At 712 Main Street in Middletown is the New Hope Bible Way Church. The building, which originally stood on the west side of Main Street between College and Court Streets, was built in 1799. It was then the fourth meetinghouse of Middletown’s First Church of Christ, a Congregational society first organized in 1668. The structure has been moved twice. The first time was in 1822, when it was shifted back 8 feet as it was thought to be too close to Main Street. In 1873, after the congregation moved to a new building (the current First Church of Christ on Court Street), the old meetinghouse had its steeple removed and the structure was relocated to its present location. The original rear of the church became the new front facade facing Main Street, to which storefronts were eventually added. For a time, the former church’s audience room was used for meetings of St. Mary’s Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society. Before becoming a church again, the building housed small businesses and apartments.
The house at 51 Main Street in Essex was built in 1803 by Thomas Millard, a shipcarver and housewright, and was the home of Felix Starkey from 1805 to 1856. Felix Starkey (1777-1856) was a merchant and the brother of Timothy Starkey. He married Esther Hayden. (The sign on the house reads “Timothy Starkey 1720″).
The Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield began as a farming community in the early eighteenth century. Local residents successfully petitioned the General Assembly to establish a Congregational church in 1725 as a new Northwest Parish, separate from the Fairfield Congregational Church. The first meeting house was erected in 1727. As related in Ye Church and Parish of Greenfield (1913) by George H. Merwin:
The new meeting-house which was so acceptably framed during the summer of 1727, was not completed at once. The members of the parish were evidently not inclined to tax themselves too heavily during any one year, for we must remember that all parish expenses were met by a tax rate levied at the annual parish meeting precisely the same as we now levy the annual town tax. So each year, for five years or more, the parish voted to raise a rate for Mr. Goodsell’s salary, and for the carrying on of the work on the meeting-house. We have conclusive evidence that the new meeting-house was in use at least as early as 1730 for the records of the meeting held October 13 of that year state that “ye school shall be kept in ye old school-house where ye parish used to meet in.”
Mr. Pomeroy had been pastor but a short time when the society decided to build a new meeting-house. The old meeting-house had been in use scarcely thirty-three years, yet it was becoming dilapidated, and out of date. Its shape was like that of the common country school-house, perfectly plain; there was no steeple and no place for a bell. A young and active preacher and a parish of loyal and prosperous people demanded a more up-to-date house of worship.
So on February 4, 1760, it was voted “that a new meeting-house be built; that it shall stand on the Place of Parade, where now stands a monument of stones, and that Samuel Bradley Jr. shall be a committee to apply to the county court in behalf of the parish, to affix and establish the place on which it shall stand.” A few weeks later it was decided that “the dimensions of the building shall be 60 by 42 feet, with a well-proportioned and well-built steeple; that Samuel Bradley Jr. and Moses Dimon Esq. shall be the committee for building said new meeting-house.”
As related by Merwin, the next meeting house was built in 1845:
Soon after Mr. Sturges’ settlement, the subject of building a new house of worship was agitated. It seemed unwise to expend more in the repair of the old meeting-house, which had been in use for more than eighty years. The hardest problem to solve was not the raising of funds, but how to get the consent of the pew-owners, who held their pews by deeds derived from their fathers. But after much labor on the part of the pastor, Governor Tomlinson, and others, the necessary vote was secured to pull down the old and build a new meeting-house.
[…] The plans and specifications had been furnished by the noted New York architect, Richard Upjohn, the designer of Trinity Church, New York, and many other churches and public buildings. The style of the church was what was commonly known in architecture as “Gothic,” and considered by everyone as very beautiful. During the few years it remained standing it was known as the handsomest church in this section.
On November 2, 1850, the Ladies’ Sewing Society asked permission to place a furnace under the church at their own expense; their request was readily granted, but the furnace, perhaps through improper management, proved to be a poor investment and most disastrous in destroying property, for three years later, after having been in use but little more than five years, between Sunday evening, November 13, and the morning of November 14, 1853, this most beautiful and much-admired house of worship was entirely consumed by fire. The loss was a great disappointment to those who had built the church at much expense, toil and sacrifice, and we do not wonder that they felt somewhat discouraged.
The Gothic church was soon replaced by a new one:
It was voted that this church should have a basement under at least two-thirds of it, and Thomas Merwin and William Sherwood took the contract for the excavation. Albert C. Nash furnished the plans, for which he was paid $100. The mason work of the underpinning was performed by John Conrad, the contractor for the carpenter work was David Smith of Black Rock (brother of Franklin Smith of Greenfield), the contract price being $5,500. The interior decorating of walls, considered at the time a work of art, was done by Oris Fritz of New York, for $250. A new bell was purchased at a cost of $276.80, and put in place October 4, 1854, but the building was not entirely completed and accepted by the society until February, 1855[.]
The current Greenfield Hill Congregational Church was dedicated on April 10, 1855.
The sign on the house at 14 Prospect Hill Road in Cromwell identifies it as the Hezekiah Ranney House with the date of 1797. In that year, Hezekiah Ranney (1742-1826), a school teacher, sold the house to Samuel Kirby, a farmer, and moved out of the state. Ranney had inherited the property in 1775 with a house built in the 1740s for his father, Capt. Joseph Ranney. Hezekiah Ranney possibly built the current house around 1788, when he mortgaged the property, and it was in existence by 1816, after the property was acquired by Benjamin Wilcox. The house is also known as the Kirby-Wilcox House. Benjamin Wilcox had a farm and operated a cider mill with his brother Eliphalet, who acquired his brother’s holdings in 1830. When Eliphalet Wilcox died in 1839, his son, Eben Wilcox, inherited the property. Eben gave the house to his son, Joseph E. Wilcox, in 1854. Joseph Wilcox, probably made the Italianate Victorian-era alterations to the house, c. 1870. His brownstone carriage step still stands in front of the house. The house was sold out of the Wilcox family in 1915.
The house at 72 Willow Street in Southport was built in 1796 by Paul King Sheffield (1764-1845). Born in Stonington, Sheffield engaged in privateering during the Revolutionary War with his father and brother in an armed vessel they equipped and sailed themselves. After the war he moved to Fairfield and married Mabel Thorp, daughter of Capt. Walter Thorp, and became a ship-master and ship-owner. The house on Willow Street was the childhood home of Paul King Sheffield’s son, Joseph Earl Sheffield (1793-1882), who grew up to become a wealthy railroad magnate and philanthropist. Later a resident of New Haven, Sheffield gave Yale University a building and a $130,000 endowment for its scientific department, which was renamed the Sheffield Scientific School in his honor.
Eunice Ward (1771-1858), widow of James Ward (they were married in 1793), built the house at 438 Main Street in Middlefield around 1830 on land she had received from her father, John Birdsey, in 1792. Following her death the house passed to her two daughters, Almira and Lucina. As recorded in the History of Middlefield and Long Hill (1883), by Thomas Atkins:
James Ward 2d, married Eunice Birdsey, and lived near the center of Middlefield. Eunice Birdsey Ward died Jan. 30, 1858. The following is clipped from a Middletown paper. “In this town, Middlefield Society, Mrs. Eunice Ward, widow of the late James Ward, aged nearly 88 years. She was a worthy member of the Congregational Church in this place, and was much loved and respected by a large circle of relatives and acquaintances. She was cheerful and social in temperament, and passionately fond of flowers.”
The children of James and Eunice Ward were:
Almira, still living at the old home (1883).
Eunice, who married Richard M. Bailey.
Amelia, who m. 1st, Timothy Coe; 2d, John Smith.
James, who m. Electa, who m. William T. Boardman of Westfield.
Irena, who m. Peter Ashton.
Elizabeth, died young.
John, died in infancy.
Having made the trek to the Congregational church in Southbury each Sunday for three decades, residents of the South Britain section of town petitioned the General Assembly to have four months of winter preaching near their own homes. The South Britain Ecclesiastical Society was formed in 1766 and built a meeting house on the Green in 1770. The current South Britain Congregational Church, located at 693 South Britain Road north of the first building, was built in 1825. The interior was renovated in 1869, when the pediments over the three front doors were also changed from semi-circular fanlights to one curvilinear and two triangular pediments (more in keeping with the Greek Revival style).