The oldest religious structure on Providence’s west side, the Beneficent Congregational Church is a key Providence landmark. The church visually dominates the part of Downtown that saw widespread demolition in a period of urban renewal, where a large portion of historic buildings and homes were razed for new development and parking. The current structure (the second Meeting House on this location) was built in 1809 to plans by Barnard Eddy and John Newman, the latter of whom supervised construction. It was substantially altered in the Greek Revival style in 1836 to a design by James C. Bucklin, which oversaw the addition of the columns and Classical trim. This work was funded with a $30,000 donation from textile entrepreneur Henry J. Steere in honor of his father. Steere also gave to the church a chandelier containing 5,673 pieces of Austrian crystal! It is not the columns or chandelier that catches people’s attention, it is the massive dome. Legend has it that when designed, Reverend Wilson wanted to recall the domed Custom House in Dublin, which had been dedicated shortly before his emigration to America. The building looks similar to the Massachusetts State House, built in the 1790s, especially when the church’s dome was covered with gold leaf. Due to weather damage to the gold leaf, the congregation voted in 1987 to replace the roof with more durable copper sheeting, which now has a green patina.
By 1829, the population of Providence, Rhode Island was spreading from the east side of the Providence River (near Brown University) to the west. Around this time, two dozen parishioners of the St. John’s Episcopal Church on Providence’s East Side purchased the old Providence Theater on the west side of town and renovated it for use as a church. By 1835, the congregation grew to 260, and a new church building was needed. Grace Church hired the foremost architect of the time, Richard Upjohn, to design the beautiful new building, which was the first asymmetrical Gothic Revival church in America when it was completed in 1846! In addition to its architectural significance, the building contains the first painted windows ever seen in Rhode Island. Downtown Providence eventually grew up around the church, really diminishing the chance at a good photo of the building, but later urban renewal and the razing of parts of the downtown area (many undeveloped to this day) provide some interesting sightlines of the towering steeple.
The Town of Waterford, Maine was created as the result of a 1774 grant made by the General Court of Massachusetts to the descendants of a company of Massachusetts soldiers involved in a 1690 expedition against the French in Canada, leading to the Battle of Quebec. The land was surveyed in 1774; in spring of 1775, David McWain of Bolton, Massachusetts arrived with his dog at a lot he bought for $40. He cleared land and built a log cabin, returning to Bolton for two winters until he settled permanently at Waterford in spring of 1777. The town grew around agriculture and industry with sawmills built at streams to manufacture the region’s abundant timber into lumber. The town later became more of a resort area in the early 20th century, with urban-dwellers flocking to the area to take in the fresh air and natural scenery.
This church in North Waterford is located in a more rural part of the town, and was constructed in 1860 by a group of local residents from designs by Maine architect Thomas Holt. The Italianate influence is evident from the round-arched windows set in a recessed arch and a bracketed cornice. The steeple looks to be more contemporary and slightly turns, giving it a really interesting presence.
The Assonet Congregational Church, now the United Church of Assonet was originally known as the Town Church and was organized in 1704. In 1807, fifteen residents of town, all from prominent families, gathered to ‘‘manifesting the desire to enter into a Church estate.’‘ Land was deeded to the church in 1807, and the Federal style edifice was constructed the next year. Documentation on its construction is limited, with research stating, “we can only speculate on the construction of this beautiful Church
building. It is believed that Ebenezer Peirce (1777-1852) of Assonet and Middleboro was the master builder assisted by ship builders of the village. Mr. Peirce sent his sloop “Unicorn” to the Penobscot River region in Maine to procure most of the lumber.” The church is in great condition today, even retaining its bell, cast by Paul Revere, and original box pews. Sadly, in October 1910, the steeple was struck by lightning and the acorn top blew off. The 1880s clock was damaged but repaired. The steeple was re-installed or reconstructed, but deferred maintenance required the church to remove it and the Revere bell in the early 2000s until funding could be gathered to restore, nothing yet. What I wouldn’t do to see the original acorn top of this steeple again!
In 1904, residents of the newly established village of Waban in Newton, Mass., began meeting with the hope to establish a non-denominational church there. As the population of the village grew rapidly in the first decade of the 20th century, funding surged and it was determined that a place of worship was necessary. William C. Strong, a Waban resident and well-known horticulturist, donated the land from his large holdings, many of which was already being developed for house lots. The church building, designed by Boston architect James H. Ritchie, had its cornerstone laid in November 1911. Construction followed rapidly and the building was formally dedicated in September, 1912. The building follows the Arts and Crafts movement, especially Ralph Adams Cram’s revival of the English parish church.
This beautiful, bucolic church in Norway Center was built in 1840 to replace an earlier meeting built in 1808-09 on the site. The present building is Gothic Revival in style with louvered panels making the windows appear lancet in shape and the amazing lancet window centered on the facade. The two-tiered tower is ornamented with crenellation and a wooden spire at each corner (besides one missing). The church features a louvered fan and strong pediment, which are nods to other prominent styles of the early-mid 19th century, Federal and Greek Revival respectively. This church quickly saw membership drop as Norway Village became the population center of town, with Norway Center becoming more agricultural and rural.
This beautiful old building was constructed in 1881 in Lancaster, MA as a Swedenborgian Church. The congregation in The United States has always been much smaller than other prominent religions, but Lancaster had a sizable group of believers. Some wealthier residents bankrolled for a new church building, which would and could not compete with the Unitarian Church designed by Charles Bulfinch. Architect Francis Ward Chandler from the Boston firm of Cabot & Chandler designed the modest, yet beautiful building in the Queen Anne style. The congregation died off and in 1923, the building was purchased by members of the Current Topics Club, seemingly a debate and social club in town. The old church sold in 2020 as a residence.
Initially erected in 1877 and enlarged several times thereafter, the St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Bar Harbor is an excellent example of ecclesiastical architecture in the state of Maine. The original church building had been erected in 1877-78 at a cost of about $7,000 from designs by the New York architect Charles C. Haight. Within eight years of its construction, space limitations caused the church to undertake a major expansion. Designed by the Boston architectural firm of Rotch and Tilden, this building campaign – carried out in 1885-86 – dramatically changed the church’s appearance by developing a cross shaped plan that made use of the original structure for transepts and added a larger nave, semi-circular apse, and an imposing crossing tower. The numerous building campaigns designed by both prominent and lesser known architects, have produced a rich eclectic architectural legacy that mirrors the development of Bar Harbor.
A Roman Catholic parish was established in the South Coast/Cape Cod area by 1830 in Sandwich, where a large glass company employed a number of Irish immigrants. Over the course of the 19th century, several mission churches were established, and eventually a second parish, St. Patrick’s, was established in Wareham in 1911. Soon after, a mission was established in nearby Marion to serve the summertime Catholic community there. A parcel of land was acquired by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fall River and they hired architect Matthew Sullivan to furnish plans for the small church. Matthew Sullivan (1868–1948) trained in the office of Edmund M. Wheelwright, Boston City Architect (1891-1894). Sullivan succeeded Wheelwright as City Architect and served in that position from 1895 to 1901, when he became a junior partner in the firm of Maginnis, Walsh and Sullivan, which was widely known for its ecclesiastical work, where he too specialized in religious buildings. St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church is an example of an early 20th century chapel in the Craftsman style, characterized by eaves marked by long projecting rafter tails and a bold entry framed by Tuscan columns.
I do love a good adaptive reuse story! This Marion, Massachusetts church building was constructed in 1830 for the town’s growing Universalist congregation. Architect Seth Eaton was hired and furnished plans, likely relying on neighbor, Warren Blankinship, a carpenter and congregant, to construct the building. It blends together the Greek and Gothic Revival styles well, but in a less sophisticated form. By the mid 20th century, membership of the church dwindled, and it finally shuttered its doors. With the building’s future uncertain, at a time where demolition for surface parking lots was the go-to solution, Marion residents Andrew and Dorothy Patterson, purchased the building and soon after worked with local artists in town to restore the building for use as an art space. The Marion Art Center was thus founded in 1957, and to this day, serves as a non-profit community cultural organization dedicated to promoting the visual and performing arts.