By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
If you love American history, then the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst is the place to be this weekend (May 31-June 1).
Liberty Weekend, a two-day event sponsored by Friends of Historic New Utrecht, will take place on the grounds of the New Utrecht Reformed Church, on 18th Avenue and 84th Street. Visitors can delve into history by talking to Revolutionary War re-enactors, hearing a Civil War-era cannon being fired, enjoying looking at displays of artifacts, and attending lectures on US history.
And it’s all free!
“Unless you go to a museum, you’re not going to get to see history hands on like this,” Angela Sarro, the event’s coordinator, told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Liberty Weekend celebrates the 231st anniversary of the Liberty Pole, first erected on what is now the church’s front lawn in 1783. Liberty Poles were erected at several locations throughout the colonies to fly the American flag to declare victory over the British. According about.com, a Liberty Pole was also erected on the site of what is now City Hall. A replica stands in City Hall Park.
The New Utrecht Reformed Church, which was established in 1677, was located for many years on what is now 16th Avenue and 84th Street. In 1828, a new church was constructed on 18th Avenue and 84th Street.
On Saturday, May 31, the church grounds will be “taken over” by history experts dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers. The gates open at 10:30 a.m. and will remain open until 4 p.m. The Civil War cannon will be fired periodically. In addition, the church’s Parish House will be turned into a museum for the day, giving visitors a chance to examine old photos and other historic artifacts.
Also in the Parish House, lectures on American history will be offered. At 12:30 p.m., National Park Service Ranger Michael Callahan will present a lecture on "The French and Indian War. At 2:45 p.m. Dave Elligers, president of Friends of Historic New Utrecht, will discuss the history of the Liberty Pole. Elligers is also vice president of the New Utrecht Liberty Pole Association.
Elligers will also lead a tour of the Old New Utrecht Reformed Cemetery, located on 16th Avenue and 85th Street, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The cemetery, which has headstones dating back to the 17th Century, is located next to the original church site. Elligers will give a cemetery tour on Sunday, June 1, from 1-2:30 p.m.
Liberty Weekend is the only time during the year that the cemetery is opened to the public.
At 7:30 pm, the Symphonic Band from Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island will perform in concert at the Parish House. Paul Corn is the conductor.
A ceremony honoring the 231st anniversary of the raising of the first Liberty Pole on the site will be conducted at 3:30 p.m.
The church’s front lawn will also be a dessert lover’s paradise on Saturday, as members of the congregation of the New Utrecht Reformed Church hold a bake sale from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The members will also be selling jewelry. The sale is a fundraiser for the church.
On Sunday, June 1, New Utrecht Reformed Church invites the community to attend its Sunday service at 11 a.m. Also on Sunday, Elligers will conduct his cemetery tour.
Local school children will get a preview of Liberty Weekend at a special event to take place on Friday, May 30. The Revolutionary War reenactors will be on hand to talk to the youngsters about American history. More than 350 fourth and fifth graders from local elementary schools will visit the church grounds.
“It’s what I look forward to the most,” Sarro told the Eagle. “The kids come away with a lot. And they’re so enthusiastic. The teachers look forward to it too. I have teachers contacting me long before we even put our fliers up.”
Friends of Historic New Utrecht is a group that organizes events throughout the year to celebrate the history of the church and the neighborhood.