The First Church of Christ in Lancaster, Massachusetts, (also known as the Bulfinch Church) is one of the finest Federal style religious buildings in America. The history of First Church goes back to the beginnings of the town of Lancaster in 1653. By Massachusetts law, a town could not be established without a church and a minister. First Church was founded as the official town church. The current building is the fifth of the congregation and was designed by Charles Bulfinch, who is regarded by many as the first native-born American to practice architecture as a profession. The church building is rectangular in plan with a projecting front section supporting a two-stage tower. At the facade, an arcaded and pedimented portico with three high openings with round-arch tops, frame three entry doors. The arches are separated by pilasters, which rise to an entablature and a fully enclosed gable pediment. The church is so pleasing to look at! To the side, the old horsesheds remain, where members would keep their horses during church services.
The building that gives Burlington’s iconic Church Street its name is this, the Unitarian Church of Burlington. One of the most stunning Federal style churches in New England, the church is the oldest surviving place of worship in Burlington, built in 1816. The church was designed by English architect Peter Banner (possibly with assistance of Charles Bulfinch), years after his crowning achievement, the Park Street Church in Boston was completed. From the head of Church Street, the church oversaw the growth of Burlington from a small lakefront town to the largest city in the state. In August 1954, the church steeple was struck by lightning, causing it to shift over two feet in a matter of months, unknown to the congregation and public. It was decided that due to concerns the steeple may collapse through the building, it was selectively demolished and reconstructed. The church remains an active part in the city and architectural landmark for Burlington.
The Old Round Church in Richmond, Vermont, was built in 1812-13 under the direction of local craftsman William Rhodes to be the Town Meeting Hall and place of worship for members of five denominations in the area. While the church is known as the Old Round Church, it is actually a sixteen-sided polygon, but I think it is safe to say the Old Round Church sounds better than the Old Hexadecagon Church… Traditionally, 18th- and 19th-century meetinghouses were rectangular in form and many followed popular builders’ pattern books which standardized the rectangular Wren-Gibbs architectural type. Experimentation was generally limited to decorative detail, steeples, porches or the orientation of the entrance, and not to the form, which is why this building is so unique. Within a few decades of the church’s opening, the founding denominations began to move out, some of them to build worship places elsewhere in town. In 1880, the Old Round Church reverted to the Town of Richmond and continued in use as the town’s meeting hall until 1973, at which time safety concerns forced its closure to the public.The Richmond Historical Society was formed in 1973, shortly before the church had to be closed and in 1976, the town deeded the church to the society, who then gathered funds to restore the building, protecting it from a much darker future. The Old Round Church remains one of the most unique architectural designs in Vermont and is always a treat to drive by in all seasons!
Stockbridge, Massachusetts was settled by English missionaries in 1734, who established it as a praying town (an effort to convert the local Native American tribes to Christianity), for the Mohican tribe known as the Stockbridge Indians. The township was set aside for the tribe by English colonists as a reward for their assistance against the French in the French and Indian Wars. From this, a Yale-educated missionary, John Sergeant began converting native people to Christianity, essentially stripping them of their own religious culture and practices. Although Massachusetts General Court had assured the Stockbridge Indians that their land would never be sold, the agreement was rescinded. Despite the aid by the tribe during the Revolutionary War, the state forced their relocation to the west, to New York and then to Wisconsin. The village was then taken over by British-American settlers who created the township.
The first congregational church here was formed by Sergeant in 1734, and later succeeded by Jonathan Edwards, another minister. During his time in Stockbridge, Edwards wrote his masterpiece, Freedom of the Will, which remains one of the most studied works in American theology. Edwards later left the church to become the President of The College of New Jersey, now known as a little school by the name of Princeton. The first church was built in 1739, later replaced by a second church building that stood from 1785 to 1824. The present brick building was built in 1824 in the Federal Style. The space was occupied for town functions until the 1840s, when an official town hall was erected next door, demarcating the separation of church and state. The stunning church marks the immense influence religion had in the early colonial days of New England and the impact it had on native peoples (for better or worse).
Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church is the oldest extant church in Newton and the first Episcopal church built immediately west of Boston. The cornerstone for the building was laid in September 1813 containing a package of coins and a silver plate. Previously services had been held in the Lower Falls schoolhouse, with the first Episcopal service held in 1811. The land for the church was donated by Samuel Brown a wealthy Boston merchant who invested in the paper mills in Lower Falls. Many of the founding members and parishioners were in the paper making business in Lower Falls and buried in the adjacent cemetery. The Federal style church was altered in 1838 and given Gothic detailing, including lancet windows and finials at the steeple. In 1954, the bell tower was altered with the gothic finials replaced with the current urns on the balustrade, the gothic arched openings were changed to the current arched shape, and entablature, pilasters, and a cross were added.
One of my favorite religious buildings in New England has to be the Park Street Church. The church is the major work of English-born architect Peter Banner, who drew his inspiration from St. Brides Church in London by Christopher Wren. Banner was assisted by Solomon Willard, later the architect of the Bunker Hill monument, who served here as chief carpenter and carved the capitals of the steeple. The congregation of this evangelical Christian church was formed in 1809 in response to the so-called “Unitarian landslide,” a theological upheaval which resulted in 15 of 17 Boston Congregational churches succumbing to Unitarianism, with many members leaving the Old South Church. The church building was erected at a cost of $71,000 on the site of the old granary, which had served as a repository of grain for the poor. When it was completed, people arriving to Boston could see the steeple from anywhere (the Back Bay was not filled in yet), and British author Henry James called the church, “the most impressive mass of brick and mortar in the United States” when he visited Boston.
The steeple was recently restored by the congregation and looks phenomenal! Fun Fact: The church was the tallest building in the United States from 1810 to 1846 when the Trinity Church in New York was built!