Merry Christmas! For Christmas we’re featuring a church in Bethlehem… Bethlehem, Connecticut! Pictured above is Christ Episcopal Church. The earliest records of the Episcopal Society of Bethlem go back to 1807. Work on building the church was begun in 1829 and it was consecrated on September 23, 1835. The church was enlarged, by Waterbury architect R. W. Hill, in 1870-1871.
On Main Street, across from the Green in Bethlehem, is the former District #1 Schoolhouse, also known as the Center School. One of nine district schools in town, it was built in 1865 (or perhaps in 1832?) and later, after the district schools were consolidated in 1914, served for many years as the town library. It was then used by the Episcopal Church for their summer fair and other events. The building was moved south to its present location in 1912 when Memorial Hall was built next door. Restored by the Old Bethlem Historical Society, the school is now a museum.
Church’s Tavern, also known as the Old Post Tavern and the Risley House, is a colonial house at 11 Main Street South in Bethlehem. While Aaron Burr was a student at Dr. Joseph Bellamy‘s theological school in Bethlehem, he mentioned the house in a letter to his sister dated January 17, 1774. The letter is quoted in volume 1 of James Parton’s The Life and Times of Aaron Burr (1893):
P. M., 2 o’clock.—I have just been over to the Tavern to buy candles; there I saw six slay-loads of Bucks & Bells, from Woodberry, and a happier company I believe there never was; it really did me good to look at them. They were drinking Cherry Rum when I entered the room, and I easily perceived that both Males and Females had enough to keep them in Spirits. The Females especially looked too immensely goodnatured to say no to anything. And I doubt not the Effects of this Frolic will be very visible a few Months hence.
On the northwest corner of Bethlehem Green is a saltbox house built in 1740 by Samuel Church. In 1797, his daughter Betsy Church married David Bird and the house became known as the Bird Tavern. According to The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass. (1871), by Benjamin W. Dwight, their son, Joshua Bird, was “for 30 years a woolen manufacturer at Bethlehem (1820-50), and for 20 years past (1850-70) a farmer there, a deacon in Ihe Cong. Ch. for 25 years (1845-70), a state senator (in 1859).” He also helped fugitive slaves and his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house also served as the town’s post office. James W. Flynn, who purchased the house around 1900, served as postmaster and town clerk in the early twentieth century. Flynn and his wife Mary later shared the house with their foster child, Mary E. Toman. She married Charles Woodward, the son of a local farmer, and the couple inherited the house. It later passed to other owners, but in recent years was restored to become a restaurant called the Woodward House.
In the view of Bethlem (Bethlehem) by John Warner Barber in his Connecticut Historical Collections (1836), the homes of the town’s first two Congregational ministers can be seen in the distance, behind a fence to left of the Congregational church. To the right is what is now called the Bellamy-Ferriday House, home to Rev. Joseph Bellamy. To the left of Rev. Bellamy’s house is that of his successor, Rev. Azel Backus, who served as minister from 1791 until 1812, when he became the first president of Hamilton College in New York. His former home in Bethlehem, built around 1750, was later moved from where it stood in Barber’s image to the nearby corner of East Street and Main Street South, just off Bethlehem Green. In the early twentieth century, it was home to Dr. William Doolittle and was called Doolicor (Doolittle’s Corner) Place (named as such in a pdf file of a 1934 listing of members of the American Public Health Association).
Joseph Bellamy was a prominent Congregationalist minister, theologian and leader during the Great Awakening. He was pastor of the First Church of Bethlehem from 1760 until his death in 1790. Rev. Bellamy was the author of twenty-two books, the best known being True Religion Delineated (1750). In 1760, Bellamy moved into a Bethlehem farmhouse built in 1754. In 1767, he expanded the house and his son David, a farmer and legislator, added Federal-style embellishments (the Palladian pavilion on the south front) in the 1790s. After the Bellamys, some additional changes were made as the house had various other owners. The property continued as a working farm. In 1912, it was acquired as a summer residence by Henry McKeen and Eliza Ferriday of New York. After Henry’s death, his widow and daughter, Caroline Ferriday, continued to make improvements to the house and established a formal garden. After her mother’s death, Caroline Ferriday sought to restore the house, removing later Victorian-era additions. Miss Ferriday was an actress, conservationist and philanthropist. She left her house and furnishings to the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society (now Connecticut Landmarks) upon her death in 1990. Much of her land is now owned by the Bethlehem Land Trust, which she had helped to establish. Read the rest of this entry »
Four years after the first settlement, the number of families amounted to only fourteen; yet this handful of people felt able to support a minister a part of the time, and accordingly petitioned the General Assembly at its October session, 1738, for liberty to have “winter privileges,” for five months,” in the most difficult season of the year, viz., November, December, January, February and March,” as they lived so far from church, it was impossible to attend. [...] In May, 1739, they petitioned to be released from parish taxes as long as they should hire a minister, and from school taxes, on establishing a school of their own, “the school in the first society being so far off it was of no use to them.” The request was granted, and they were permitted to hire a “minister and set up a school.” At the October session of the same year, they petitioned that the “east half of the North Purchase” might be set off as a distinct ecclesiastical society.
The Society voted to build a meeting house in 1740 and, again quoting the History of Ancient Woodbury, “The clerk of the society in 1743, reported the house covered, and in May, 1744, that materials were provided for finishing the inside of the house.” This building was later replaced:
The first house in the society after a time was deemed too small for its accommodation. Accordingly on the 4th of January, 1764, when there were about one hundred within its limits that paid taxes, they voted to build a second church. On the 28th of the next month, they voted again to build the house, “and to begin and go on moderately and Little by Little.” [...] By a vote of the society, October 20th, 1768, directing the society’s committee to “seat the new Meeting House,” “and dignify the Pues [sic]” therein, we learn when it was finished and ready for worship. In December, 1793, a tax of sixpence on the pound was laid to build a steeple, provided money enough to purchase a “good decent bell and a Lightning rod” for the same should be raised by subscription. Eighty pounds were soon subscribed, and the bell was obtained.
The current First Church of Bethlehem was built as the Society’s third successive meeting house in 1836. It is a Greek Revival, Doric tetrastyle, clapboard church.