Charles Albert Wight.

Some old time meeting houses of the Connecticut Valley online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryCharles Albert WightSome old time meeting houses of the Connecticut Valley → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




':;i53 0021021^ M


I H f

FARMlN<iT(>.\ (UliKCIl SI'lliK

Some Old Time

Meeting Houses of the

Connecticut Vallev


Minister of the Congregational Church
in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts

Copyright 1911


Charles A. Wighi

Chicopee Falls, Mass.

Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts


The white meeting houses of the Connecticut Valley
were familiar objects to the writer of this book in his
boyhood, and, wherever he has gone since, he has carried
with him a mental picture of these fine old houses of
worship. Upon his return to the region three years
ago for ministerial service, he conceived the idea of
perpetuating by pen and picture some of the best
examples of these structures.

The difficulty of deciding what examples to include
and what to exclude in the treatment of his subject
has been almost as great as that experienced by some
of the first settlements in setting a stake for the
meeting house lot. The governing principle has been
the illustration of the churches built between 1780 and
1850. A few houses of worship built in the earlier
periods of the history of the region are included, and
the pen sketches are meant to tell the story of meeting
house building in the Connecticut Valley from the
beginning down to the erection of the latest examples
of Colonial buildings. Many worthy examples have
been omitted, and a few houses of worship have been
included whose architectural value is small, but which
for other reasons the author has been pleased to use
in the illustration of his subject. It will be seen that
almost every variety of meeting house known to the
Connecticut Valley prior to 1850 is represented in the
following pages.

The homes of the men and women by whom the
houses of worship illustrated in this book were built
are rapidly being occupied by people of other races
and other ideas. If his effort to put into permanent

form the old time houses of worship in the Connecticut
Valley shall, even to a small degree, impress future
occupants of the region with the value of the institu-
tions and the nobility of character of the race that
created the old New England, the writer will be amply
compensated for his labors.

One of the compensations of his work has been
the correspondence which the author has had with a
large number of interesting people, especially the
ministers of the churches represented in the book,
who have been most obliging in their efforts to render
him assistance in gathering materials for his volume.
To the more than five hundred persons, who generous-
ly subscribed for his book in advance of publication,
the author is indebted for the freedom from anxiety as
to the financial issue of his enterprise which he has
enjoyed in the prosecution of his labors.

He is much indebted to Mr. Albert W. Buckley, art
director of the Springfield Photo-Engraving Company,
for the fine workmanship displayed in the halftones,
and to Mr. Lester D. Rich, of Chicopee Falls, Mass.,
for his faithful and successful efforts to put into effect
the author's ideas in the printing and binding of the

He has gained valuable information from a large
number of historical addresses, town histories, works
on architecture, town records, and church manuals.

To all who have in any way aided him in his un-
dertaking he wishes to express his sense of obligation
and his thanks.

C. A. W.
Easter 1911

'T^O her who in the morning of her
young womanhood became my wife
and ever since has been my constant
and efficient helper in the work of the
Christian ministry, this volume is
affectionately and gratefully dedicated.
Easter 1911. Charles A. Wight.




The Genesis of the Old Time Meeting Houses 1

Old First Church in Northampton, Mass. . 17

The Colrain Pulpit 29

First Church of Christ, Springfield, Mass. . 31

The Old Square Pew, Ludlow, Mass. . . 41

First Church of Christ, Hartford, Conn. . . 45

Second Church of Christ, Hartford, Conn. . 51

The Church in Hadley, Mass 57

Sketch of the Hatfield Church .... 63

Meeting Houses in South Hadley, Mass. . 73

Congregational Church, Granby, Mass. . . 87

Congregational Church, Williamsburg, Mass. . 89

Congregational Church, Enfield, Mass. . . 91

Old White Church, West Springfield, Mass. . 95

First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, Mass. 101
Some Churches in Chicopee, Mass. . . .107
First Congregational Church, Easthampton,

Mass 117

The Old Church in Ashfield, Mass. . .119

Congregational Church, Enfield, Conn. . . 121

Congregational Church, East Haddam, Conn. 123

First Church of East Hartford, Conn. . . 125
The Congregational Church in Farmington,

Conn 129

The Wethersfield Meeting House . . .133

Old Lyme, Conn 137

The Old Town Meeting House, Rockingham, Vt. 141


The Farmington Spire . . . Frontispiece


Spire of Old South Church, Boston . . 2

First Church Erected in Conn. ... 3

Title Page of Builder's Book ... 4

One of the Copper Plates in Builder's Book 5

Interior of Old Deerfield Church ... 8

Town Hall Built next to the Church . . 9

Old South Church, Hallowell, Me. . . 10

Congregational Church, Montague, Mass. , 11

Copper Weathercock 14

Congregational Church, Southampton, Mass. 15

First Church, Northampton, Mass. ... 17

Third Meeting House, Northampton, Mass. 20

Jonathan Edwards 22

Interior of First Church, Northampton, Mass. 24

Elm Set Out by Jonathan Edwards . . 26

Unitarian Church, Northampton, Mass. . . 27

The Colrain Pulpit 29

First Church of Christ, Springfield, Mass. . 31

The First Meeting House, Springfield, Mass. 33

Third Meeting House, Springfield, Mass. . 34

Rooster and Osgood Chair .... 36

The Ginger Cookies 40

Old Square Pew, Ludlow, Mass. ... 42

First Church of Christ, Hartford, Conn. . 46

Interior of First Church, Hartford, Conn. 48

First Church Parish House, Hartford, Conn. . 49

Second Church of Christ, Hartford, Conn.
Interior of Second Church, Hartford, Conn.
Church and Town Hall, Hadley, Mass. .
Church and Old Elm, Hatfield, Mass. .
Page from Sermon of Rev. Joseph Lyman, D. D
Sophia Smith, Founder of Smith College
The Four Ionic Columns, Hatfield, Mass.
Rev. John M. Greene, D. D. .
The Woods Memorial Window, Hatfield, Mass
First Meeting House of Second Congregational

Church, Holyoke, Mass.
The Second Meeting House, South Hadley,Mass
The White Church, South Hadley, Mass.
Mary Lyon, Founder of Mt. Holyoke College

Mary Lyon at 48

Congregational Church, Granby, Mass. .
Congregational Church, Williamsburg, Mass
Before and After, Williamsburg, Mass. .
Congregational Church, Enfield, Mass.
The Old White Church, West Springfield, Mass
First Meeting House, West Springfield, Mass
The Old White Church on the Village Green

Longmeadow, Mass.
First Congregational Church, Chicopee, Mass
Margaret Belcher's Sketch of Second Congre

gational Church, Chicopee, Mass.
Second Congregational Church, Chicopee

Falls, Mass. . . - . .
Map of Chicopee Falls ....
Methodist Church, Chicopee Falls, Mass.
George S. Taylor








From the Chicopee Journal

The John Brown Letter ....

First Congregational Church, Easthampton


The Old Church, Ashfield, Mass.
The Beautiful Spire, Ashfield, Mass.
Congregational Church, Enfield, Conn.
Interior of Enfield Church
Congregational Church, East Haddam, Conn.
Interior of East Haddam Church
First Church, East Hartford, Conn.
Congregational Church, Farmington, Conn.
Interior of Farmington Church
Congregational Church, Wethersfield, Conn.
The Beautiful Colonial Meeting House, Old

Lyme, Conn.

The Old Town Meeting House, Rockingham, Vt
Interior of Rockingham Church Showing High


Interior of Rockingham Church





The Genesis of the Old Time
Meeting House

Spires whose fingers point to Heaven. — Wordsworth.

DURING the last century the stately white
meeting house with its tapering spire was a
familiar object in many of the Connecticut
valley towns. Standing, as it often did, in the midst
of noble elms, it presented a most graceful appearance.
Many of these houses of worship have been preserved
and are loved and admired by those who worship in
them, or reside in their neighborhood. Some of them
have been destroyed by fire, while a few have been
taken down to make way for modern structures or the
needs of the business world.

One who is familiar with the old buildings of the
Kennebec valley in Maine, Portsmouth in New Hamp-
shire, Salem, Boston and Plymouth in eastern Massa-
chusetts, and the towns and cities of the Connecticut
valley, knows that a hundred years ago a common type
of domestic and public buildings prevailed in all of
these places. The fact is readily explained. The
dwellers in all of these places were descendants of the
first settlers of New England, the Pilgrims and Puri-
tans. The earliest inhabitants of the Connecticut valley
constituted the first wave of that tide of emigration,
which swept ever vjestward from the Atlantic sea-
board, until it had spread over the Mohawk valley and
the Mississippi basin, crossed the Rockies and the
Sierras, and reached the Pacific ocean.

The same conditions prevailed from the beginning
in all of the early settlements of New England. To
write a history of architecture in New England during

the first hundred and fifty years after the landing of the
Pilgrims on the shores of the New World, would be
to give a narrative of primeval forests, dangers from
Indians, fierce struggle with winter cold, scarcity of
almost everything that makes human life comfortable,
and lack of skilled architects and builders.

Almost all of the early settlements of the Connec-
ticut valley were laid out on the same plan. There
was a single long street, sometimes as much as three
hundred feet wide, in the midst of which was a common,
extending the whole length of the street. The church
usually stood in the center of the common and the
houses were built on either side of the street, the barns
and out buildings being ranged back of the houses.
The river was usually about half a mile back from the
street on one side, while at about the same distance
back from the other side was the swamp or range of
hills. In many instances these towns remain to this
day unchanged in plan. In later times the church was
moved from the common and placed on one side of
the street in line with the houses. Enfield, Connecticut,
and Longmeadow, Hadley, and Hatfield in Massachu-
setts, are well known examples of the way in which
almost all of the early settlements of the Connecticut
valley were laid out.

In the construction of their houses and public
buildings the first settlers used such materials as were
at hand and built with special reference to warmth,
space and protection from wild beasts and Indians.
Even the meeting house was erected with a view to
warding off assaults from the savages. The turret at
the top of the house of worship served as a watch
tower. The following is taken from a letter written
in -1699 by Samuel Smith, of Hadley, Massachusetts:
"Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to with-
stand ye wicked onsaults of ye Red Skins. Its Foun-



sriliKS IN NEW EN(iLAM) (TUKCfl HTII.T 172!!


dations was laide in ye feare of ye Lord, but its Walls
was truly laide in ye feare of ye Indians, for many and
grate was ye Terrors of em. I do mind me y't alle ye
able-bodyed Men did work thereat, and ye olde and
feeble did watch in towns to espie if any Savages was
in hidinge neare, and every Man kept his Musket right
to his hande".

The first houses and churches were built of logs
taken from the forest. The buildings which succeeded
these first structures were strictly utilitarian in design,
little or no attempt having been made at ornamenta-
tion. The time came, however, when the prosperity
of the people enabled them to erect more pretentious
houses, and public buildings were constructed with
some regard to architectural principles and effect. A
large number of old houses may still be seen in New
England, which were built in this period. They are
square structures, extremely plain on the outside, ex-
cept for the front doorways, which are characterized
by their classical style of architecture. A large number
of such houses were built in the last half of the
eighteenth century.

Some of these houses were highly ornamented
within. In recent years there has been a marked
tendency toward external ornamentation in the con-
struction of buildings of every kind. It was consistent
with the character of the earlier generations in New
England to avoid external ornamentation in the
building of their houses and make the interior as beauti-
ful as the materials and means at their disposal per-
mitted. The highly ornamented doorway was a hint
of the beauty and refinement to be looked for within.
It is interesting to note that our Puritan ancestors in
the construction of their houses copied the ornamen-
tations of heathen temples in the making of their door-
ways. The beautiful doorways of many of the old

houses still standing in New England are a copy of
architectural embellishments used by the ancients in
the construction of their idol temples.

In the main, our ancestors were Roman in their
architectural tastes. The architect Minard Lafevre,
has written, "Architecture owes its origin to necessity",
and it is certain that the utilitarian motive controlled
in the first building enterprises of our forefathers.

The builders of the early domestic structures
made much use of certain books, which may be de-
scribed as builders' assistants. The names of some of
these were, "Builders' Companions", "Gentlemen's and
Builders' Repositories", "Builders' Jewels". A book of
this kind was published in Greenfield, Massachusetts,
1797, by Asher Benjamin, a carpenter. It contained
illustrations and descriptions for the use of builders
and was an attempt, as one writer has observed, to
translate the Classic into the vernacular. The de-
signs of Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren were
adapted to the needs of the region. Benjamin's book
had a large influence in shaping the domestic architect-
ure of western New England in the first half of the
nineteenth century. The book also contained designs
for churches.

A copy of one of the best of these books, "The
City and Country Builders' and Workman's Treasury
of Designs", is owned by Miss Mary H. Carter, of
Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. It was published in
London in 1756 and is a large volume of many pages.
It contains plates and descriptions of the ornamental
parts of buildings, monuments, tables, book cases, time
pieces, pulpits, altar pieces, iron gates, and so forth.
The copper plates are very fine. This book was owned
and used by Miss Carter's grandfather, Elias Carter,
who died in 1864, and also by her great grandfather,
Timothy Carter, who died in 1845. They were both

The C I T y and Country


Or the ART of

The Ornamental PARTS of


llluftrated by upwards of Four Hundred Grand Defigns, neatly engraved on
One Hundred and Eighty-fix COPPER-PLATES, for







Tahiruticlc- Frames,









Pedejiah, for
Bujlo's, and
Stone Tables,
del i figs, and
Iron trorks.

Propoitioiicd by A L I Q_U O T PARTS.

Withf an APPENDIX of Fcurteai PLATES of rn'Jfes for Gndns and Bcnms, diflercnc
i^orts of Rtiftcrs, and a Variety of licofi, ^:c.

To which arc prefixed.

The Five Orders of Columns, according to Andrka Palladio; Vv'hofe Members arc
proportioned by aliquot Parts, in a more cafy Manner than lias yet been done.

Tlie WHOLE intcrfpcifcJ

With Aire RULES for working all the Varieties of Raking IVlembcis in Ai«.v///j, MochHiom, &c.
The like, for the immcJiate Vk of WORKMEN, never iiublidieJ btfore, in any Laiiguni^c.

By B. L.

LONDON, Printed for S. Harping:

•And Sold by C. DoD, in Ave- Mary- Lam ; and J. Marks, on the Pavement in St. M.irlini-Lmt. iji^-




builders, Elias Carter, having built several fine churches
in and near Worcester, Massachusetts. The accompa-
nying illustrations give a good idea of the book.

When the first settlers had erected their houses,
they next gave attention to the construction of the
meeting house. Not long after came the school house,
and still later the town hall. Doubtless the promptness
with which the people of some of the secondary
towns proceeded to build a meeting house and engage
a minister was due in part to the fact that grants
of privileges to establish a plantation were made
upon the express condition that the inhabitants settle
and support "a learned Orthodox minister of good con-
versation". Like the first houses of the settlers, the
meeting houses were small rude structures made of
logs squared at the ends. In rare instances they were
built of timber, laboriously sawn by hand. One of the
earliest of these meeting houses is described as being
twenty six feet long, eighteen feet wide, nine feet in
the clear, and having two windows, a door and a
chimney. In this particular house there was no pulpit
and only rude benches for seats.

As the settlements grew in size and wealth the
first structures erected for religious worship were set
aside for other purposes, or taken down, and more
commodious buildings constructed in their place.

In most towns the second meeting house was a
severely plain structure made of sawn timber. It was
square, with a roof of pyramidal form. On the apex
was a small cupola in which the bell was hung, the
rope hanging down in the broad aisle. It was the ex-
ception that a bell actually hung in the turret. The
inhabitants in many places were called together for
worship by sounding a trumpet, beating a drum, or
blowing a conch shell. These houses of worship
were "decently seated". There might be four windows

in each side; opposite the door was the pulpit. The
men sat in the broad aisle at the right of the minister
as he faced the congregation, and the women at the left.

The third class of meeting houses erected in New
England assumed much larger proportions than those
which preceded them and considerable attention was
given to ornamentation. Some of these later structures
had two rows of windows in each side and a tall orna-
mented steeple surmounted by a weather vane. The
third meeting house erected in Springfield, Massa-
chusetts, was a good example of this style of buildings.

Most of the fine examples of Colonial meeting
houses in the Connecticut valley and other parts of
New England were erected in the closing years of the
eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth.
The work done by the builders in this period com-
mands our admiration and affection. The columns,
pilasters, and entablatures used in ornamenting the
buildings are exceedingly beautiful and show excellent
taste. The committee appointed by the First Parish,
Hatfield, Massachusetts, in 1849, to erect the new
meeting house were instructed to have a portico built
in front supported by four Ionic columns. In many
instances the facade was a remarkable creation.

In the nineteenth century the increase of wealth
led, as was inevitable, to a reaction from the ascetic
ideas and practices of the early settlers of the country.

Love of the beautiful, a quality with which the
Creator has endowed men, began to find expression in
the homes and public edifices of the people. The plain
and almost barn like houses of worship, which had
served the purpose of the people in the latter part of
the century before, now gave place to much more pre-
tentious buildings. In many instances the old structure
was too small for the increased congregation.

The builders of the new meeting houses were
men of taste and skill in their profession. When the

project of a new house of worship arose it might
happen that some one of the parties interested had
seen, while on a journey to Boston, or elsewhere, a
stately meeting house, which he had admired and now
recollected. This became the pattern with more or
less modification, according to the necessities of the
case, of the new house of worship. When the third
meeting house in Northampton was planned a com-
mittee was appointed to go and view several notable
houses of worship.

It has been stated that the stately and highly or-
namented steeples of many of the old time meeting
houses of New England have no family relation to the
house of worship itself. The impression also prevails
to some extent that Puritan ideas and influences con-
trolled in making many of the houses extremely plain
both outside and within. It seems more probable
that the governing influence in the case was the limit-
ed means at the disposal of the builders. Their fi-
nancial resources were, in most instances, not enough
to enable them to ornament the entire structure.
Hence the main body of the church was made ex-
tremely plain, and an effort was put forth to make the
front and the steeple as beautiful as possible under
the circumstances. In rare instances the entire build-
ing, especially the interior, was highly ornamented. A
good example of this class of buildings is the Unitarian
Church in Deerfield, Massachusetts, the interior of
which is most elaborate in decoration and furnishing.

About the time of the building of the meeting
house in Northampton, which stood on "Meeting
House Hill" from 1812 to 1876, Isaac Damon came to
Northampton from New York, where he had studied
under the well known architect Ithiel Towne. Although
only in his twenty-eighth year he was engaged to design

the new meeting house. This was his first independent
work. His special work was bridge building and he
designed a large number of bridges, nearly all of the
bridges across the Connecticut, a half dozen over the
Penobscot and some over the Mohawk, the Hudson
and the Ohio, having been designed and built by him.

The church which Damon built in Northampton
was the largest and most elaborate of any in western
Massachusetts. It seated nearly two thousand people.
He also built the stately house of worship of the First
Parish of Springfield, which still stands on Court
Square. At least a dozen of the houses of worship in
western Massachusetts were designed by him. He ex-
erted as great an influence upon the ecclesiastical archi-
tecture of the region as did Benjamin upon the domestic.

The first meeting houses were built not only with
reference to purposes of religious worship, but also
for general public use. The second story of the
meeting house in Springfield was used for a time for
storing grain. The first town meetings were held in
the meeting house. The representatives of fifty towns,
who met in Hatfield in the August Convention that
preceded the Shays' Rebellion and drew up their list
of "grievances", assembled in the Hatfield meeting
house. There is record of murder trials having been
held in the meeting house.

In some instances when the second house of
worship was erected the first was used as a school
house. It became the custom later to erect a town
house along side of the meeting house. The style of
architecture was much the same in the case of both
buildings, except for the steeple which adorned the
house of worship.

. In the case of most of the meeting houses erected
in the first decades of the last century the main portion
of the building, like the older houses of worship, was



extremely plain and of a primitive type. As a rule, it

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryCharles Albert WightSome old time meeting houses of the Connecticut Valley → online text (page 1 of 10)