First Congregational Church, Branford (1843)

November 15th, 2015 Posted in Branford, Churches, Italianate, Romanesque Revival

First Congregational Church, Branford

Settlers from Wethersfield established themselves in Branford in 1644 and built a log meeting house. This was enlarged to twice its original size in 1679. As related in the second volume of J.L. Rockey’s History of New Haven County (1892), from the church’s records:

November 30th, 1699. ‘Whereas it hath been agreed upon by the town to build a new meeting house, and there being different notions respecting the form— some being for a square house and others for a long brick house with lean-to— it is agreed by the town that a lott shall be drawn to decide the matter, and it is agreed that Benj. Harrington shall draw the lott.’ The lot being drawn fell for a square meeting house. The form of the tower and turret was left to the committee. The inhabitants agreed to work out their proportions of expense as near as they can in such work as the committee judge them capable. The committee were to deduct from wages of those who come late or are negligent. They sell the new part of the old house to help pay joiners for work on the new house. They sell the old part of the old house to Richard Wilford for teaching school. This new house stood on the common, about in front of the town hall.

Built in 1700, this meeting house was deemed inadequate by 1738, when the decision was made to erect a new one. It was completed in 1744. As described in A history of the First Church and Society of Branford, Connecticut, 1644-1919 (1919), by J. Rupert Simonds:

The steeple was not added until 1803, and the clock was placed therein in the summer of 1804. There is an interesting story concerning the erection of the steeple. It happened that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the newly reorganized Episcopal Church purchased some fine lumber to be used for building a steeple for their new church, but their funds proved insufficient for the carrying out of their plans, and so they were compelled to sell the timbers, which they had prepared, to the Congregational Society, and they were used in the erection of the Congregational steeple. Inasmuch as the feeling between the two churches was not very cordial at that time, this was regarded, by the Episcopalians, as a cause for much chagrin, and, by the Congregationalists, as an occasion of considerable satisfaction. [. . .]

The new meeting house was situated nearly in front of the present edifice, but faced almost in the opposite direction. It was occupied by the church for practically a century, or until the erection of the present building, in its original form, in 1843.

Simonds describes the building of the 1843 meeting house in its original form:

It was decided to have a brick house, with a porch and large fluted pillars in front, a steeple in the center, and with two aisles in the audience room. The work went steadily, tho not rapidly, forward. The old Meeting House was in the way of the builders, so it was torn down and services were held, for a time, in the Academy. In January of 1844 the slips, which had been placed in the new building instead of the old square pews, were appraised and rented. It was also decided to have an organ in the church. The basement was not finished until January 1, 1845, for it had been necessary to sell part of the Indian Neck timber to obtain sufficient funds.

On January 19, 1845, the new Meeting House was finally dedicated.

The First Congregational Church decided to enlarge the building and change the facade in 1868, as again described by Simonds:

After some little discussion, and the revision of the plans several times, it was decided to enlarge the church by removing the original facade and adding to the length of the roof sufficiently to enable the placing of thirty more pews, and replacing the old facade with a new one. This was accordingly done, and the result is the edifice in its present form. The addition at the rear of the building, comprising the chancel, was also made at this time and the walls of the auditorium were frescoed.

The building has been attributed to architect Sidney M. Stone.

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