History of the Union University Church
The Union University Church was founded in September 1922 as a response to the need of those village residents who were accustomed to observing Sunday worship. Alfred University was established by Seventh Day Baptists and most of Alfred’s earliest residents observed the Sabbath. However, for many years a Sunday morning service was held at the University’s chapel primarily for those students and faculty who kept Sunday as their day of worship. As the attendance grew, there was increasing need for a more formal organization.
Responding to that need, Dr. Booth C. Davis, President of Alfred University and Pastor of the Sunday observing residents, invited them to a discussion of the possibility of organizing a Union Church which one hundred and one persons joined as charter members. President Davis continued to preach, and the new congregation rented the sanctuary of the Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church for their Sunday worship.
Sunday worship was about the extent of activity in this early church. Many members missed participation in activities and fellowship. Consequently, in November, 1935, a group of ladies met to discuss organizing a society. This idea was met with enthusiasm, and the Women’s Guild was formed. An objective of this new group was the establishment of a Sunday School which soon followed with classes held in the Parish House of the Seventh Day Baptist Church.
By 1935, the University had appointed a full time Director of Religious Activities who also served as its Chaplain and Pastor of the Union Church. This arrangement continued until 1950 when the church was reorganized and a full-time Pastor was hired. By that time, the village, as well as the two educational institutions, had grown. Moreover, due to the increased obligations of the University’s Director of Religious Activities, he had less time to give to the Union Church. As the church and its Sunday School grew, there was increasing demand for a Church Center and a parsonage.
In 1953, the church was incorporated, and the Bassett property at the corner of Main and Church Streets was purchased and converted to a “Church Center,” the name by which we still know this building. In 1962, the church bought a home as a parsonage. In that same year, the congregation voted to erect an addition to the Church Center since the structure no longer met all the needs of the church and Sunday School.
This single-story addition included rest rooms, kitchen, fellowship/dining hall, and storage area/furnace room. Since the completion of the addition during the spring of 1971, the Church Center has become a community center as well. A token or nominal fee is charged for its use by church non-related or non-sponsored groups.
The Union University Church has always regarded use of the center as part of our mission to the community.
In 1999, when the congregation raised money to renovate the original section of the
Church Center, many members of the community expressed their appreciation for the church’s ministry by donating to the renovation efforts. The project was completed May 1, 2000.
Church Center Once Station on the Underground Railroad
In Helene C. Phelan’s book, And Why Not Every Man?: An Account of Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Road to Freedom in New York’s Southern Tier, a paragraph on the Underground Railroad in Alfred lists the Bassett house at 29 North Main Street as one of the stops on the freedom trail. The Union University Church acquired the Bassett House in 1954 and though the church has renovated and built an addition to the house, the original structure can still be seen clearly in the current offices and classrooms of the Church Center.
According to Phelan’s book, the station was run by the Bayless Bassett family who moved to Allegany County in 1826. Mrs. James Scholes confirmed the existence of the station, saying that she was taken to the upstairs of the Bassett house by her grandfather who showed her a concealed opening into the attic space under the eaves on the north side of the house. He told her “when guests were led to the spot they voiced special approval of those holding quarters — felt very protected and safe, ‘No one will find me here.'” (p. 119)
When the members of the Union University Church were preparing to renovate the oldest part of the Church Center a few years ago, several people poking around upstairs discovered an opening into the north eaves and commented, “Look at all of this space back here. There must be some way we can use it.” Little did we know that more than a hundred years earlier, the Bassetts had found an excellent way to put that space to work for God’s kingdom.
Pastors of the Union University Church
Conducted Sunday Services:
Booth Colwell Davis 1922-1928
Gilbert Campbell 1928-1929
Church and University Chaplains:
James C. McLeod 1929-1940
William Genne 1940-1944
B. Davie Napier 1944-1946
George Ball 1946-1947
Myron K. Sibley 1947-1950
LeRoy Moser 1950-1956
James Dick 1956-1960
Richard V. Bergren, Jr 1960-1968
Lawrence A. Littlehale 1969-1975
Part-Time Interim Pastor:
Albert N. Rogers 1975-1983
Laurie J. DeMott 1983-2021
Full-Time Transitional Minister and Pastor
Louise B. Barger 2022-2023
Roberto Ché Espinoza 2024-