Historical markers honor Lisbon’s White Church, Camp Laurent

A new historical marker has been placed in front of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Lisbon, also known as the White Church, located at the corner of Five Mile Line Road and County Route 28. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

LISBON — Rising up in the mid-1800s along with the abolitionist movement, Lisbon’s White Church has always been of historic stature. Now, with the help of community members and historians, the site has been officially recognized by the Pomeroy Foundation.

The distinctive blue marker of the Pomeroy Foundation was installed by town highway crews just outside White Church earlier this month, roughly 180 years after the congregation, which previously met in each other’s homes, decided to build the house of worship.

“The building itself was built in 1843 and a lot of the people that helped build it were just starting to get on the bandwagon of abolition and were abolitionists. There were some petitions that went around and they had abolitionist speakers come,” Lisbon Town Historian and interim St. Lawrence County Historian Nancy J. LaFaver said.

The church later suffered a near catastrophe in 1942, almost at its centennial anniversary when its high steeple was struck by lightning.

“One of the members was coming home from somewhere and happened to see it and gathered up a whole bunch of members. They were able to save the bell and a few other things, some pews, and get most everything out before the whole steeple tower crashed down and it burned. But, they raised enough money to rebuild it in about a year,” Ms. LaFaver said.

While the sign itself contains only a few lines of text, Ms. LaFaver said the research that went into it was extensive. The foundation requires primary source documentation such as original records or old news accounts, to back up every detail referenced on the marker. She said the process took her about two to three months to dig up all the details, with assistance from community members and the church.

“There’s a lot of research into whatever the wording is on the sign,” she said. “Even, we called it the ‘white church’ and (the Pomeroy Foundation was) like, ‘No, you have to prove to that’s what the locals call it.’”

At the same time she was securing the grant for the White Church marker, Ms. LaFaver also applied for and received a marker for Camp Laurent which was also installed earlier this month. Camp Laurent, which has gone by several names and has changed hands multiple times over the years was first built by Jonathan Wainwright, a wealthy Philadelphia bridge builder, in 1902 as a vacation home on the St. Lawrence River. Mr. Wainwright was an avid turn of the century boat racer who competed with, and often bested, the likes of George C. Boldt and other wealthy 1000 Islands celebrities.

“That you could write a book on,” Ms. LaFaver said laughing.

The retreat was sold to St. Lawrence University’s athletic director who used it to train freshmen athletes in the mid 1900s before it was sold to church groups who continue to use it as a camp.

The markers erected in Lisbon this year are two of only around 30 other Pomeroy Foundation placards in St. Lawrence County.

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