BLOOMINGBURG – On July 10, 12 noon to 8 p.m., a special referendum will settle the fate of Bloomingburg’s historic Dutch Church. With its unusual, ‘Federal-style’ layer cake steeple, the church has towered over the village since 1820. It is listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Today, it is owned by the Town of Mamakating, which bought it from Sullivan County for $10 in 1999 and hopes to sell it for $85,000, to a Pentecostalist Christian group.
The Bloomingburg Restoration Foundation (BRF) has maintained the church over the years and leased it for $1 a year. The BRF was taken aback when the town announced the planned sale. A petition to prevent the sale was organized, since many people in the town were concerned that once the church was sold, the community would lose any power to control what might happen to it. The petition drive recorded 654 signatures, which pushed the Sullivan County Board of Elections to press forward with a referendum on the sale. Interesting side note, 150 of the signatures came from the new, Hasidic, ultra-orthodox Jewish population of the village.
The reason given for the sale of the church is the deterioration of the historic building and the need for expensive repairs. The Pentecostal group under contract to buy it would undertake those repairs. The town has argued, since 2014, that the BRF was not keeping the church in good enough repair. The BRF has countered that they have raised and spent $50,000 on maintenance. The BRF also says the town’s refusal to continue the leasing agreement has made it very difficult to apply for grant funding with which to make the needed repairs.
Marc Fowler, one of the four trustees of the BRF, notes that were the church to be sold, the collections of photographs and drawings of yesteryear, as well as many historic documents, like the sign-up sheets of men who joined the Union army in the civil war, would have to removed and found a new home. Indeed, the constitution of the BRF requires that it find another museum for the collection if the church is sold. Fowler says, “The BRF issue with the potential sale is more about the surprise nature of it and the lack of involvement of the people in this decision.”
The Mamakating Town Board voted in favor of the sale, except for councilman Nicholas Salomone, who is concerned about the fate of the building once it no longer belongs to the town.
The referendum will be held at Mamakating Town Hall. There will be paper ballots. Donna Calabro and Patricia Bechtold have been appointed as inspectors for the referendum.