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Grace Church Willowdale

PO Box 135

Geneva, NY  14456

(315) 759-5482





How a Dream Came True


Clip Clop, clip clop – the sound of travel in the 1870’s. A horse’s hoofs as clouds of choking dust arose. Or gushy ooze, as hoofs sank plop, plop into foot-deep mud during heavy rains. The young woman driving the horse and buggy thought often of how difficult going to church could be. “So many good people around here want to go, but they have to drive all the way to Geneva – or walk.”

She was Mary Emmeline Halsey. Born at Willowdale farm, she regularly attended Trinity Church and St. Peter’s in Geneva, despite the seven miles. Early on she realized how sorely needed was a closer place of worship.  Her father, Vincent M. Halsey, left speechless and deaf from scarlet fever in early youth, joined with her in offering to open their home for Sunday services. The dream began when they held their first service in April 1873.


It continued when Mr. Halsey gave the land for a church.  Her diaries reveal the many volunteers who gave lumber, stone, and other materials and worked on the structure. Bishop Frederic Huntington laid the cornerstone in September 1874, and returned to consecrate the completed building April 1, 1875.


Miss Halsey wrote in her diary, “I am so thankful for the realization of my dreams of the last two years. Praise be to God."  Then, “We held our first Sunday service in our new church, just as we had wished, the first Sunday after Easter.” The date was April 4, 1875.


Miss Halsey exemplified the whole life of her church. She supervised its construction, and gave it loving care all the rest of her remaining 37 years. Her diary records Grace Church as being free of debt.


The Rev. Henry Hubbard, former rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Waterloo, speaking at the church’s 75th anniversary with 200 present, said, “The church was her life. She did everything. She built the fires and led the singing and played the organ and took the babies in here arms when the mothers went to the rail for communion. She collected clothes for the poor, and if they didn’t fit or needed mending when she took them to their new owners, she stayed and mended them so the people could attend church the next Sunday. Night after night she nursed the poor back to health and she didn’t doze off during the night either. She embroidered altar cloths and the linens in those night hours of watching a sick child.  She was a 20th century saint.”


Once a month she would gather all the neighborhood children to meet and pull weeds in the church’s cemetery. Then she would serve sandwiches, lemonade, little cookies and ice cream, a real treat in those days. One of the godchildren wrote: “Miss Halsey had a way of combining work and pleasure in a way that all the children looked forward to the event. It also kept the cemetery in perfect condition.”


This was Mary Halsey, born April 14, 1843, and carried to a higher level of service on All Hallows Eve, 1912, in her 69th year. Godmother to more than 500 children, all of whom she kept in touch with, she left an indelible mark on several generations.


She was, in a sense, a missionary, organizing services at Dey’s Landing, Jerusalem, Wilcox School House, Fayette Station, MacDougal, and the County House. If any noted clergy were to speak at Geneva Episcopal churches, she would drive over and invite them to speak at Grace. If at any odd time no clergyman was available for Grace Church, she would read Morning or Evening Prayer herself.


Many improvements have been made to Grace Church since her death in 1912. Perhaps the most visible is the Mary Emmeline Halsey Hall, added to the main structure in 1965. Of course many other people have followed in Miss Halsey’s steps to carry the church forward in subsequent days and years. Worthy of special note is Mrs. Dorothy Kime, who was married in the church in 1938, and has been an important leader in the church up to the present day.


Grace Willowdale Episcopal Church

Diocese of Central New York
3886 East Lake Road
Geneva, NY 14456


Sunday services at 10:00 AM. Holy Eucharist services alternate with Morning Prayer services from week to week. Children Welcome. Lovely country setting for weddings.

© 2017 Grace Willowdale Episcopal Church

Image of Grace Willowdale Episcopal Church.