Historic North Church will welcome visitors again as STR

QUEENSBURY — Nicholas LaSorsa stood in front of the 1867 North Church Tuesday morning as light rain started to trickle down on his shoulders.

LaSorsa purchased the historic structure in November 2021 and has turned the renovated worship house into a short-term rental property.

“It’s nice that other people can experience it,” said the Florida resident. “Because it’s not a church anymore, you can’t just come for a service. It’s nice for people to be able to come in and see it.”

LaSorsa said he feels like he’s simply the current caretaker of the 155-year-old North Church at 2283 Ridge Road, the first church built in the area. While the church is part of his future, he has become a piece of its history.

“I love the old history,” he said, “and being in Florida, it’s devoid of history.”

The old history

The North Church sits on upper Ridge Road in what was a farming and lumbering hamlet called Brayton. The area was also known for its “summer business,” wealthy boarders who arrived in the hotter months and occupied hotels like the Trout Pavilion.

“That was a worshipping age, one which took the Fourth Commandment seriously,” according to an article written to celebrate the church’s 90th anniversary in the 1950s. “The summer people could not spend two whole months remote from a place of worship.”

But their summer home was churchless. In 1864, a group of summer and year-round residents organized a Sunday school, which met at Sheldon Point on the lawn of the East Lake George House or at the schoolhouse on upper Ridge Road.

“This arrangement served for a time, but, in the summer of 1866 plans for a well defined organization with its own place of worship were made effective,” the article explains.

In the summer of 1866, they formed the East Lake George Union Sabbath School Society, declaring the group would welcome “a union of all denominations of evangelical Christians.” The charter and certificate of organization was filed in the Warren County clerk’s office in what was then Caldwell on Sept. 18, 1867.

Kattskill Bay farmers Job and Miranda Mattison gave the land and farmer Sidney Irish provided the timber to build a church structure. Benefactors included Rev. Wesley B. Lee and Curtis L. North, both summer residents from Brooklyn, and Mr. Boice, of which little is known.

Rev. Jacob Fehrman donated the chandeliers, which were imported from England. John Antwerp of Saratoga Springs built the church.

The church was also known as the “Union Church,” and sometimes called the “Fish Church” because of a bronze fish that was mounted on the steeple that looked like a weather vane, according to an article published when the church celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The bronze fish, the article explains, was a symbol used by early Christians to designate their secret meeting places in the catacombs of Rome. The cornerstone of the church was laid on Nov. 5, 1867.

“The following year on the evening of August 27, 1868, the annual business meeting of the Society was held in the complete church,” the 90th anniversary article explains.

The bell in the new belfry was made in Troy and could be heard as far north as Pilot Knob.

That same bell still sits in the tower today, LaSorsa said. He has rung it, himself.

Later, a parsonage was built, as well as a 16-staff horse shed and an academy. LaSorsa recently uncovered the original stone pathway that once skirted the church lawn.

The edifice was dedicated in November 1868 and became North Church — in honor of its benefactor Curtis L. North.

North Church in the 20th century

The church closed around 1910, while Rev. Laing was pastor.

“The closing was symbolic of the times and if one could have boasted the gift of prescience he could have foretold even then the catastrophe that overtook us in 1939,” the article said. “The closing of the North Church was merely the visible local sign of a universal spiritual blackout.”

The only people paying attention to the closed church, the article says, were vandals, who sought to strip its material elegance. Someone stole the bronze fish weathervane from the steeple.

“Once that was removed, there remained little else to attract attention and the North Church settled back in its protective greenery to undisturbed decay,” the article said.

The fish weathervane was found in New York City and eventually returned. It disappeared again in the 1950s and was returned. Once more, it was stolen in April 1981. It was brought back several months later and eventually donated to the Lake George Historical Museum, according to a 2010 Post-Star article.

The church had fallen into disrepair by December of 1945, the edifice crumbling and disappearing into the brush at the edge of the Harris Bay swamp.

It reopened for a special Christmas program that year. A Post-Star article noted that the bell, silent for 25 years, would ring out once again on Christmas Day 1945.

The historic church observed its 100th anniversary in August 1966 with a special program. And regular worship services continued on Sundays throughout the year.

“The North Church was rededicated in a service in the mid-1970s after several years of renovations, including paneling the sanctuary, new ceilings and rugs, rebuilding the stained glass windows and the repainting the building’s exterior,” according to an article in The Post-Star on Aug. 23, 1975.

By the early-1980s, the church was once again abandoned for lack of membership. The church was put up for sale and the trustees decided to distribute the proceeds from the sale among five area churches.

Artist Scott Johnson and his wife purchased the church and restored the building, turning it into their residence. Johnson used stone from the rectory to construct a large fireplace in the center of the sanctuary, according to a 2004 Post-Star article.

North Church in the 21st century

Johnson, who had been confined to a wheelchair after a 1990 diving accident, died in the church in 2002. The church was eventually sold to Justin Talarski and Melissa Klebes.

In 2004, the church was the subject of a television episode of “Ghost Hunters.” Paranormal investigators hunted for ghosts in the former church.

LaSorsa, who was born in Queens, was looking for a second home in New York, when he stumbled upon the listing on Zillow in November 2021. The Florida real estate agent flew up and made an offer the next week.

“When I bought it, there were definitely mice, definitely other creepy crawlies, tons of spiders, but it was not haunted,” said LaSorsa, who started renovating the church-turned-home.

He put in new kitchen cabinets with quartzite countertops, installed new windows, replaced rotten siding, installed custom-made doors and refinished the 100-year-old floors.

“The guy who did the floors thinks they’re about 100 years old and the church itself is 150,” he said. “I think there’s another layer underneath.”

There is one bedroom downstairs, and he replaced the steep stairs to the second level, which boasts two more bedrooms and a second bathroom with a balcony that overlooks the open-concept first floor.

LaSorsa purchased the property as a “viable financial investment” with the intention to rent it out on Airbnb and Vrbo websites.

He has been vocal in his displeasure with the town of Queensbury’s recent decision to mandate a five-day minimum for all renters, allowing short-term rental operators to rent only 120 days of the year.

The regulation is supposed to prevent “weekend warriors” who only rent for two to four days and disturb the other residents of a neighborhood.

There are currently 657 short-term rentals registered with Warren County, of which 82 are in the town of Queensbury.

“Immediately right off the bat, you’re hurting property values,” LaSorsa said this week.

The North Church started accepting renters in August, and was solidly booked for the first month, he said.

“I really felt a responsibility to restore it and keep it around for another hundred years. Even if I’m only here for another 10 years, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m happy the community will still have it.”


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