Williamsville United Methodist Church Early History
Williamsville United Methodist Church can trace its roots back to the hardy pioneers who left established homes to move to the Western New York area. Along with their possessions, they brought their religious heritage, which was adapted for people on the move. As a few people built cabins long a trail, religious services were held whenever a traveling minister passed through. The first religious service in this area was held in 1805 or 1806 by an itinerant Methodist minister near Clarence Hollow and Williams Mills.
The Niagara Frontier was the Wild West back in 1809 when a determined 19-year-old named Glezen Fillmore traveled on foot from his family home in Burlington, Vermont to Western New York seeking his life’s mission. Land was abundant in Western New York and population sparse. When Glezen asked a farmer in New Amsterdam, soon to be renamed Buffalo, how far his pasture extend beyond the picket fence they were leaning on, the farmer looked south and answered “Pennsylvania.”
Fillmore was the first Methodist minister to travel the Genesee Conference, a great swath of land that included all of Western New York east to the Genesee River, and south into Pennsylvania. Fillmore was probably the first Christian minister of any denomination to receive his license west of Rochester. On one of his first circuit rides in 1809, he stopped at the home of William Maltby in an outlying region of New Amsterdam, a patch of farmland and stream bed that was named the Town of Amherst the following year. Since there were only six families nearby at that time, probably about 12 residents joined Rev. Fillmore that evening for the first recorded religious ceremony in Erie County. Classes were immediately organized and a society was formed.
As more people came to the area, Glezen Fillmore came more regularly to conduct services. About 1812, Williamsville became a preaching point on the New Amsterdam Circuit that went from Rochester to Buffalo. The society could expect to have worship services every two weeks. One story relates that in the region of Pickard's Bridge on Tonawanda Creek, an evening meeting was held. There was only one candle in the entire community and no material to make more. The fortunate owner of the candle allowed it to be lighted long enough for the preacher to read the hymns and the text. The log fire lighted the room for the rest of the service.
Glezen Fillmore, cousin to an upcoming politician named Millard Fillmore who would soon be elected the 13th President of the United States, started numerous church societies in the new cities of Rochester, Buffalo, Lockport and many other communities during his years as a circuit rider. Notable among them was the first society of the "Methodist Episcopal Church in the Town of Amherst" that was chartered in 1821, which is known today as Williamsville United Methodist Church. Since this Methodist church was the first religious society formed in the Town of Amherst, it was bestowed a deed by the Holland Land Company to a plot of land on which they could build a church.
In 1844 the first Methodist church in Erie County was dedicated, and in 1845 it proudly hosted the Methodist Quarterly Conference. In 1869 this part of the Town of Amherst became incorporated as the Village of Williamsville, honoring the early settler Jonas Williams. Williams built the first mill in the area, and for a time the region was called William's Mill.
While there have been many generations of buildout and modernization, the walls of the original 1844 building, shown in the image below, still protect the sanctuary of the present Williamsville United Methodist Church. Within this sanctuary, more than 160 years of devotion to Christ and nurturing of a loving, caring Christian community can be felt by all who come to worship there.