding, one of the three militiamen who captured Major John André in 1780. Although the Episcopal congregation that used Old St. Peter's moved to a new house of worship in Peekskill in 1838, the old church still stands and is used for special occasions.
Backstory and Context
In 1750 three residents of Cortlandt Manor acquired a parcel of land from Andrew Johnston "in trust for a school and burying place...and exercise of the public worship of God, and that it be for that purpose in the erecting or building of a meeting house or houses for the religious (under the protection of our most gracious majesty,) either the Church of England, Presbyterian, Independents Baptist, or Congregational, &c...." The northern portion of this parcel was claimed by the adherents of the Church of England, who began to use it as a burial place. In 1766 a church was built on this parcel, and its first service was held on August 9, 1767. The new church measured 28' x 36' and has but two windows, both of which flank the doorway on the west side.
St. Peter's Church saw a great deal of activity during the Revolutionary War. George Washington is believed to have worshiped at the church on occasion, and an undocumented legend says that he "read morning prayers" there during a stay at the nearby Van Cortlandt Upper Manor House. The church was used as a hospital by General Rochambeau's French troops in 1781 and 1782, and the soldiers who died while being treated there were laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery. A row of crosses **** marks ****.
The largest monument in the church's cemetery marks the grave of John Paulding (1758-1818), who was one of the three militiamen who captured British Major John André in Tarrytown on September 23, 1780. In December 1826 the New York City Common Council passed a resolution to fund the placement of a monument at Paulding's grave. The completed monument was dedicated on November 22, 1827, by a delegation of New York City officials that took a steamboat from Manhattan to Peekskill.
In 1838 the congregation of St. Peter's built a new house of worship in Peekskill, about two miles southwest of the old church, now called Old St. Peter's to distinguish it from its successor. Old St. Peter's was, and still is, used for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. The congregation maintained an interest in preserving the old church, and in the 1960s completed a restoration project that included the reintroduction of box pews inside the structure. An additional restoration project was completed in 2008.
Old St. Peter's Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Bolton, Robert. History of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the County of Westchester, From its Foundation, A.D. 1693, to A.D. 1853. New York, NY. Stanford & Swords, 1855.
Old St. Peter's Church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://www.stpeterspeekskill.org/about/our-history/.
Raftery, Patrick. The Cemeteries of Westchester County.. Volume I. Elmsford, NY. Westchester County Historical Society, 2011.
Williams, Gray. Picturing Our Past: National Register Sites in Westchester County. Elmsford, N.Y.. Westchester County Historical Society, 2003.
Westchester County Historical Society. Photo by Gray Williams.
Westchester County Historical Society.
Westchester County Historical Society.