Freethinkers Meeting Site (hall)
The 1878 convention of the New York Freethinkers' Association (despite its name, a national conference) was held in this building, built as the Freer Opera House, and in a park about 500 feet to the east (far background at the left side of this photo). At this convention atheist publisher D. M. Bennett and two others were arrested under obscenity laws for selling a marriage reform and birth control tract.
The Freer Opera House accommodated retail storefronts and commercial tenants on the ground and second floors; the ballroom/meeting hall occupied the topmost floor. Note the extra-tall third-floor windows, now boarded over. Nineteenth- century meeting halls often placed the main assembly space on an upper floor, a practice that would not change until the advent of modern fire codes. The building now hosts a popular restaurant and pizzeria.
Though the New York State Freethinkers Association convened again in Watkins in 1882, it is not known whether this particular venue served as a site for that convention also.
The 1882 convention had one historically intriguing consequence. Apparently the convention passed a resolution predicting the gradual extinction of Christianity in America. The Rev. C. C. McCabe, a leader in new church develop- ment for the Methodist church, read of the resolution in a newspaper and cabled the convention with the following message: "All hail the power of Jesus' name. We are building more than one Methodist church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day." Convention president Thaddeus Burr Wakeman cabled back, in part: "Build fewer churches and pay your taxes on them like honest men. Build better churches, since liberty, science, and humanity will need them one of these days and will not wish to pay too much for repairs." McCabe gained wide publicity from this exchange. He became known as "Two-a-Day McCabe"; his cable even inspired a popular evangelical camp song. By the time of McCabe's death in 1906 it was widely believed he had directed his famous 1882 cable to the celebrated agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. But in late August, 1882, Ingersoll was fully engaged in conducting what would become the lengthiest criminal defense in U. S. history to that time in the Star Route Trials. Ingersoll almost certainly did not attend the Watkins conference, and thus could have played no role in composing either the resolution that provoked McCabe's message or the convention's reply.