Located on Town Line Road on the property of the is an unassuming structure called the 1789 Chapel. This simple church building represents the early Methodist presence in the hamlet as well as the church members’ efforts through the centuries to preserve an important piece of local history.
According to An Illustrated History of Commack by Robert Saal, in 1783 Commack resident James Hubbs attended a church in Cow Harbor where John Phillips was preaching and asked him to come to Commack. Phillips was a tailor and preacher from England who remained in the states after the Revolutionary War.
The first Methodist services in the hamlet were held in residents’ homes, and according to the church’s website, the Commack Methodist society was the second to be formed on Long Island. In 1789 Hubbs and other residents built the church that today is the oldest Methodist Church in continuous use in New York. Church historian John Muller said while the chapel isn’t used every Sunday, it is utilized for a service during the Christmas season and also for a summer service.
Muller said only slight alterations have been made to the chapel throughout the centuries. When it was first built there was no heat, and members of the congregation had to bring foot warmers to stay warm. It wasn’t until around 1835 that a chimney was built for a pot belly stove. Muller said the pipes were exposed and ran along the ceiling of the church. The pipes were taken out when a furnace was finally installed in the mid 1920s.
The church’s website lists a few more changes made to the structure that was originally built with a high-box pulpit, one center door and one set of balcony stairs. In the mid 1830s the roof was shingled, the pulpit was lowered and the communion rail was made semi-circular. Two panel entrance doors and two flights of stairs were also added at this time. The pulpit was lowered two more times in 1859 and 1883. And in 1952, the church building was given a new roof and foundation, and floor beams were replaced.
The property surrounding the chapel has undergone some changes as well through the years. Muller said a seminary was built in 1839, and after it was closed in 1844, sold to the Commack school district becoming the North School. In 1889 a parsonage was built, and at one time, barns and sheds that were built in 1895 could be found on the land.
The religious education building was constructed in 1957, and according to the church’s website, the building was expanded in 1961. Today it’s also used for church meetings and a pre-school.
When the new church building was built in the late 1960s, Mueller said the barn no longer existed after being destroyed by a fire, and the parsonage was demolished.
Despite the construction of the new church, the 1789 Chapel remained standing; the members of the church continuing to care for the structure that humbly represents Commack’s past.