Oh Snecked Ashlar… the iconic vernacular building style that was seen in south-central Vermont in the middle of the 19th century. The Cavendish Universalist Church was built in 1844 by Scottish immigrant stonemasons who had moved to the area ten years earlier from Canada. These builders constructed houses, schools, and churches in Windsor County and nearby, using traditional building techniques they likely brought to North America from Scotland. This church in Cavendish was built under the leadership of Rev. Warren Skinner, an avid abolitionist and was part of the “above ground” railroad in Vermont. The church was decommissioned in the 1960’s from a shrinking congregation and was leased to the Cavendish Historical Society in the 1970’s. While work has been done to maintain the building, it is in need of repairs. In recent years, the Universalist Unitarian Convention of Vermont and Quebec has agreed to deed the building to the town of Cavendish on May 11, 2013. The structure has been restored, and apparently houses exhibition space inside.
When Ridgefield, Connecticut was settled in 1708 by Europeans, there was only one Episcopal Church in the state, and the general assembly allowed dissenters their own churches so long as they continued to pay taxes to support the Congregational Church. Ridgefield’s first Episcopal church, St. Stephen’s was built in 1740 on land granted by the Proprietors who founded the town and laid out lots along the towns new Main Street. In 1776, St. Stephen’s minister, Epenetus Townsend, a Tory (loyal to the British), was ordered to leave town with his wife and five children when the Revolution picked up steam. He was appointed chaplain to a British regiment and in 1779, the battalion was ordered to Nova Scotia. En route by vessel, a severe storm arose and all passengers were lost. The church was taken over by the commissary department of the American Army. During the Battle of Ridgefield, British troops set it on fire as a statement to the townspeople. The church was replaced two more times until 1914 when the present building was constructed. The Colonial Revival church is absolutely stunning and built from plans by (unknown to me) architect Walter Kerr Rainsford. The rubblestone church is one of the most pleasing designs I have seen in Connecticut!
The First Congregational Church was first established in Ridgefield, Connecticut just four years after the establishment of the town. Civic leaders in October 1712 successfully petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly for permission to levy a tax for “the settling and maintaining of the ministry in the said Town of Ridgefield.” Rev. Thomas Hauley, the first minister, also served as town clerk and school teacher. The first meeting house, on the town green, opened for worship in 1726. Plans for a new meeting house were drawn up in 1771 to fit a growing population, but construction was not complete until 1800. The second church was built in a more traditional style with a steeple. With a shift in the towns demographic from rural homeowners to ritzy exurb to New York City, a more suitable church was required by the end of the 19th century. Josiah Cleaveland Cady, one of the many great New York architects at the time was hired to design a new church suitable for the wealthy New Yorkers who summered in town to consider a neighbor, and he did not disappoint! The building blends many styles from Queen Anne, to Victorian Gothic, to Romanesque Revival in a way that isn’t clunky as in some other versions.
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.
A very rare example of a snecked ashlar church, the South Reading Union Meeting House in Reading, Vermont remains in a great state of preservation, and a testament to innovative building styles seen in rural parts of New England. Built in 1844, the stone church was built by local stone masons based on the unique regional stone construction method. The church features a triangular stone in the facade which shows its construction date. There is something so stunning about stone churches..
Saint Ann’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport is possibly my favorite building in the seaside town. As the Cape Arundel summer colony of Kennebunkport was rapidly developing in the 1880s, summer residents needed a place to worship and sought an appropriate location close to their mansions. Boston architect Henry Paston Clark sketched up some conceptual drawings for a stone chapel pro-bono as he already had active commissions in the town and summered there himself. Funds were raised and the current site was donated by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company, who developed the neighborhood. The cornerstone was laid on August 22, 1887. Five years later construction was completed, and the church was debt-free. The large sea-washed stones were hoisted and dragged to the church site during the winter of 1886-1887, and work on the building began May 27, 1887. The same sea-washed stones that grace the building’s exterior were also used for the interior of the church and sacristy. The roof over the central part of the church (the nave) is framed with hard pine hammer beam trusses and the floor is cleft slate.
The First Universalist Parish of Chester, also known as the Stone Church, was built in 1845 and originally occupied only the top floor. At the time, the basement, with its own entrance, was occupied by town government offices. The users practiced their own style of the separation of church and state however, as there was no interior staircase to join the two.
The church, along with the nearby homes and school, were built by Scottish masons who developed the largest enclave of “snecked ashlar” buildings in the country. The church can be classified as a vernacular mixture of Greek and Gothic Revival. The building features a gable-end form with a classical wood cornice and frieze with partial cornice return, as a nod to the Greek Revival style. Additionally, a square steeple tower atop the gable roof is capped by a balustrade and spires, an acknowledgment to the Gothic style.