The historic marker on the front of the building declares that this chapel was constructed in 1870. Yet I like to think that its history dates back to 1810.
Not unlike many chapels established in Suffolk County, such as in Sweet Hollow and Massapequa, the Quogue Chapel was built to house Sunday School classes and worship. However, those chapels were formed as outreaches to new communities; were established in the 20th century; and resulted in new churches. The Quogue Chapel is different.
Westhampton Presbyterian Church began in the first half of the 18th century in Ketchabonack, now Westhampton. We claim 1742 as our founding year, for the freemen of the Town of Southampton voted on April 6, 1742, to set aside land on Brushy Neck for the use of a Presbyterian minister. The first meeting house was built a bit further east at Beaver Dam before 1775.
By 1810 the membership had grown as a result of the second “awakening,” and the Rev. Abram Luce established three Sabbath Schools – one in Speonk, one in Ketchabonack, and one in Quogue – presumably in parishioners’ homes. That 1810 weekly gathering in Quogue was the forerunner of this chapel.
The Speonk community formed their own church before 1850, but the Quogue community did not follow suit; or more accurately I should say that the white people of Quogue felt no such need. For in about 1870, two chapels were built in Quogue, this chapel and another one-storey building north of the highway on the west side of Jessup Avenue.
This simpler building had no steeple or outward appearance of being a chapel, yet it was, and Westhampton Presbyterian arranged for various ministers or young seminarians to provide worship therein during the summer months, even into the first half of the 20th century.
There is no way of pretending that this was not segregation; it was even called the Quogue Colored Mission. Eventually this colored community did form a new church, the St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church. The chapel continued to be used by St. Paul and by the colored community until burning down during my childhood.
As I said before, the people gathering in this chapel here on Quogue Street never sought to form their own church. So just how is the chapel viewed by the Quogue community and by our parishioners today?
The answer will depend upon with whom you speak.
Many people of Quogue are summer people today and/or descendants of those who escaped the city summer heat, coming to the ocean-side boarding houses for health and comfort. I feel that they consider this their church whether they are members of Westhampton Presbyterian or not.
There are naturally many year-round residents of Quogue, myself included. Some, such as Joe and Ruth Payne, truly treasured the chapel; yet my family never bothered to come here.
The late Elsie Plainver often spoke of attending the afternoon Sunday School, followed frequently during the winter months by sleigh rides for the children given by Squire Griffin.
Many parishioners from Westhampton have never taken the opportunity to worship here, and some speak of it as being “for the Quogue people.”
Some “bottom line” people look at the chapel, its expenses and its somewhat limited usage, and call it a luxury.
Yet most importantly to me, the session and our pastors see this chapel as a place of worship open to all.
Actions speak louder than words.
The chapel was built in 1870 on leased land; 100 years later the family deeded the land to Westhampton Presbyterian Church – descendants who are not church members but who yet respect and one might even say love the church and its presence in this community. The financial records reveal decades of monetary gifts, and demonstrate special funds and investments that provide for much of the upkeep and needed care of the chapel.
This small, intimate place of worship has provided the Westhampton Presbyterian Church with a second weekly worship service from Father’s Day through Labor Day for many decades. It has been a place for the proclamation of the Gospel for over 140 years. It has seen countless observances of the sacraments over those same years. It is home to many families, and it is chosen for baptisms, weddings, and yes, funerals because of all the feelings, comfort, and support that home and one’s home church can bring at these momentous times in our lives.
While during my childhood the heat was turned off at Labor Day, now we have not only year round heat but also air conditioning. We are handicap accessible, and lack certain facilities only because of the lack of land. Many special services take place here: our Maundy Thursday Tennebrae services, healing services, adult studies, and mid-week Lenten services. And for many, the most special of all is the 11 P.M. Christmas Eve service with the scent of evergreens and the light of votive candles throughout.
Under the Local & Long Island News column in the June 10, 1871, edition of the Corrector, a Sag Harbor newspaper, I found this notice:
The LONG ISLAND BIBLE SOCIETY will hold its Semi-Annual Meeting at Quogue on Tuesday the 13th inst. Business meeting in the Chapel in Quogue, at 3 P.M., and meeting at 7½ P.M., in West Hampton Presbyterian Church, for devotional services and for addresses.
I thank God for the Quogue Chapel which obviously has been a place of worship, a place of Bible study, and a place of welcome to ecumenical gatherings from its very first year to the present.