Annunciation Parish History

Ilion, New York

Annunciation Parish - Ilion, NY
Annunciation Catholic Church West Street Ilion, NY

Catholicism in the upper Mohawk Valley is not a recent thing. As early as 1655, The French Jesuit, Le Moyne, visited the area at the request of the Mohawk Indians. In 1667, Father Bruyas first established the mission of St. Francis Xavier among the Oneida Indians who dwelt here. The next 150 years saw complete devastation of the settlements as the result of the French and Indian Wars, and the Revolution. It was not until the 19th century that construction began to replace destruction.

A church was built in Utica, in the New York Diocese, in 1821, largely through the efforts of the Devereux family. This church served the few Catholics in the area until 1845, when a mission was established in Little Falls, serving Ilion, Frankfort, Herkimer, and Mohawk. The Rev. John McMenomy had charge of the mission, and celebrated Mass in private houses. The first Mass celebrated in Ilion was said to have been in the home of John Roche, the house now occupied by Arthur Putnam, 154 E. History St.

As a result of the Great Famine in Ireland in 1846, a large emigration of the Irish ensued. Most of them immigrated to New York, and many found their way to this area. Since most of these people were Catholics, the existing facilities were greatly taxed, and it was found necessary to institute the Diocese of Albany, which was done the following year. In this year, a church was built in Little Falls. Coincident with this unprecedented influx occurred the great immigration of the Germans, as the result of the unrest in Germany, which reached its peak in 1854. Many of these people were also Catholic. Both Irish and Germans were attracted to Ilion by the employment opportunities afforded by the Remingtons. No further measures could be taken, however, to fill their religious needs until after the Civil War of 1861 - 65. Two years after the war, through the intercession of Rev. Eugene Carroll at Little Falls, the four towns of the Mission were established as a Parish.

1867 Annunciation Parish Church - Ilion, NY
First church was
located on East Main Street

The first resident pastor was Father William Howard, who, coming to Mohawk, first celebrated Mass in Varley Hall, located on North Otsego St., later to become the Bates Theatre, which has since been demolished. In August 1867, Father Howard purchased of J. B. Pelton of Ilion a house and lot comprising two and one half acres for $4500. This is the present location of Benson Motors. In April of 1868, he began the construction of a church, which was dedicated in August, by the Bishop of Albany, as the Church of the Annunciation. The total cost of church and rectory was $14,500. The seating capacity of the church was 600, and there were about 150 families in the parish at that time.

The population of Ilion at that time was about 3000. The church debt was soon amortized and two years later, St. Agnes Cemetery was purchased from a Mr. Ely in North Ilion. In 1875, a vault was erected in the northerly section of the cemetery. In 1870, land was purchased for what is now known as St. Agnes Cemetery, in what was then known as North Ilion. It is now known as West Herkimer. In 1875, the erection of a vault, near the top of the cemetery, completed the original plans for the cemetery.

In 1878, Fr. Howard retired to Herkimer, which was severed from the Parish in the same year.

In December 1878, Rev. John F. Hyland became the second pastor of Annunciation Church, at a time when the fortunes of the Remingtons were in a decline. In spite of this, however, the parish debt was reduced, and in 1884 extensive repairs were made to the church. In 1886, Frankfort was separated from the parish.

Rev, John V. Quinn became third pastor. The population grew to 5000 and with a consequent increase in parishioners. In 1904, the Parish House was relocated on West Street, with the thought of eventually locating the Church there.

The fourth pastor was Rev. James B. Gilloon who arrived in 1909, in which year Mohawk, the last of the missions, was separated from Ilion. The most important event of Fr. Gilloon's 27 years of service was the erection of the School of the Annunciation, which occurred in 1925 - 26. At that time, the Henry Bennison house, occupying the present site of the school, was moved across the street and, refurbished, was occupied by the Sisters of Mercy as a Convent. The vault at the entrance of the cemetery was built in 1911, while the tool house near Section A was built in 1915. The cemetery comprises 10.9 acres of land. With the desire for a new church unfulfilled, Fr. Gilloon died on May 27, 1936.

In June of that year, Rev. James A. Nolan succeeded Fr. Gilloon. In February of 1937, a drive was undertaken to raise funds for the construction of a new church. In six weeks, pledges totaling $115,000 had been received, and in April, ground was broken for its construction. The new Church was dedicated on March 27, 1938.

The sixth pastor was Fr. Daniel A. Horan who replaced Fr. Nolan on November 10, 1944. During his pastorate, an $80,000 debt on the Church was liquidated, and in 1953, the interior of the Church was completely redecorated. On August 14, 1946, land was purchased on the Barringer Road, as a site for a Cemetery. No final decision has been made concerning the use of this land. On August 22, 1960, land was purchased near the Litchfield Cemetery, which comprises 20 acres.

Fr. Gregory Mulhall became the seventh resident pastor on June 12, 1961. From 1961 to 1968, various improvements have been made to the Church properties. The Convent for the Sisters of Mercy was completed in March 1962, at a cost of $225,000.

St. Agnes Cemetery - Ilion, NY

Four roads have been resurfaced in the cemetery; the vault and the tool-house have been re-roofed; a bill at the peak of the cemetery has been leveled making room for a greater number of burials.

The School has been updated. There is a new Principal's office, new lighting in the basement, the library has been renovated and books appropriate for the schoolchildren have been placed there. A new roof has been added to the building, new steel cabinets have been installed in the lavatories ane the parking lot outside the school has been resurfaced.

Annunciation Church - Main Sanctuary & Blessed Sacrament Chapel  - Ilion, NY
You can read on google books, the description of the Annunciation Church altars
in the 2011 Pulitzer Prize novel nominee, The Surrendered, by author Chang-rae Lee.

Plans for the renovation of the sanctuary in the Church were drawn in the Fall of 1966. These plans included: a new 5000 lb. marble altar, and an Ambo; the great Amen of the Mass in bronze lettering just below the bas-relief of Christ, King, Priest and Prophet; redecoration of the Lady Chapel to become the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament; a new marble tile floor in the sanctuary, and the removal of the altar railing. The St. Theresa Chapel, Baptistery and Our Lady's Shrine have been repainted.

A new porch has been added to the back of the Rectory. The History office has been renovated, the guestrooms have been painted, and the exterior has been repainted. Thus ends the first one hundred years of Annunciation Parish.

Reproduced from Parish Booklet - Annunciation Parish 1868 - 1968 with the permission of Father Joseph Benitende

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First Published October 1999 - Modified March 21, 2015