Civil War re-enactors donned navy blue uniforms Saturday as they marched in an open field at Baiting Hollow Congregational Church.
“One! Two! One! Two!” counted the soldiers of the 67th New York Volunteer Infantry’s Company K, as they paraded past their camp — complete with a fire pit, a row of tents and rifles on display.
The encampment was part of the church’s 225th anniversary celebration, where attendees were treated to the history lesson as they explored the church’s 7.5-acre property and cemetery where Civil War veterans are buried.
“It’s an honor to be a part of a commemoration of any soldiers, let alone the Civil War soldiers,” said Tom Demaria, who was dressed as a lieutenant, with gold patches on his shoulders. “For a church to recognize its history and link back the current to the past, I think is quite powerful.”
American folk music in the 1860s tradition, played by Larry Moser of Huntington on a hammered dulcimer and Mary Nagin on fiddle, filled the air and lent itself to an atmosphere meant to take visitors back in time.
Baiting Hollow residents had worshiped in private homes until the church was officially organized in 1791.
The first church building was built in 1803. When the congregation grew, a new structure — known as the “Church on the Hill” — was constructed a few feet away one year after the original building was taken down in 1861.
Bill Meyer, who helped organize the event, said he was honored to see the congregation celebrate this milestone.
“From my love of history, I think it’s fantastic and maybe I was meant to be here for this,” he said. “That’s what I’d like to think for my wife and I, and all the volunteers.”
Mr. Meyer spent much of the day imparting any history he could about the church to visitors, showcasing items found with a metal detector on the church’s property, including an oxen ring and a royal naval button.
Mr. Meyer and his wife, Joan, joined the congregation seven years ago. They always noticed the church on their way to the Cross Sound Ferry and decided to join.
Today, the congregation has about 100 members, though not all of them attend every Sunday worship, Ms. Meyer said.
Churches across the East End have seen their numbers dwindle, congregations combine and church structures converted.
North Fork United Methodist Church has recently absorbed four congregations — Southold, Cutchogue, Greenport and Orient — into one regional church.
“In the past, church on Sunday was a main focus,” Ms. Meyer said. “Now, unfortunately, what happens is a lot of children are involved in sports that take place on Sunday. On Saturday it’s football, on Sunday it’s soccer.”
The church no longer has a youth group, as past members graduated high school and went away to college, she said.
Despite the area’s changing demographics, whether it is a lack of young families or retirees moving away, Ms. Meyer sees the church standing for years to come. She said they still see a big turnout for their annual barbecue each August.
“As long as we have a growing community out here, I think we’ll still be the Church on the Hill and we’ll still be a church family,” Ms. Meyer said. “I think we’ll be sustained here for a while.”
Top photo: Musicians Larry Moser and Mary Nagin fill the air with traditional folk songs Saturday at Baiting Hollow Congregational Church. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)
Scroll down for more photos.