Hezekiah Conant.

A souvenir of the Conant memorial church, its inception, construction, and dedication .. online

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3 1833 01095 5075

Jl ^ouveniv.

/^^ e-^v^-.-Ot-'X-'*-'^

Jl Souvenir


Dudley, Alass-

gf^ 1732

Floor Plan of First Church, showing
Location of Pews, from Old Town

opp. page I








^^e §onax\t l^lemortaf §£}uxx^.




/^N Tuesday afternoon, June 3, 1890, the
^^ town was thrown into great excitement by
the discovery that the old Congregational Church
was on fire, and that there was great danger that
the whole of the property on Dudley Hill would
be swept away by the devouring element if help
from Webster was not forthcoming. It was the
largest fire the town of Dudley ever suffered.
Flames were discovered issuing from the roof of
the church, just below the bell-deck, by some of
the students of Nichols Academy, about two
o'clock. The alarm was given, and the citizens
and pupils of the Academy began at once to fight
the fire. When first seen, the blaze was but small.
Meanwhile the fire on the roof was spreading
rapidly. As soon as ladders could be procured,
and spliced together, they were raised to the roof
and efforts made to quench the flame by means
of extinguishers; but for some unknown reason
only one could be made to work, and that could
not be reloaded. This method was abandoned,
and the slow process of passing water up thirty
feet of ladder commenced. A hole was cut in the


Steeple, that water could be carried upstairs and
passed to men on the roof. For a time it seemed
that the flames were getting under control; but
they were at work in the steeple, above the roof,
and suddenly blazed out near the bell, spreading
above and below, until steeple and roof were one
seething mass of flames; then the fire got the
mastery, and the church was doomed. Help had
been called for from Webster, and now the people
were anxious, for the sparks were flying over the
hill in great clouds, setting fire to roofs on the
adjacent houses. The efforts of those fighting
the fire were directed to keeping it back from
the houses, and prevent spreading. The first to
take fire from the church was the Pratt house,
occupied by Thomas M. Larned, and owned by
H. Conant, who had purchased it only a little
more than a year before, and then the Morris
house, occupied by the Misses Jewett; both of
these buildings, with their barns, were completely

Most of the furniture was removed from the
houses, and tools and wagons from the barns, and
then the buildings were abandoned to the flames.
The house and barn leased by the Misses Jewett
were a few rods further north, — the barn being
the most exposed, — and every exertion was made
to save them, but all was unavailing. The store,


dwelling-house, and barn of Moses Barnes, lying
next to the Morris house, were much exposed;
the furniture was removed from the house, wet
carpets spread on the roof and gable of the store,
and water poured on all the roofs. The chances
were ten to one in favor of the fire, and it seemed
that the street north of the church must go; but
before the flames could spread further, the fire
department of Webster arrived, and quickly had
them under control, saving the Barnes property.
Considerable difficulty was experienced in finding
sufficient water, as wells and cisterns were quickly
exhausted; but these made up in number what
they lacked in size. Nearly every building north
of the church was several times on fire. Across
the street also the buildings suffered. The old
Bemis store and the Methodist Church were on
fire, and in considerable danger, but a stream
from the steamer put it out. The efforts of the
firemen were rewarded by confining the fire-loss
to the church and the houses and barns before

The run of the Webster fire department, with a
steamer, a hose company, and the hook and ladder
company, was one of the best pieces of work ever
accomplished by it. The two and a half miles to
the fire were covered in just twenty-eight minutes
from the time the alarm was telegraphed from the


Academy telegraph office. When the firemen and
their apparatus reached the church, they were
obliged to keep shifting from well to cistern, as
one after another was drained, in this way fight-
ing the flames under great disadvantage, but soon
obtaining control of them.

The fire is supposed to have started from sparks
from a tinman's stove. Extensive repairs were
being made in and around the church, and two
workmen were attending to some tin work in a
part of the belfry, both unconscious of the fire
burning a few feet below them. They were
apprised of their danger, and barely escaped be-
fore the belfry and roof were all ablaze. When
first seen, the flame on the roof was but little
larp:er than a man's hand. The alarm was first
given by Frank Nichols and Henry Barnes, two
Nichols Academy students, who were at the well
after water. The church and Academy bells were
rung, the former until the rope burned oflf. As
soon as the fire was found to be serious, the call
for aid was telegraphed to Webster, and the fire
company quickly responded.

The spire remained until the last. The bell fell
upon the granite steps and into the basement,
where it was found broken after the fire. Most
of the smaller pieces of the bell were taken by
some of the former worshippers as relics, but the



larger were recast in small bells and lacquered
for souvenir paper-weights.

It is, however, a very ill wind that blows
nobody good; and this is agreeably enforced in
the calamity on Dudley Hill, for no sooner was
the church in Dudley burned than the people
commenced to make arrano^ements for building
anew. A snug sum was already in the treasury,
placed there to pay the cost of repairing the old
edifice. Each day letters were received contain-
ing expressions of sympathy and generous offers
to assist in rebuilding. A meeting was appointed
for Monday night, June 9th, in Washington Hall;
but another agency had been at work. Sunday
morning, as the congregation rose to receive the
benediction, Hezekiah W. Williams stepped for-
ward and read the following letter: —

Pawtucket, R. I., June 5, 1890.

To H. W. Williams, Esq., Dudley, Mass.

My Dear Sir, — The old Dudley Church is gone, — gone
up in a chariot of fire and smoke. I felt sad when I heard of
it, as if an old friend had departed this life, never more to
be seen by us here. Although I might truthfully say that
I sympathize with the Dudley people in their great loss, yet
I feel it as much a bereavement to myself as to them. I
have many recollections associated with the old structure,
extending over the last half-century, and among them the
periodical " fixing up," repainting, whitewashing, repairing.


alterations, additions, and subtractions, to say nothing of
divisions which those events v^ere apt to cause among the
congregation. I presume enough money has been spent from
time to time, which, if it could be put together, would build
a new and much better structure than the people of Dudley
ever dreamed of. But the old building still remained ; its tall
spire was useful as a landmark, and a very convenient point
of reference, visible as it was at a great distance in ever}^
direction ; but the framework of the church building was not
of the highest order. It was constitutionally weak, and of
course the high winds of winter beating upon the tall steeple
would make the building sway and rack its joints, causing
the plastering of the walls to crack, and thus to a great
degree baffle the attempts made from time to time to have
them look neat and nice.

In short, the old church made a better impression upon the
beholder from an outside point of view than from the interior,
and it was more to be respected as a landmark than as a
comfortable building for use as a place to receive divine
instruction. And it may be that in this case the cloud has
a silver lining, and I am disposed not to consider it so great
a calamity. At any rate, it gives me pleasure to have an
opportunity to ofler to erect at my own expense a new church
for the use of the Dudley Congregational Church and Society,
as follows :

I hereby offer to erect a new church building, the
walls to be of brick, the roof to be slated, the tower
to have a suitable bell and clock ; the interior to be
complete as to pews and pulpit, and furnished with
efficient modern heating and ventilating appliances,
and to have the same seating capacity as the old
chiuxh, but with a smaller room beneath for a vestry
for use of the Sunday-school and for conference meet-
ings ; and when complete to give it to the Dudley


Congregational Church and Society, and their suc-
cessors, by formal deed, reserving a right to myself
and heirs to one pew free from tax, and a privilege to
put in a memorial windovs^, or tablet, as I may choose,
to perpetuate the memory of my family and ancestors.
I will commence to have plans and specifications
drawn as soon as the Church and Society signify their
acceptance of this offer, but I would not like to do it
against the wishes of any reputable member of the

Yours truly,


Monday evening, in Washington Hall, the offer
was accepted, and a committee of three appointed
to draft a letter of thanks to Mr. Conant for his
timely gift. Motions were made to pay the church
debt of about four hundred and fifty dollars with
the money subscribed, and another committee
appointed to learn the wishes of the subscribers.
It was stated that the representatives of insurance
companies remarked that they were sorry to draw
their checks for only a thousand dollars apiece.
All having agreed to leave the two thousand
dollars insurance for a sort of nest-egg if possi-
ble, the meeting adjourned to Tuesday evening,
June 17th.

Jiavtng of t^e @orncr=^fone.


The corner-stone of the new church was laid
on Thursday, October i6, 1890, at half-past one.
Some two hundred and fifty of the inhabitants of
Dudley and neighboring towns, with a company
from Pawtucket, R.I., assembled to witness the
event. The Doxology was sung, prayer was
offered by Rev. H. A. Blake of Webster, and the
sealed copper box was placed by Mr. Conant in
its receptacle under the corner-stone. Rev. T. C.
Richards, the pastor of the Dudley Church, read
a list of the contents of the box, as follows: "Copy
of letter of H. Conant to H. W. Williams and
reply of the Church Committee; copy of a dis-
course delivered on Fast Day, April 9, 1835, by
Rev. James H. Francis, one of the former pastors
of the old church, and containing an historical
sketch of the town of Dudley; current manuals of
the Congregational churches of Dudley, Oxford,
and Webster; annual report of officers of the
town of Oxford; Tax Book, 1890, of the town of
Lincoln, R.I.; report of officers of the town of
Dudley; report of town of Webster; Tax Book,
1890, of the city of Pawtucket, R.I.; current daily
and weekly papers, — Boston 'Journal,' Boston
' Herald,' New York ' Tribune,' Worcester ' Spy,'


^ Harper's Weekly'; copy of the Webster 'Times'
containing article on destruction of the old church;
lists of officers for 1890 of the towns of Webster
and Southbridge; photograph of the old church;
officers and members of the Dudley Church and
Society, 1890; photograph of the Conant family;
a collection of United States coins of 1890, and a
quarter eagle of 1878; piece of bell of old church;
photograph of Mr. Conant's summer residence at
Dudley; a ten-cent Government scrip of 1863;
one dollar United States silver certificate; postage

The members of the Conant family and the
pastor of the church laid the mortar, and the
corner-stone was lowered to place and declared
by Mr. Conant duly laid. After the benediction
by Rev. Alexander McGregor of Pawtucket, Mr.
Conant's pastor, the company adjourned to the
Alumni Hall. In the hall, after singing "How
Firm a Foundation," Mr. Conant introduced Charles
F. Wilcox of Providence, the architect, who, by
the aid of plans and a sketch, explained the style
and details of the proposed new edifice.

Mr. Conant then read the following address, to
which the response of general applause was
given: —

My Dear Friends of Dudley and Vicinity, — It is
proper for me to say a few words on this occasion. As you
know, I have pledged my word that I will erect at my own


expense this church of which the laying of the corner-stone
to-day is an earnest of that promise. Though practically of
no more importance than the foundations already in, and
materials gathered on the ground in readiness, yet it is marked
by these ceremonies, and is therefore a proper and fitting
time for saying what I do. As my ancestors were among the
early settlers in this town, and their ashes are in its soil,
it is but natural that I should desire to erect some sort of
memorial to perpetuate their memory, that the generations to
come may know about them, and that their history might be

The destruction of the former church by fire last June gave
me an opportunity which I have acted upon. Obtaining con-
sent of the Church and Society, I have procured designs from
several different architects, decided upon present plans, have
entered into contracts for labor and material, and men are
already at work, materials are arriving, and the erection of the
structure is fully assured. If any one may say that in doing
this I am selfish, and am seeking self-glorification, I shall have
nothing to apologize for. I shall admit that I have taken
advantage of the financial helplessness of this Church and
Society to promote my scheme, call it selfishness if you will.
We are not asked to divest ourselves of regard for ourselves or
our household. For I cannot help seeing that Christianity
itself appeals to man's higher selfishness for his consideration
that he may be persuaded to enter the service of God, for there
the reward is greater and more enduring, and full of joy,
peace, and happiness than any other course can bring. In
this case, in addition to the preservation of the history of my
family, I am putting in the hands of the people of Dudley a
useful structure, a convenient place of worship, and a house
where they can sit sheltered from chilling winds or falling rain
or scorching sun, and listen to such religious instruction as the


people may receive from teachers and preachers elected by
them from time to time for that jDurpose. The human mind
needs such religious instruction, and in the erection of this
building I take satisfaction in placing in their hands the means
of providing themselves with this acknowledged necessity, in
a more comfortable and satisfactory shape, I trust, than the
old structure could possibly have furnished ; whether or not
in this I am fulfilling a high duty, is a matter in which the
responsibility comes upon myself alone.

In placing any conditions upon the gift, I feel that I have
not wisdom enough to say what doctrine should be taught, or
what forms or ceremonies practised. Yet I must admit that I
have listened to many and many a sermon, heard the eloquence
of learned divines, have seen the religious ceremonies of civi-
lized communities, and many times have tried to learn what
was the direct and immediate effect, and must confess my
inability to have clearly seen always a sanctifying result. But
there are some things which do commend themselves to
thoughtful minds as elements of Christianity, at least so it
seems to me, among which is a disposition to pi-omote peace
on earth and good-will among men.

Those who lived in this town a half-century ago can remem-
ber well the bitterness engendered here by different religious
opinions prevailing ; but in thinking over the matter, while I
cannot say but what they were all sincere, yet there was an
element of crudeness and barbarity in it, and I hope these
conditions will never again recur. In looking back I can
see that the men of to-day who are prominent and respected
citizens cannot claim that they owe their present position
entirely to the religious instruction of their early youth as it
was delivered from the pulpit. All the minister can do, it
seems to me, is to present new forms of truth to his congre-
gation on the Sabbath, earnestly study to be able to present


new ideas to the people, subjects of thought for them to
mentally digest and assimilate, and thus promote mental and
spiritual growth. He should be a man of education and of
a character that will command the respect of the community,
and he should consider that the higher type of Christianity
cannot flourish where ignorance prevails. Science and Chris-
tianity should go hand in hand.

The day for dogmatic teaching has passed, I trust, and, so
far as an intelligent congregation is concerned, has no more
effect than the sound of whistling wind or howling storm.
God has given us brains and books. His sun shines upon the
wicked as well as the good, and the rain falls on the just and
the unjust. Let us thank Him for all His goodness. It is in
this manner He gives to the people of Dudley this new temple
for His service, and on them falls the responsibility that it will
be used in a way that will best serve His purpose, and bring
honor to the community and respect for the religion it pro-
fesses. I certainly shall feel rewarded if I can ever see that
this memorial of mine shall prove to be such a useful and
beneficial structure, and the teachings of those who minister
here in sacred things will influence the community to a higher
tone of religious thought, and promote peace, good-will, and
brotherly love.

§on^ecxafion of t^e ^c££.


On Tuesday, September 29, 1891, occurred a
pleasant ceremony, incidental to the building of
the church. A few friends of Hezekiah Conant,
desiring to show their appreciation of him and of
his generosity, raised about twelve hundred dollars,
and an order was given F. Fuller of Providence
for a bell in F, which was completed and ready to
be raised from the entrance floor to its final posi-
tion in the tower on that morning. A special car
attached to the morning train leaving Providence
at ten minutes past nine at Pawtucket took aboard
Gen. Olney Arnold, ex-Gov. A. H. Littlefield,
Lieut.-Gov. H. A. Stearns, and others, with their
ladies, who all enjoyed a pleasant trip to Webster,
and thence to Dudley Hill by carriages.

The people of the parish had assembled in
goodly numbers, and at once elected Governor
Littlefield as moderator of the meeting. Prayer
was offered by Rev. Mr. Richards, pastor of the
church. A hymn was sung by the company,
following which the moderator delivered a very
happy address on bells, their origin, uses, and
benefits, closing with the following quotation: —

" To call the fold to church in time, we chime ;
When joy and mirth are on the wing, we ring ;
When we lament a departed soul, we toll."


William H. Park then presented the bell to the
Church Society, and read the following: —

To THE First Congregational Church and Society,
Dudley, Mass., — We, the undersigned, friends of Hezekiah
Conant, being desirous of testifying our appreciation of his
generosity in the erection for your use of the beautiful house of
worship now approaching completion, and with a desire to
help on the good work, beg to present a bell, which we trust
may for many years call you and your children to the house of
God, and we also hope that its tones may serve to keep in
perpetual remembrance our mutual friend, who has done so
much for the town of Dudley.

J. M. Addeman. Charles H. Smith.

Olney Arnold. Jude Taylor.

Henry F. Barrows. George M. Thornton.

Sarah Blodgett. William E. Tolman.

E. R. Bullock. Winslow Upton.

H. N. Daggett. William E. Wilson.

Samuel Foster. George Bion Allen.

Darius L. Goff. John A. Arnold.

Lyman B. Goff. E. G. Blodgett.

Lyman T. Goff. W. H. Forbes.

James H. Kingman. Charles L. Knight.

A. H. Littlefield. Samuel D. Knight.

Mrs. D. G. Littlefield. Fred. R. Mason.

Charles Matteson. Charles E. Pervear.

Charles P. Moies. E. A. Perrin.

William H. Park. H. A. Stearns.

C. E. Peirce. E. L. Freeman.

Charles Sisson. L. B. Darling.

The bell was very appropriately accepted in
behalf of the Society by Rev. Mr. Richards, and
a congratulatory address in a humorous and happy
vein was delivered by Rev. Alexander McGregor
of Pawtucket. The bell was raised to the tower,


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Online LibraryHezekiah ConantA souvenir of the Conant memorial church, its inception, construction, and dedication .. → online text (page 1 of 8)