Come to the Church in the Wildwood
Wouldn’t it be lovely to spend Christmas Eve in an old stone church tucked into the English countryside? A church that exudes antiquity, that is surrounded by weathered gravestones, one that somehow makes you feel closer to God, whoever and wherever you perceive God to be. Relatively speaking, All Saints Episcopal Church, at 3714 Fox Hill Road in Ulysses, is not that old, but does rather meet the other criteria. It was completed in 1888 as a loving tribute to Henry Hatch Dent from his children, and is a replica of a much older church in East Anglia, England, where family ancestors had once worshipped. Of the numerous online photos of stately, timeworn churches from that area there are several which are similar; the All Saints Church in Morston is nearly identical, inside and out, to this one.
The Reverend Janis Yskamp, rector here since 2010, says that when the church celebrated an anniversary some years ago, the granddaughter of the man who had served as designer and architect was one of the guests. The woman said her grandfather travelled around studying the architecture of different churches, so perhaps the church in Morston was on his list and did serve as the model. There is certainly a strong sense of antiquity here. The church’s exterior stone was quarried from what was Dent land nearby. Inside, as you stand between the front pews and face the altar, the soaring timbers and graceful arches might put you in mind of the graceful lines of a windswept ship, despite the hundreds of miles that separate Potter County from the ocean. Reverend Yskamp says it was often the case that the craftsmen who designed old churches such as this one were shipbuilders, and so there is a reason the lofty interiors are reminiscent of hulls.
The sanctuary includes a white marble baptismal font, a checkerboard-design floor made of marble that came from Italy, native butternut woodwork, and English brass accoutrements. en there are the stained glass windows.
“One of the amazing things about the windows,” says Reverend Yskamp, indicating the ones above the altar, “is about fifteen minutes after the service starts the sun hits them and they glow.” Those windows were made in England, as was the window at the rear of the church, above the baptismal font. Depicted there, leaning on the knee of Christ, with Christ’s right hand on his shoulder, is a little boy. He is Thomas Gold Hull, a grandson of Henry Hatch Dent, who died in 1885 at age five, and the window is a memorial to him. Other windows along the sides of the building are tributes to other family members and were made in this country.
Maryland-born in 1815, Henry Hatch Dent was a childhood friend of Jefferson Davis, studied law with Francis Scott Key, and graduated from Yale. His wife, Anna Maria Adlum, was the daughter of John Adlum, a surveyor who worked for William Bingham. Mr. Bingham owned huge tracts of land in the northern tier, some of which were sold at auction after his death and some of which were conveyed to Mr. Adlum for money owed to him by the Bingham estate and subsequently came to Mr. Dent after his wife died in 1849. He, his four children—Margaret Katherine, William, Adlumia, and Anna Maria—and his mother came to Potter County in 1853 to oversee these holdings. A Southern sympathizer, Mr. Dent reportedly found the northern environs at times to be a difficult place for a southern gentleman to live, particularly during the War Between the States; he returned to Maryland where he died in 1872. His children, however, remained in the Brookland area for many years, carried on charitable work in their father’s name, and ultimately decided to build All Saints Episcopal Church in his honor.
Mr. Dent is not buried at All Saints, but there is a stone in the cemetery bearing his name. His three daughters are resting there, as are three grandchildren.
“There are a dozen great stories about the cemetery,” says Reverend Yskamp. People who “admire the church” have purchased plots simply for that reason. One family commissioned a monument in the shape of a tree stump to honor their deceased loved one, a logger. Five of the church’s past rectors are buried here as well. According to the inscription on one stone, it is also the resting place of a man who was a Penobscot Indian.
The church today is one of two in the Episcopal Congregations of Potter County; the other is Christ Church in Coudersport. The “chapel in the wilderness,” as the Brookland church is sometimes called, has a small congregation, but Reverend Yskamp says the pews are full on Christmas Eve.
“We have music, candles—all the things you’d expect from a Christmas Eve service,” she says.
And though the congregation may be small in numbers, it is big in heart. Parish members support the Ulysses Area Ministerium, the students of Potter County via the annual “To Fill a Backpack” program, and, during the Christmas season, “Operation Christmas Child.” That program, explains Reverend Yskamp, is an affiliation with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief and provides shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in need around the world.
If holidays in the English countryside are not possible for you this Yuletide, try the Christmas Eve service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Potter County. The celebration begins at 7 p.m.
Peace be with you.