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 First Congregational Church of Windham was formally organized in 1700, having met informally since 1692. The church’s first meeting house, built c. 1697-1700, was replaced by a larger one (or else the original one was enlarged) c. 1713-1716. A new building was constructed in 1751-1755 and pulled down in 1848 to build another. The current church was built in 1887. It is now known as the Windham Center Church and is not a member of any denomination.
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.
Colonial-era congregational meetinghouses served as a place for both religious services and town meetings. They often resembled large houses and did not always have steeples. The Worthington Meetinghouse (723 Worthington Ridge in Berlin) was built in 1774 with no steeple. One was added in 1790, but the building has since been restored to its original look without a steeple. The congregational church in Worthington (the west side of Berlin) had split from the church in Kennsington (the east side of Berlin) in 1772. A fire damaged the building in 1848. Although it was soon repaired, church members decided to erect a new church (now the Berlin Congregational Church) down the road. No longer a house of worship, the building continued its public function as the Worthington Town Hall. The large open space insde was divided into two floors: upstairs for town meetings and downstairs for a school with two classrooms. In 1907 the entire building became a school with a total of four classrooms. The old Meetinghouse served as a school until 1957, when it became the offices of the Berlin Board of Education. The building became vacant in the 1970s when it was declared unsafe. The inside was gutted around that time, but work halted, leaving the interior unfinished. Local residents have been working to restore the building as a community cultural center and museum.
Published in 1881, the History of Fairfield County, Connecticut, compiled by D. Hamilton Hurd, describes the early history of the Westport Methodist Episcopal Church:
The construction of the present church was commenced in the year 1851. Rev. Z. Davenport, now living at Saugatuck, Conn., was at that time the preacher in charge. Services were held in the old Universalist church for about two years, and until the Methodist Episcopal Church was completed.
[. . .] The original members were mostly persons who had in former years belonged to the same denomination and had worshiped at a church about two miles north of Westport village, at Poplar Plains.
The first Methodist sermon preached within the limits of this town was at Poplar Plain, in 1790, by Jesse Lee, in a house standing a few rods west of the now old church. Some few years after this regular preaching services were held in a ballroom of a tavern near by, and until the meeting house was built, about the year 1817, slabs upon legs being used for about forty years before the room was regularly seated. The old church is still standing, and is occasionally used upon some funeral occasion, the members having mostly died, the others having joined with some other Methoilist society.
Construction of a new church, located at 45 Church Lane, was begun in 1907. The church was known by the 1950s as the Community Methodist Church. In 1966 the church was sold to the neighboring Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which uses it as the Christ & Holy Trinity Church Seabury Center and Preschool.
Some embers of a former strife blazed up again when in 1838 some Baptists from Wallingford proposed to establish a church of that faith in Branford. There was opposition as soon as they sought a site for a building. For a time they worshipped in private houses. Their first public baptism was held in the river near Neck Bridge in 1838, and naturally attracted a crowd. Finally the town fathers kindly consented to let the new brethren build on the site of the old whipping post on the green, and there they did in 1840. The building was improved in 1866, and still serves the people.
Merry Christmas from Historic Buildings of Connecticut! Known as the Mother Church of Norwalk, Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church serves the second oldest parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The parish was founded by Norwalk’s Irish immigrants and the first St. Mary’s Church, located on Chapel Street, opposite Academy Street, was dedicated in 1851. The Irish community continued to grow and ground was broken in 1867 for a new and larger church. The basement chapel was dedicated the following year and the completed upper church was dedicated in 1870. Designed by James Murphy, the church, located at 669 West Avenue in Norwalk, recently underwent substantial renovations under the direction of Duncan Stroik, professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame.