Reverend George H. Macnish

I’d like to thank Kathy Darrow and Jack Cottet for their contributions to this blog.  Note that many of the documents spell George’s last name as MacNish, but for the purpose of this summary, I’m using the suggested Macnish format.  Several of the reference materials can be found in our community tree.

—- gmsc

Being an active member of the community is more than just residing in a particular town or region.  At a higher level, it’s about participation and engagement with your friends, family, neighbors and local elected officials to improve upon a way of life that benefits everyone around you.  Throughout Cleveland’s history there have been many influential community members, often referred to as “Cleveland Characters”.  Reverend George Macnish was one of them.  This is a short profile of some the ways in which he strived to contribute in the Cleveland community.

George Herbert Macnish, born August 7th, 1879, was the youngest of three children to Reverend Charles Warrington Macnish and Mary Jane Updike.  The Macnish family was one of strong faith as Charles, his son Charles and George all became ministers of the faith.  Charles Sr. moved to Ovid in the late 1870s, which is where George was born, to begin work in Christ’s church, Willard.

This mission was founded by him in 1878 and in the first eight years the services were held regularly at private residences until the completion of the church, which was erected and consecrated in 1886.  The facilities for parish work were much augmented by the erection of a commodious parish house in 1907, the funds for which were largely secured through the untiring zeal and energy of the rector. [1]

He would serve as rector of the church for thirty-six years before retiring from active duty in May of 1914 due “severe illness, which left him unable to attend the multifidus duties pertaining to the office.” [1]  In addition, Rev. Macnish is cited leading parishioners in services throughout Seneca County, including acting as rector of the Episcopal Church at Hayts Corners, built largely through his efforts. [2]

There is little documented about George’s early adolescent years, although it’s easy to envision the family’s emphasis on moral character, hard work and education.  By 1898 he was in enrolled in what was St. John’s Military Academy in Manlius, New York.  He took classes at Hobart College and received his Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College in Gramber, New York in 1906.

After college, his initial calling was that of the teaching profession.  He began his career as a teacher in Birmingham Alabama in 1906 and soon after the principle of Cincinnatus School, Cortland, in 1909.

His education and his teaching career only seemed to bolster his faith.  In 1911 he published his first book, The Master of Evolution, which focuses on body and spirit.  By 1914 he was living in New York City and attending classes at the New York Theological Seminary.  After graduation, in 1916, he ordained a deacon in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waterloo, New York and began work at Grace Church in Union Springs, February of 1917.  In April of that same year, we was ordained a priest.

Conflict on the world stage was brewing and George was soon caught up with the nobility of serving his country.  In August of 1917, George and future enlistee Hartman Carr set out from Union Springs for officer’s training camp.  He was then inducted into military service on November 27, 1917.  Although an ordained priest, he wouldn’t serve in that capacity.  “A lieutenant in World War I, he served in France under the late General George S. Patton, Jr. of World War II” [3] as an artillery officer.  A fact he took pride in throughout the remainder of his life.

Lieutenant George Macnish arrived home Saturday evening from his long trip across the continent to Seattle where the war department sent him to take ship for Siberia, arriving at the far western city just at the time the armistice was signed, so all he had to do was turn around and trot back home again.  He first was in a southern camp so that he has been able to see a great deal of both the south and west, but of all the country he has seen, he says this strip of land right here between the lakes beats them all. [4]

After being discharged from the military on December 19, 1918, Rev. Macnish returned to the duties of his faith taking a position as the Assistant Rector at Calvary Episcopal Church in Utica, New York.  Shortly after, in 1919, he would transfer to St. James Episcopal Church in Cleveland, New York, under the direction of Bishop Fiske, where he would go on to serve as rector until 1948.

Rev. Macnish was not your stereotypical clergyman.  The following description is provided by journalist Charles Champlin, describing his encounters with the Reverend during his youth:

My stepfather was an Episcopalian, conscientious and observant.  That brought us into frequent contact with the Episcopal priest, a wonderful eccentric named George Macnish.  Mac, as he was known to all, was a tall, rugged, but slightly stooped figure who must have been in his sixties when we first knew him.  He had a deep and resonant voice and was keen on the ideas of physical fitness, courage, and military readiness.  His great hero was General George Patton.  One of his proudest moments was getting a letter published in Time, defending Patton from someone’s complaint that the general had invoked God’s name to get good weather before a battle.  “Patton got his weather, he won his fight,” Macnish wrote, loyal both the general and to God.  Despite his stand on fitness, he smoked, seldom removing his cigarette from his lips, so that there was usually a gray chain of ashes down the front of the shirts or cardigans he wore.  He lived in a small cabin a grove of trees on a cliff at the water’s edge, just east of town.  I envied him then, and it still seems like the perfect setting for a writer.  Mac indeed used to write and self-publish pamphlets on his favorite subjects.  He was also a golfer, who, I believe, owned the local links for some years, and he was a walker, who would show up unannounced at the house, having walked out from town.  He would treat us to a small lecture on the progress of war, sip a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and occasionally consent to be driven back home.” [5, p. 21]

Old Newspapers New York

Based on all of the accounts I’ve read, no one would ever accuse George Macnish of having idle hands.  Shortly after his arrival, he noticed that many of townspeople where out of work.  So, in 1920, Rev. Macnish started the Perfection Candle Company.

“[Rev. Macnish] saw that the village offered little opportunity for employment and some two years ago, he started a candle factory in a small shack assisted by Raymond Cottet and George Moyer, the latter having been employed previously in the Will & Baumer candle factory in Syracuse.  Larger quarters on the main street were secured as the business grew, and having launched the project, which gradually took more and more of his time, the rector had the company organized about three months ago, under the name of the Perfection Candle Company, capital $10,000.” [6]

The Perfection Candle Company would provide substantial resources to the local community for many years to come.  The company would expand and operate under the management of Dudley Lewis until April of 1933, when Mr. Lewis was involved in a serious accident.  Management was then delegated to Thomas Doracey, who ran the plant from October 1933 until it’s closure by Dudley’s father, Dr. Lewis, now owner, in June of 1934.

The hiatus would be short lived though, Eugenia Morenus and Laurence Cottet made a deal to form a new partnership, Como Company, of which Mr. Cottet was named president and Eugenia was named secretary and treasurer. [7, p. 7]

Parish House, now the Friendship House (Jack Cottet)

Noticing that there was no place for social gatherings for the children, he took a page out of his father’s book and began soliciting funds for materials to build a new facility, a project for which he contributed his own time, money and labor.

[George] found that the church had no available place in which social gatherings could be held for the young people.  There was an old barn near the rear of the church edifice.  The Rev. Mr. Macnish, or “Mac” as one would be inclined to call him, had a vision, and it was not the vision of a dreamer, either.  He saw in that old barn the possibility of a parish house.

“It can’t be done.” Was the response from those to whom he first suggested the idea, but they failed to read the line of strength in the rector’s face, for it might be mentioned here that “Mac” has what is classified as a “fighting fact” – the countenance of born leader.  And he showed to his followers that it could be done.  He started the fund for buying lumber and other necessary materials by chipping in $100  of his own money.  The Bishop Charles Fiske heard about it and added another $100 from the Nation-wide Campaign fund some additional money was received.  And the rector of St. James Church, in his old clothes, went at the job of building the parish house with his own two hands, assisted by some of his followers. [6]

By 1924, he established a Boy Scout troop in Cleveland.  Jack Cottet notes:

Mac organized the troop soon after he arrived here, and immediately set them to work sawing up wood for older residents and other acts of kindness that involved their hard work.  He divided the troop into two teams and had them compete with each other to see who could cut and split the most wood. [8]

Throughout his entire life, he returned to Mac’s point of emphasis was the development of young men’s minds and bodies.  Drawing on his athletic activity of his youth, where he “learned to play football without shoulder pads or helmets”, he was instrumental in organizing athletics at Cleveland High School.  He established community tennis courts and built the Northshore Golf Club, where he was a frequent player. [8]

Rev. Macnish is on the far right … (Jack Cottet)

Rev. Macnish organized the creation of American Legion Post 858, where he served as chaplain, a role he occupied later on for the New York State Volunteer Fireman Association.  Every year he would don the uniform and participate in the Labor Day parade on horseback.

In his spare time, he managed to author another major publication, The Orthodoxy of the Glands.

The Town of Constantia’s other landmark church is the Trinity Episcopal Church.  This beautiful building went inactive in 1921.  Once again, Rev. Macnish spurred the efforts for funding and repairs and through his efforts, he participated in the rededication ceremony in 1926.

St. James Church at Cleveland united with the Constantia Church for the service and more than 100 people attended the rededication.  It has been standing idle for the last five years and is in need of repair.  Dr. Macnish started a movement a year ago to rehabilitate the church and parish. [9]

In 1935, another Cleveland landmark, Hotel Cleveland, also the residence of Rev. Macnish, caught fire.  Mr. Cottet notes:

Rev. Macnish discovered the fire when his third floor room began to fill with smoke and he heard flames crackling in the attic.  He ran downstairs and alerted other occupants of the hotel.

He built his own cabin near the village line on Route 49 on a bluff overlooking the lake.  He installed the hardwood floors and beamed ceiling, doing most of the other work himself. [8]

Rev. Macnish House (Jack Cottet)

The picture above, provided by Jack, is the residence Rev. Macnish created.

In his later years, Rev. Macnish continued to write, self-publishing many smaller phamplets on various topics, making speaking appearances around the state and publishing two more majors; Five points of fighting-guts, timing, surprise, plan, magnification of the openings in 1940 and One Divided World, in 1948.  Multiple letters to editor can be viewed in the local newspapers, as well as passionate endorsements for support of the military and domestic military support efforts.

In November of 1946, Rev. George Macnish suffered a heart attack while participating in a consecration at Grace Episcopal church.  After a brief stint in the hospital he was released but this would be a precursor to a stint of health problems.

Mac’s style was captured in a 1949 column by Joe Beamish in the Syracuse Herald-Journal: “During his final years he was ravaged with cancer.  Yet he continued to preach, often clutching the altar rail to hold himself up.  One such sermon began, ‘The atom’ll get you, if you don’t watch out!’  Another time, he told his congregation, ‘One of God’s greatest gifts to man is his friends.  I thank him for mine.’  That was the whole sermon, as he could say no more.  I’m sure that Mac’s friends echoed that sentiment.” [10]

Rev. Macnish passed away on January 29th, 1949. [11]

Services were held … in the Trinity Episcopal Church of Syracuse. Requiem celebration of Holy Communion took place at noon. The celebrant was the Rt. Rev. Malcolm E. Peabody, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, assisted by the Rt. Rev. Walter M. Higley suffragan bishop of the diocese and the Rev. Claude H. Leyfield, rector of Trinity Episcopal church of Syracuse. [12]


“Some folks think I’m a roughneck and some others think I’m crazy.  It doesn’t matter what they think about me – but what they think about themselves.” [13]

– George Macnish


[1]         Geneva Daily Times, “Rector of Christ Church 36 Years,” Geneva Daily Times, p. 5, 4 May 1914.

[2]         Elmira Star-Gazette, “Former Pastor Dies,” Elmira Star-Gazette, p. 17, 21 November 1921.

[3]         Madison County Times, “Rev. George MacNish,” Madison County Times, 4 February 1949.

[4]         Ovid Gazette and Independent, “Ovid Local,” Ovid Gazette and Independent, 1 January 1919.

[5]         C. Champlin, A Life in Writing: The Story of an American Journalist, First ed., Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.

[6]         Utica Observer-Dispatch, “Vigorous Village Rector Effectively Wields Hammer and Paint Brush, Organizes Candle Coompany and Plans New Book on Orthodoxy of Glands,” Utica Observer-Dispatch, pp. Sec. 3, p.1, 24 September 1922.

[7]         L. Cottet, Poems, Facts and Tales: Musings of a Former Village of Cleveland Historian, Cleveland, NY: Cleveland Historical Society.

[8]         J. Cottet, “MAC the North Shore Preacher”.

[9]         Syracuse Herald, “Rededication at Constantia,” Syracuse Herald, p. 4, 16 August 1926.

[10]       M. Marvin Brown, House Calls: The Memoirs of a Country Doctor, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1988.

[11]       The Living Church, “Deaths: George H. MacNish, Priest,” The Living Church, vol. 118, no. 9, p. 22, 27 February 1949.

[12]       Interlaken Review, “Rev. G. H. MacNish of Cleveland, Dead,” Interlaken Review, 4 February 1949.

[13]       Geneva Daily Times, “Rev. George MacNish Visits Friends Here,” Geneva Daily Times, p. 9, 7 February 1923.

[14]       Ovid Independent, “Personal Notes,” Ovid Independent, 14 June 1898.

[15]       Ovid Gazette and Independent, “Personal Notes,” Ovid Gazette and Independent, 26 06 1901.

[16]       Kenyon College, “Annual Commencement,” in 1905-1906 Catalogue of Kenyon College, Grambler, 1906, p. 109.

[17]       Union Springs Advertisor, Union Springs Advertisor, 23 August 1917.

[18]       Ovid Gazette and Independent, “Personal Notes,” Ovid Gazette and Independent, 27 June 1906.

[19]       Geneva Daily Times, “Brief Mentions,” Geneva Daily Times, p. 5, 6 June 1914.

[20]       Interlaken Review, “Ovid,” Interlaken Review, 24 September 1915.

[21]       The American Church Almanac and Year Book, “Ordinations of Priests and Deacons: Central New York Deacons,” The American Church Almanac and Year Book, vol. 87, p. 421, 1917.

[22]       Ovid Gazette and Independent, “Ovid Local,” Ovid Gazette and Independent, 8 October 1919.

[23]       Interlaken Review, “Ovid,” Interlaken Review, p. 2, 23 February 1923.

[24]       Oswego Daily Palladium, “Community Boy’s Club,” Oswego Daily Palladium, p. 8, 8 March 1924.

[25]       Seneca County News, “Ovid News,” Seneca County News, 10 October 1928.

[26]       Oswego Palladium-Times, “Officiates at Kaufman Rites,” Oswego Palladium-Times, p. 4, 8 February 1936.

[27]       Syracuse Herald, “To Open Campaign,” Syracuse Herald, p. 9, 8 February 1936.

[28]       Seneca County News, “1937,” Obituary Notices:: Charles MacNish, 5 August 1947.

[29]       Syraccuse Journal, “Episcopalian Parish Will Benefit (by The Chaperon),” Syracuse Journal, p. 12, 29 June 1938.

[30]       Syracuse Herald-American, “Production Battle Drive,” Syracuse Herald-American, p. C2, 29 June 1941.

[31]       Rome Daily Sentinel, “Fire Protection Method Will Be Taught by State,” Rome Daily Sentinel, p. 14, 24 July 1941.

[32]       Syracuse Post-Standard, “Letter to the Editor: Comments regarding Russia,” Syracuse Post-Standard, p. 6, 17 March 1946.

[33]       Oswego Palladium-Times, “Suffers Heart Attack,” Oswego Palladium Times, p. 2, 7 November 1946.

[34]       Syracuse Herald-Journal, “Rev. MacNish Stricken at Consecration,” Syracuse Herald-Journal, p. 3, 7 November 1946.

[35]       Geneva Daily Times, “Willard Notes and Personal,” Geneva Daily Times, p. 3, 24 November 1948.

[36]       Syracuse Post-Standard, “Rev. G. H. MacNish of Cleveland Dead,” Syracuse Post-Standard, p. 38, 30 January 1949.

[37]       Cortland Democrat, “Cincinnatus: Rev. George H. MacNish,” Cortland Democrat, p. 4, 4 February 1949.

[38]       Interlaken Review, “Rev. G. H. MacNish of Cleveland, Dead,” Interlaken Review, p. 1, 4 February 1949.

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