The town of Newfane, Vermont was chartered on June 19, 1753, by Governor Benning Wentworth, who named it Fane after John Fane, the 7th Earl of Westmoreland. But hostilities during the French and Indian War prevented its settlement, and because a first town meeting was not held within the required five years, the charter was annulled. From this, Wentworth issued an entirely new charter in 1761, as New Fane. The town was eventually settled in 1766 from families that moved there from Worcester County, Massachusetts. Newfane became the shire town of the county before 1812 and county buildings were constructed. The village’s location up the hill was not ideal and was difficult to access in the winter, so many new buildings were constructed on the flat of town. The village has retained its rural character, but packs a punch in terms of architecture, especially for a town of under 2,000 people. One of the landmarks in town is the Newfane Congregational Church, constructed in 1839 in the Gothic Revival style. The large lancet (pointed arch) windows with corresponding shutters and spire are eye-catching.
Brookline, Vermont is home to just 540 people but has one of the most beautiful brick churches in the state! The Brookline Baptist Church sits along a quiet road in town and is an excellent example of vernacular Gothic Revival architecture in the Vermont. Brookline’s first organized church congregation were Baptists, who established a formal organization in 1785 out of local homes and barns. By 1836, enough funds were gathered to erect a church, but of brick, a more substantial building material than traditional wood-frame buildings. The church remained active throughout the nineteenth century, and the vestry addition was constructed off the rear in 1895 to provide space for community gatherings and meals. Dwindling membership led the church to become mostly used for weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, and craft fairs by the second half of the 20th century. The Town of Brookline presently owns the significant structure, and while preserved, it does not appear to get much use.
One of the most recognizable buildings in Salem (especially in the month of October) is the former East Church, now occupied by the Salem Witch Museum. The former East Church was constructed between 1844 and 1846 for the oldest branch of the First Church of Salem, which originally organized in 1718. The stunning Gothic Revival church has been credited to architect Minard Lafever (1798-1854), a prominent New York architect known for his Gothic, Greek and other Exotic Revival style buildings, including the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn designed at the same time as the East Church in Salem and strikingly similar in design. The church suffered from a massive fire in the early 20th century and the church eventually moved out in the 1950s. Before this, the church truncated the two castellated towers likely as a cost-saving measure as opposed to restoring them. The building was occupied by the Salem Auto Museum until another fire in 1969. In 1972, the Salem Witch Museum moved in and completely updated the interior (not much was original after the two fires). The museum is a huge draw in the month of October, for obvious reasons!
Built to replace the former St. Sylvia’s Catholic Church (1881-1909), the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Bar Harbor stands as one of the more imposing religious buildings in town. The new church was envisioned by Rev. James O’Brien, who wanted a larger church structure closer to downtown Bar Harbor than the current St. Sylvia’s. The Neo-Gothic stone church was designed by Bangor architect Victor Hodgins, and was constructed from granite blocks quarried from Washington County, Maine. Inside, massive trusses from felled cyprus trees nearby support the roof and stone walls. Gorgeous stained glass windows line the walls which flood the interior with color.
Rochester’s First Congregational Church is the oldest extant building still standing on the Town Green in Rochester Center and is the fourth house of worship to occupy the site. Constructed in 1837 to the designs of architect, Solomon K. Eaton, the beautiful Gothic Revival church building is among the most beautiful in the state. Eaton was well-known for his ecclesiastical structures, but also designed other prominent civic buildings in Southeastern Massachusetts. A fun fact about Eaton is that at age 55, he volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War and his unit saw action in North Carolina, he returned home after the war and lived out his final days. The church stands out to me for the quatrefoil windows on the bell tower, the pointed finials and comer posts, and large lancet windows. Swoon!
The oldest known example of ecclesiastical Gothic Revival architecture in New England is surprisingly located right in Gardiner, Maine, the Christ Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church in Gardiner was organized in 1772 by Sylvester Gardiner, a major landowner for whom the city is named as the town’s main church. Two more vernacular buildings were constructed as houses of worship until a new, fireproof structure was desired. Built in 1820, the stone church was designed by the Reverend Samuel Farmer Jarvis, who was likely heavily inspired by the stone churches found in England. The church has massive lancet Gothic windows with tracery, that in the tower considerably larger.
This stunning Gothic Revival church was built in 1843, on the site of the blockhouse, erected 80 years prior for the settlers of the area from native attack. In the 17th and 18th centuries, many rural parts of New England had blockhouses erected to allow the settlers a defensive fort from attack. The blockhouses were often garrisoned wooden structures with small windows on all sides to allow for gunfire to attackers below. The structure would protect those inside from arrows and melee weapons. This building however, was constructed later for the Universalists, who believed in “universal salvation,” who had been meeting since 1821 in a schoolhouse beside the town common. The church, in its original state with its steeple and clock, was an extremely sophisticated example in wood of the Gothic Revival style with its pinnacles, lancet windows and pilasters. Sadly, the steeple and clock were removed in the early 1920’s for safety reasons as the structure could not support it without significant engineering. The church and congregation changed to the United Church of Christ-Congregational denomination in 1964. After that, the building was occupied by a brewery (believe it or not), before being reverted back to a church by the current congregation.
Reverend Adin Ballou, the founder of the Hopedale Community, created a Christian anarcho-socialist utopia that peacefully resisted government coercion and provided refuge for other white Christian anarchists but especially for freed enslaved people. In 1841, he and other Christian anarchists purchased a farm west of Milford, Massachusetts and named it Hopedale. The community was settled in 1842. The early commune regularly hosted progressive seminars on the topics like free love and proto-feminism and had black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass give talks on the plight of enslaved people. As per the request of Douglass, the Hopedale Community harbored and protected a runaway slave for some time. The practical end of the Community came in 1856 when two of Ballou’s closest supporters, Ebenezer and George Draper, withdrew their 75% share of the community’s stock to form the successful Hopedale Manufacturing Company. George claimed the community was not using sound business practices. The community, however, continued on as a religious group until 1867, when it became the Hopedale Parish and rejoined mainstream Unitarianism. After the brothers left the community, they funded a church building for the congregation. In the 1890s, Eben and George Draper funded this newer, large church building designed by Edwin J. Lewis.
Schenectady’s oldest extant religious building, St. George’s Church, sits in the center of the Stockade Historic District in Schenectady, New York. As Schenectady was settled and dominated by Dutch settlers, English settlers began moving to the riverfront town, due to its rich fur trade and opportunity. With the growth of English residents, a church where the services were conducted in the English language became necessary. The blossoming congregation hired architect Samuel Fuller, who arrived to Schenectady from Boston in 1758, at the height of the French and Indian War. Ground was broken on the stunning Gothic church in 1759 and it was finally completed in 1763, delayed due to fighting nearby. The church was originally more modest for the smaller congregation, but underwent a large building campaign in the mid 1800s thanks to Reverend William Payne. He oversaw the construction of a new parish house, a new rectory, as well as two successive expansions of the church and the addition of a stone tower and spire to the west front of the church, giving it the appearance we see today. The congregation is still highly active and maintains the building beautifully to this day.
Historically significant as the third home of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookfield, Connecticut, this building is also architecturally important as an exceptional Gothic Revival place of worship. The second church of St. Paul’s burned on Valentine’s Day 1936, and the church soon after sought to rebuilt, but with fireproof construction. Members of the church were said to have gathered stones from stone walls nearby, as the town developed, with farmland making way for suburban housing. Bridgeport architect Frederick H. Beckwith furnished plans for the Gothic Revival edifice, which apparently took inspiration from a church in Dorset, England.