There is a place in the road at the west end of Islip Village where Montauk Highway curves as it passes Ocean Avenue. At that spot, any approaching traveler will be captivated by the majestic sight of two churches, their white spires dominating the vista. The first imposing steeple belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Islip, whose congregation in Islip Hamlet dates back to the 1850's.
In those days, Presbyterians in the hamlet and nearby areas journeyed-- as did their counterparts as far west as Massapequa-to the Presbyterian Church at Babylon, known as the Church of Islip and Huntington South. Such a sustained trip was made each Sunday to take part in religious services.
As the numbers of local Presbyterians improved, however, and individual families increased, a desire to worship closer to home prompted two Islip women, Charlotte and Almira Doxsee, to form a Ladies' Sewing Society for the purpose of raising funds to build a modest house of worship in the village. In three years time, the dedicated effort had put $400 in the coffers; enough money to buy lumber for the proposed building. The men of the church by then began to develop enthusiasm for the venture and became active in the fundraising. In 1852 a small building, known as the Lecture Room, was erected (free of debt) on what is now the southwest corner of Cedar Avenue and Main Street. The deed for the land upon which this first church stood was procured from the family of James H. Doxsee in 1860 for one dollar, then later, in 1893, given to the church outright.
Although the local Presbyterian congregation (still officially attached to the Babylon church) was now able to worship in Islip village, the ecclesiastic benefits of this convenience proved to be a mixed blessing. The Reverend Gaylord More, who had been serving the two groups, Babylon and Islip, resigned. It soon became clear that finding and keeping another pastor who was willing and able to do the amount of traveling necessary to meet the needs of the two congregations would be difficult, if not impossible. The few men who accepted the call did not stay long, and for many months at a time the pulpit remained vacant.
As a result, the idea of forming a separate church was conceived and favorably viewed, and the Islip congregation presented a petition to the Presbytery of Long Island requesting permission to create their own organization. According to presbytery minutes dated September 9, 1857, such permission was granted, and a committee to carry out the steps required to organize the Presbyterian Church of Islip, as it was to be called, was appointed.
The new church was duly created on the first day of November,1857. There were 29 members; with two Ruling Elders, Eliphalet Smith and Jeremiah Smith; and two Deacons, J.H. Doxsee and Silas Whitman.
Ten years later, the idea of building a new church was raised when church member Robert L. Maitland, Esq., proposed that if the congregation could raise $3,000 for that purpose, he would give an equal amount. It was decided that the site for the new structure would be a 3/4 acre plot on Main Street to the east of the Lecture Room. The property, which had been recently purchased by Robert Maitland for $1,000 was deeded to the church by Mr. Maitland and his wife for the charitable sum of one hundred dollars.
It should come as no surprise that Mr. Maitland, whose generosity to the church has been well documented, was to play a significant role in deciding the architecture for the new house of worship. Mr. Maitland favored a style which included a tower and spire on one corner. The Reverend W.G. Barnes, who was the pastor at that time, wanted a short tower on the corner opposite the spire. The architectural firm of King and Wilcox of Brooklyn was commissioned to draw up the plans for the inclusive design, and the new church was completed in May of 1869.
The cost of the structure itself was $12,000; the congregation raised thirty-seven hundred dollars, an~ Mr. Maitland provided the balance. The trustees gave him a mortgage on the church in the amount of three thousand dollars.
The remaining church property as it now exists--spanning the entire block between Cedar and Church Avenue~ and running approximately 300' south on both streets-- was acquired in this way: In a deal that required the trading of lots, the trustees offered local property owner D.O. Conover a piece of land on the east side of the new church in exchange for a piece of land immediately south of the new church along Cedar Avenue (see the 1902 map). The transaction was completed in 1891, and the Chapel (Lecture Room) was moved to that southerly spot where it is still in active use today, having' housed Sunday School services and classes, organizational meeting~ and fellowship activities through the years of its existence.
Final land dealings were completed not too long after the Chapel was moved. The church sold off the property upon which the Chapel and the first parsonage stood to Dr. Abel Huntington in 1895. At almost the same time it purchased another lot east of the church building on the southwest corner of Church Avenue, and the parsonage was removed to that site. It has been expanded and improved through the years and served as Manse (minister's home) until 1978 when the church inherited a house at 5 Plum Place in Islip from church member Alma C. Vandersheer. Today the parsonage is called the Parish House and contains the church's offices and meeting rooms.
The Presbyterian Church of Islip has called a total of 17 pastors to serve its congregation since its official formation in 1857. A complete listing of the Pastorate with dates of service, as well as a history of the church's memorial stained glass windows compiled by member Amy T. Raynor, are among the supplementary pages of this paper. The window account reveals the names of early parishioners whose gifts, support, or services to the church were, in most cases, notable.
At present, the church has approximately 205 active members who receive the compassionate, dedicated, and dynamic leadership of Pastor James F. Wenker. They are further served by a board of twelve Elders and a board of nine Deacons. The church hosts a Sunday School, Adult Education classes, a Junior and Senior Choir, two youths groups, a Praise Band, a women's club, a men's group, a Friendship Club, Vacation Bible School, and numerous committees devoted to parish needs, mission work, and community outreach activities. A monthly newsletter, The Lamplighter, is mailed to members and friends of the church.
Worship services are held on Sunday mornings at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. The present pipe organ in the 275 seat sanctuary was acquired by Organist and Choirmaster Richard Udall Vail (1864-1906) through the generosity of another Maitland, Alexander, in 1903. It replaced the pipe organ that was purchased in 1869 or '70 with money mainly contributed by Dr. A.G. Thompson of West Islip.
For one hundred and thirty years, the Presbyterian Church of Islip, one of three historic churches gracing the Main Street of Islip Hamlet, has conferred beauty and dignity upon an old and charming village community, while providing a church home to faithful Christians as well as all others who would renew, or begin their spiritual journeys.
 The name "Lecture Room" appears on the. 1870 and 1873 maps of Islip Village. In early church records however, the same building is often referred to as the "old church. At some point, probably in the 1880’s, it became known as the "chapel". That name is used on an 1887 map of the area, and is building’s name today.
In compiling the research for this short paper which describes the early history of the Presbyterian Church of Islip, I have relied heavily on original, handwritten accounts; the minutes of Session meetings, trustees' meetings, and congregational meetings as far back as the 1850’s. These records, and other historical data, which were graciously placed at my disposal by Pastor Wenker and church secretary Peg Liming, may be found in the archives located at the Parish House, 340 Main Street, Islip.
Other sources include books, commemorative pamphlets, yearbooks, and newspaper articles. Among those which provided essential details, and helped shape my perceptions of the church's evolution are: History of the First Presbyterian Church of Babylon, Long Island (Babylon Publishing Company, 1912), "The Minutes' of Our Years ," Presbyterian Church of Islip, Golden Jubilee "Historical Memoir" written by the Rev. Azel Hull Fish, 1907, the Rev. Daniel H. Overton's "Souvenir Directory," 1915, and, from the Rev. Oscar L. Daley, who himself became a significant part of the church's history having served as pastor for an unprecedented 40 years, "Historical Sketch of the Presbyterian Church of Islip," 1932, and Yearbook, (1946).
This paper is being submitted to the Historical Society of Islip Hamlet to qualify the church for formal designation as an historical site, building(s) and institution.
Nancy Porta Libert
August 19, 1999