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The Story of Grace Church

George Kirchmann of the Historical Society of The Massapequas tells history of iconic church.

Elbert Floyd-Jones and his family members were tired of making the long and tedious trip from their homes in South Oyster Bay to Hempstead to attend Episcopal services at St. George's Church. There were no railroads, no paved roads and no rest areas in the 1840s, and the trip could be especially difficult if the weather turned bad.

In the spring of 1844 he spoke with his father, Thomas Floyd-Jones about building a church in their neighborhood so they could worship locally. His father agreed and provided a parcel on today's Merrick Road. Elbert spoke with other family members as well as Episcopal Church leaders on Long Island and New York City and raised $1300 to pay for the expenses involved in building the church. He designed it as a box-like structure, measuring twenty-four feet in width and thirty-six feet long, with a vestry room off the altar and a front porch. A wooden tower capped the building.

While the church was under construction, Elbert formed an organizational structure to govern it. Thomas Lawrence was designated Chair, and he and Thomas Floyd-Jones were named Wardens. Eight other members, including Elbert who was designated Collector of Funds, were selected as Vestrymen. Five of them were either Jones or Floyd-Jones family members, underscoring both the dominant presence of the Jones family in the area and the fact that Grace Church was "their" church and remained so well into the twentieth century.

The church was completed in the middle of 1845 and services began immediately thereafter. Several funerals were held there, including that of Elbert's father Thomas, who died in 1851. Interestingly, the first marriage wasn't held until 1849, and there were only four others between 1849 and 1861. The custom at that time seemed to be to have marriages in private homes, which were generally quite spacious and well-appointed because of the wealth of the Jones family and other local landowners. Ten baptisms were performed between 1846 and 1849, but the two children who were approved to be confirmed were required to travel to New York City, because of the difficulty of securing the services of Episcopal Bishop Delancey for such a distant location.

Jones and Floyd-Jones family members used Grace Church in the spring, summer and autumn, preferring to spend their winters in New York City. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, the population of what was then called South Oyster Bay had grown, with the addition of other landowners attracted by the area's natural beauty.

The church was kept open year-round and a school and meeting hall were built on either side of it. It also became the centerpiece of the Floyd-Jones Cemetery, which was designed to hold the remains of family members, generally buried in the back part of the cemetery, and of other local residents, who were interred closer to the church. The building was expanded in the first decade of the twentieth century, with the addition of wings on either side of the altar and an enlargement of the front porch.

The Massapequas experienced a population explosion after World War II, forcing many long-term institutions to change significantly. Grace Church became a victim of this growth, as its leaders concluded it was far too small to accommodate its growing membership. The church could accommodate 100 worshippers at most and there was clearly a need for a larger structure by the mid-1950s. The Episcopal Church therefore authorized construction of a much larger church across Merrick Road. Completed in 1960, it became Grace Church and the 1844 building assumed the name Old Grace Church.

It was deconsecrated in 1981 and leased to the Massapequa Historical Society, which has restored it and maintains it as the centerpiece of Massapequa's Historic Complex. It is also one of the oldest structures in southeastern Nassau County.

 

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