hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News November 2020


In priest’s garden, Old World methods yield bounty

Maury Thompson


The Rev. Alexis Hanna, never contrary, didn’t wait for a newspaper reporter to ask, “How does your garden grow?”

Every year at harvest time, the Orthodox priest from South Glens Falls visited the office of The Post-Star to drop off a basket filled with “massive tomatoes,” some weighing more than 2 pounds, and other vegetables, herbs and flowers – all grown in the 300-square-foot garden behind Hanna’s home at the corner of Main and Second streets.

“The Rev. Father Alexis Hanna of South Glens Falls is not only a priest, but a good farmer, as evidenced by the variety of vegetables he brought to the office … yesterday,” the newspaper reported on Aug. 15, 1941.

The next year’s crop was “unusually abundant,” the paper reported in 1942.

Hanna, who came to South Glens Falls in the early 20th century, imported seeds from his native Syria and practiced Old World gardening methods.

“As a youth in Syria, Father Hanna helped his father with a garden,” the paper reported in 1944. “The training he received then has brought fruitful results, as the contents of the basket showed.”
The gifts Hanna brought to the newspaper in harvest baskets over the years ranged from Chinese squash and yellow and green cucumbers to mint, spearmint and ginger as well as roses, carnations, geraniums and philodendrons. But every year, there were tomatoes.
“Father Hanna proudly announced that he still has a quantity of green tomatoes in his garden, and that they are even larger than those displayed today,” The Post-Star reported in 1943.
Reporters and editors weren’t the only recipients of Hanna’s harvest gifts.

In 1920, he brought a basket of produce and flowers to Katrina Trask, the widow of the financier and philanthropist Spencer Trask of New York City and Saratoga Springs. She was so impressed that she exhibited the basket at the Saratoga County Fair, where the gifts “attracted much attention.”

“Mrs. Trask has for several years taken much interest in the work the Rev. Father Hanna is doing in South Glens Falls, and he is highly appreciative of her support,” The Post-Star reported on Sept. 30, 1920.

On Sept. 23 of that year, Hanna had sung mass at Trask’s summer home in Bolton Landing, and several days later he was among guests at a dinner Trask hosted at Yaddo, which was then her Saratoga Springs home.

Hanna came to South Glens Falls and began holding services around 1906. Later, while remaining pastor to his local congregation, he helped to establish Orthodox congregations at Ithaca and Geneva, N.Y. and Burlington, Vt.

Services in South Glens Falls were at first held in the building that later became the Odd Fellows hall, and then in the homes of the pastor and parishioners. In 1911, the congregation purchased property and a building at the corner Main and Second streets in South Glens Falls, and renovated the building for a church.

Most of the church’s members at the time were Syrian immigrants who had settled in the Glens Falls area.

“The members of this church are mostly laborers, hard working people,” The Post-Star reported on Nov. 10, 1911.

Services were open to all.
“If Americans are present, the mass will also be sung in English,” the paper reported on Aug. 14, 1920.

On Nov. 17, 1919, the newspaper published a letter from Hanna, thanking more than 75 area business and civic leaders, by name, who had contributed from $1 to $100 each for building renovations.

“I am deeply touched by their kindness and hospitality,” he wrote. “The aid of generous Americans of all denominations in the city of Glens Falls and vicinity will be greatly appreciated.”
Orthodox congregants from throughout upstate New York and New York City, and some from foreign counties, often visited South Glens Falls for special services and social events.
On Oct. 24, 1948, the Syrian Ladies’ Club of Glens Falls held a dinner at the Blue Sky restaurant to honor the Syrian opera singer Elia Baida, who had been touring United States for two years and was returning to Syria.
In 1932, Miguel K. Kalut, the Orthodox archbishop of Argentina, made an extended visit to Glens Falls, where he had relatives.

Hanna died on March 30, 1951. In the fall of 1950, just months before his death, he made his annual visit to The Post-Star newsroom.

“Again demonstrating his ability as a gardener, the Rev. Father Alexis Hanna, pastor of St. George’s Orthodox Syrian Church, yesterday visited the offices of the Glens Falls Post Company and exhibited produce grown in his home garden, including a basket of giant tomatoes,” the paper reported on Sept. 7, 1950.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.