First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ

36 Main Street,
New Milford, CT  06776

Rev. Michael J. Moran
Rev. Robert J. McGrath

God Bless America
O' Beautiful for Spacious Skies


Worship Service - 10:00 AM
Church School - 10:30 AM

"This we do for the glory of God,  for the good of our neighbors, and for the mutual growth in Christian grace."
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History
of
The First Congregational Church
New Milford, Connecticut
In celebration of the
150th Anniversary of the building
of the present
First Congregational Church
of New Milford, Connecticut

Church Building Dedicated August 8, 1833
History Published November, 1983

Continuation - added May 20, 2001

Acknowledgements

History is a precise science. Documents must be cross checked, reference card files established, and dates verified with known historical facts or scientific dating methods.

This, of course, is not always done. Many works, including this, are written using the opinionated discourse of many people and "untitled" documents. It is important that the reader keep this in mind when reading the work. It is the human efforts of uncounted numbers of people, each with their own likes, prejudices and emotions.

I have a deep feeling for the place our church must have played in the life of this community. It is also important to me personally as a symbol of the presence and enduring strength of the Love of God. That is the prejudice and feeling with which I undertake this work.

I would like to thank those people that compiled the previous church histories and, were their names available, I would here give them that credit individually. Attempts to lend a wider historical perspective are my own. Many of the names, dates, and places mentioned have been verified using history books.

I would also like to give thanks to Howard Peck for his "enjoyable criticism." His wit and charm, along with his unbelievable historical reference material give this work an historical authority that it could not otherwise hold.

 

The History of

The First Congregational Church – New Milford, CT

New Milford. . . in it’s natural state. From what we now call the Berkshires, runs a wide, shallow, rocky river. Entering the valley of New Milford, it makes its last mountain meander, comes to the broad flood plain, now south of town, passes through the narrow chute of rock and flows on to the sea. . .

How long had the valley been there? How often had humans walked through the place before one settled? How many native Americans lived in, passed through or looked upon that valley and lived with it, changing nothing?

In 1648, the first "non-native" American entered. He came on the river, the only thoroughfare, to erect a trading post on an island in the Housatonic, near the current Lover’s Leap bridge. He was a squatter, never having obtained the deed for the land. (In fact, the first time that the land was ever "legally" deeded was in 1703 when the Indians conveyed the area known as Weantinock to include "islands". The purchases were the 109 people of the New Milford Land Company.)

The trader, a Mr. Stephen Goodyear, was a businessman of the New Haven Colony and a neighbor of one Captain Benedict Arnold. He was different from those that had been there before. This man attempted to establish structures for business, not only shelter. He attempted to take from the land, not merely to survive, but to trade for profit. If he were to find himself on the moon, it would have been no more lonely a place in terms of friendly faces and no less uninviting to the average person. He was completely cut off from the known civilized world, pushed by the motives of profit, adventure, and a desire to move from given to hostile; to settle; to fight; to be independent; to do with his life as he wanted. . .the valley returned to it’s natural state less than a year from his arrival. . .

Sultry summer followed freezing winter and the valley remained inhabited by the natives, animals, the river, and the wind. . .

In 1670 the push of civilization forced a few hearty souls into the area, again from the south. They came again by the easiest mode of transportation, along or on the river from Stratford. With permission from the General Court to try and negotiate with the local Indians, they worked a deal for deeding the land. One can only wonder what the Indians thought as they received shiny baubles for which they most likely felt was theirs to use but never to own. Why did they settle with the group from Stratford? Was it fear, curiosity. . . amusement even?

Nothing of significance became of the attempted deed for the next 30 to 40 years. Some land was cleared near the present green, but the people from down the river always returned to their homes on the water. The light of civilization flickered, but was weak.

In 1706, a Zachariah Ferriss, under the auspices of the Stratford organization, put plow to land near the town hall of today and was promptly sued for trespass by the New Milford Land Company, out of Milford, also on the sea. The New Milford Land Company as previously stated had actually finalized a deed with the Indians. The natives, under Chief Werauhamaug must have again been amused. For no one had touched the land for nearly forty years. . . it was a gift from whatever God they believed in to be used as needed forever. . . and then two groups finally decided they wanted the same piece of it at the same time. Those same Indians were disdainfully referred to as "Aborigines" by the church history of 1916, and their chief was said to rule over them in much "less splendor" than that of Queen Anne of England.

John Noble is generally considered the first settler of New Milford. He had come from Westfield, Massachusetts in 1707 as a member of Woodbury’s First Congregational Church and is said to have settled "across the river from the church under the shadow of Fort Hill." He and his ten year old daughter, Hannah, later to become one of the town’s first school teachers, were joined that fall by the eight families from Milford who had formed the New Milford Land Company, under grant from the King. By 1711 the settlement had increased to twelve families, totaling about seventy persons.

Also among these earliest settlers was John Read. As a graduate of the University of Cambridge, he had studied for the ministry and preached the first sermon ever delivered in the town of New Milford. His purpose in coming to the town, however, was to act as legal council to Ferriss in the law suit brought about by the New Milford Land Company against the Stratford group. He built a log house near the head of the Green approximately where the statue of Lincoln now stands. The New Milford Land Company did win the last, and only the last, of some sixteen separate law suits and Mr. Read departed to the south where he founded Reading, later to be incorporated in 1767 as Redding. He operated the first lime kiln there and later moved to Boston where he became a successful lawyer. The settlers petitioned the General assembly for the "privilege of gospel" and Daniel Boardman came in 1712 to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. What would the name of the town have been if Ferriss and the group from Stratford had won?

In 1712, there were twelve families in the "Plantation." Mr. Boardman, from Wethersfield, had been called to "preach ye gospel here". In 1713 the town voted to lay out a pastor’s lot and dig and stone up a well for Mr. Boardman if he became a settled minister. They dug the well on the west side of Aspetuck Avenue at the top of the hill. It furnished water until 1964 when it went dry after 251 years of service. The town also voted to pay the minister "one third in grain and two thirds in labor, grain and pork." They were hard working people, but so poor that Mr. Boardman could not be settled for nearly four years; nevertheless he continued to preach in view of settlement. He was supported by the people as best they could.

Finally in 1716 Mr. Boardman was settled, or moved in officially. Originally scheduled for October, the date was postponed to the 21st of November in the house of John Read, which had served as a meeting house and town hall during the earliest years of the church. The Rev. Daniel Boardman was ordained and at the same time the church was legally organized with eight male and five female names. The first members, listed chronologically:

  1. The Rev. Daniel Boardman
  2. John Bostwick
  3. Samuel Brownson
  4. Lydia Brownson
  5. Zachariah Ferriss (obviously forgiven by the N.M. Land Company for plowing their land)
  6. Samuel Beebe
  7. Hannah Beebe
  8. Samuel Hitchcock
  9. Sarah Hitchcock
  10. John Weller
  11. Roger Brownson
  12. Dorcas Brownson
  13. Mary Noble (widow of John)

The church was recognized by the Ecclesiastical Council of New Haven and agreed to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper once every three months.

The first meeting house, other than the former residence of Mr. Read, was started in 1719 and finally finished in 1731. This period serves to point out the economic limitations of the church. The building, a bare structure with hard wood benches, no stove to heat it in the winter, nor any sort of musical instrument with which to lead song, was forty feet in length and thirty feet wide and located at the site of the present historical society.

The method of calling people to the service was to go through the town beating a drum, a job that was assigned annually. The people came to the church and were seated after 1729 according to "their age, dignity and estate." The pew nearest the pulpit stairs was the highest in dignity. The tithing men, two or three in number, stood ready to fulfill the duties of their office, principally to keep the worshippers awake during the discourse. As the sermons were often hours long, and the services could last a full day with no heat, except that provided by individual foot stoves; these men may well have been poking bodies to ascertain the presence of life. While services seemed harsh by today’s standards, the motivating factor may well have been the spiritual implications involved in non-attendance: rather a live, tired believer than a sleep-in, dead, witch.

The beginnings of the town of New Milford and the church are so intermingled that they are inseparable. What occurred to the church occurred to the town. . .Town meetings were held in the church and all matters of government and discussion were held within its walls. There was not time nor resources to build churches for other denominations. The entire town worshipped together in Mr. Read’s house and later in the First Congregational Church.

With the new building a number of members, in 1731, left Boardman’s congregation and began meetings of their own. They had been attracted to the doctrines of the Quaker Church and desired a more liberal style of worship than the strict hours and long sessions that the church held at that time. The earliest members of the First Congregational Church also included some families that were members of the Church of England. On December 8, 1735, the congregation passed a vote relieving several heads of families of the Episcopal persuasion from being bound to aid in the further support of Mr. Boardman’s ministry. Even though Mr. Boardman’s salary at this time was only $125.00 a year, these two defections, for want of a better name, sorely tried the financial resources of the church and the Tory leanings of the Anglican church had to have later caused hard feelings among the former co-worshippers.

The Rev. Daniel Boardman continued as pastor of this church until he died in 1744. He had been a "settled" minister for 23 years and had preached for four years prior to that time. He had become a great friend of the Indian chief, Wereuhamaug, and is said to have converted him to the Christian religion during the chief’s last sickness. Like many of the early settlers of the town, Mr. Boardman was buried in the Center Cemetery.

We often look at the times of the people that first settled our town and country with a feeling of disbelief for the hardships they must have had to endure. While no one can deny that their life was hard, one can also only wonder at what life in the beautiful valley must have been like before the crush of civilization that we now accept as routine. What an adventure it must have been as fathers told their children their reasons for bringing them to this place and their dreams of a better life for them. How exciting it must have been to talk of the new country, or more correctly, new colony, they were establishing to spread the religions and benefits of their modern society to a land whose beauty was beyond the limitations of their imaginations. This would be the land in which they would establish a better society, create better lives, grow and prosper, endure hard times now for the good times later. . .God give us strength to make this dream of a land more like yours come true.

Four years before Boardman died, a tremendous religious revival struck this country. It was part of a great swelling of feeling that had started in Europe. It swept through England in the rise of Methodism under John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield. Whitfield came to this country and swept people’s emotions with his speech and style. He became the central figure in what is now referred to by historians as THE GREAT AWAKENING. A Jonathan Edwards and his younger colleague, Joseph Bellamy, both of Connecticut, were among the leaders of the movement in this country.

A half way covenant had become generally accepted in the churches of the colonies of that time. By it those people who supported the church were allowed to be members even though they "did not own the complete vows", i.e. had not been born of two members.

This half way covenant now seemed a bit illegitimate to people who felt that a church should be made up of those whose religion began in a "conscious experience of regeneration".

Boardman was able to keep these two forces in check until his death in 1744. Immediately thereafter the feud came to the forefront in New Milford also and the two parties were unable to decide on a new minister.

Finally on the 14th of December, 1747, the opponents of the Half Way Covenant, about fifty in number, stayed away from a meeting and the rest of the church unanimously voted on the Rev. Nathaniel Taylor as minister. He was ordained in the first meeting house, on the site of the present historical society, on June 29, 1748.

Reverend Taylor’s problems started immediately. He had been voted the amount of one thousand pounds, upon the implicit agreement that he faithfully observe the policy of the Half Way Covenant, which the General Assembly of Connecticut had legalized. Should he deviate from the covenant, he should forfeit his settlement and be dismissed from the pastorate.

With a large number of his members strictly against the Half Way Covenant and ready to drop out and form their own church; with the Episcopal Church standing ready and in need of any fall-out members to help in its own organizational problems, Mr. Taylor did what any good Congregational preacher would do. . .call a meeting and let the congregation decide. He felt this way he would be relieved of the responsibility for the decision and the church would more closely bind itself through a mutually agreed upon covenant. These efforts failed, however, and on May 1, 1753, the separatists moved out, formed their own church, and severely set back the first church. . . The state, in attempting to influence the matters of church, had deeply divided the people over a matter they could have solved themselves eventually. This schism remained until a later minister abrogated the rule and returned the members to the fold.

The members of the "Strict Congregational Church" were among the most stalwart of the community members of the time. Their loss to the congregation was great in terms of respect, strength of character and support. They built their church in the acreage next to Eight Rod Highway (now Poplar street, just within the present gate of Center Cemetery).

One of the most notable events of the ministry of Mr. Taylor was the construction of the second meeting house. The edifice was fifty-six feet by forty feet and unlike the first church had a steeple. It is interesting to note that spire in the painting of Mr. Daniel Boardman, grandson of the first minister, that hangs in the national archives in Washington D.C. Although the church is only incidental as part of the backdrop of the picture, its prominent position is aptly demonstrated.

Mr. Sherman, the only patriot to sign the address to the King and the Articles of Association in 1774, the Declaration of Independence in 1766, the Articles of Confederation in 1778, and the U.S. Constitution in 1787, also served our church well. During the building of the second meeting house, which was to stand on the Green just about opposite the present position of St. John’s Church, Mr. Sherman served as Treasurer of the building committee. During the ministry of Mr. Taylor, Sherman served the church as deacon and clerk of the newly formed Ecclesiastical Society. The building was completed in 1754.

We know from history that only about a third of the people in the colonies supported the movement for separation from England. Another third of the people were neutral and the final third felt that they were, and always would be, Englishmen. How did the strict conservatives who had rejected the Half Way Covenant feel about their more liberal oriented former co-members or the Episcopalians? Surely there were hard feelings, feelings that caused many who worshipped together many times in the past to now doubt the loyalty and patriotism of many of their former fellow worshippers. We think of New England as the birthplace of the nation, but let us not forget that three way division. It existed throughout the colonies. New Milford was no exception.

There is little doubt on which side of the fence the minister of the First Congregational Church would walk. The man had served as Chaplain in 1759 to a regimental unit of Connecticut troops at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in the French and Indian Wars, and in 1779 he donated his salary back to the church. It is hard to tell if Sherman had the influence on Taylor or vice versa, but both men served their country admirably during this time. There is little doubt when Roger Sherman’s close ties with men such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin and Robert Livingston are considered, the minister of the church to which Mr. Sherman devoted so much of his time must have at least been influenced by these people. At the same time, as he turned back his salary, the county treasurer of Litchfield received a contribution of ninety-four pounds and sixteen shillings from the New Milford Ecclesiastical Society for the relief of suffering in New Haven, Norwalk and Fairfield ‘"from distress caused by war".

Many other men soldiered for the cause they so deeply believed in while members of the Congregational Church. The beautiful valley and the river, the mountains and the peace of the place had to have inspired them in some way towards wanting to win this land for the benefit of their progeny.

The Reverend Stanley Griswold, with Reverend Taylor’s concurrence, became the assistant on the 20th of January, 1790. He was ordained "colleague pastor" on that date and Mr. Taylor was moved to the position of pastor emeritus. This allowed him the time to proceed with his additional duties of preparing young men for college and teaching them languages. Taylor was retained at an annual salary of 80 pounds while Griswold received 200 as a settlement and 100 as salary.

There is much at this point in the history that is implied but not stated. The most complimentary way of summing up the problems of the church at the time might be to say that a man worried about the future of a nation does not always have the time to check the lawns and streets of his own neighborhood. Mr. Taylor was a motivated and respected leader of the revolution or at very least a staunch supporter of the revolution, but the church found itself in very dire straights. A group of the people from what is now Bridgewater had withdrawn from the society to form a Baptist church and the defection of the Strict Congregationalists and the Episcopalians had not yet ceased.

Griswold’s communicative abilities and his tireless devotion to his charge allowed him to build the congregation to a number of 2000 people. His liberal leanings however kept him from insisting on membership. It might be also noted that the New Milford Area was quite a bit more wealthy than the average town in the commonwealth and that fact coupled with the enthusiasm of the congregation led the way to improvement in the appearance of the physical plant.

Mr. Griswold ran afoul of the authorities however due to his liberal outlook and ministerial conduct. Although the church itself remained loyal to their minister, the Litchfield South Association (of which the church was then a member) preferred charges against him for such reasons as he had repeatedly attended public balls and dances at late hours in the night. Also, he opposed the relation between the church and the State which the congregational body then enjoyed. He was accused of preaching "things inconsistent with the doctrine of the total depravity of human nature" and "advanced the sentiment of universal salvation or final restoration of all men to the favor of God." It was never proven that he championed either of these last two charges. He was ordered to appear before the group but declined. He was defended instead by Deacon Sherman Boardman, son of the first minister, Col. Samuel Canfield and by Mr. Reuben Booth. These were three of the most influential men in the town at the time and because of their efforts the church withdrew from the association in 1805. . . three years after Griswold left the area.

From a historical viewpoint one of Rev. Griswold’s most powerful contributions was the address he delivered to the church on January 7, 1801, the first Sunday of the century. Much of his information was attained through interviews with members of the first families to have settled in the area and the address itself is considered one of the authoritative documents of the early history of the settlement. While the church would gladly have had the man stay and continue to preach, his conflict with the association weighed heavily on his mind and he retired in 1802. He moved west and that is understandable when one considers that this was the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

Many people must have been considering such a move as an area greater than the whole of the present country became available to citizens. Westward lay the dream. . . Rev. Griswold went to the Michigan territory, not a part of the Louisiana Purchase obviously, but nevertheless a new horizon. He became secretary of the territory, a United States Senator from Michigan, and later a chief justice of the Northwest Territory. . . the minister of the First Congregational Church of New Milford.

It was nearly six years, February 24, 1808, before the church entrusted its spiritual care to its next minister, The Rev. Andrew Eliot. On that day two events occurred, Mr. Eliot’s ordainment and the admittance of the church into the Fairfield East Association, having withdrawn from the Litchfield South Association as previously mentioned.

Rev. Eliot found the membership small, only 73 members. His problem obviously centered on building membership not only in numbers but in devotion to the church. He nullified the Half Way Covenant policy and dropped all Half Way members without ceremony, organizing the church under "the system of doctrines and church government" for which the New Light people stood. This move dropped the emotional barrier that caused many of the strict Congregationalists to continue supporting their separatist church and upon the recommendation of their minister, Rev. Daniel Hine, the church disbanded with many of its members joining the "new" church. . . along with many of the "new" church’s former members.

Weekday services in Gaylordsville added to the roles of the church. Sometime in 1812 or 1814, the first records of a church Sunday school are found with the Rev. Eliot as its only teacher. The meeting house on the Green became heated for the first time, ending some of the numbness that sitting through a sermon of several hours without heat caused. The means of heating was two box stoves installed in the auditorium itself. One can only wonder why such a seemingly simple improvement had not been undertaken prior to that time.

Mr. Eliot died in 1829 and joined the rest of the troop in Center Cemetery, but I would like to quote directly from the history of 1916 as refers to the work of the man:

"The church enjoyed under Mr. Eliot’s ministry in its most fruitful revival of religion. Prayer meetings were held in many places, in the church on Sundays between services, in the Town House, in school houses of the outlying districts and in many private houses in the village on various days of the week. In 1827-28, 117 new members were admitted to church membership."

There was a large conference of the association members held in New Milford and as a result of that conference one of Deacon McMahon’s sons, Henry, was imbued with the spirit and went on to preach to large groups at the Center Church in New Haven. . . . It was generally considered after that speech that New Milford was at the forefront in terms of the spirit of religious quickening.

Over the next twenty years the church was led in its spiritual concerns by four men: Rev. Heman Rood, Rev. Noah Porter, Jr., Rev. John Greenwood and the Rev. Mr. Andrews.

Rev. Rood’s achievement of greatest interest was presiding over the construction of the present meeting house. The original building, constructed in 1833, was 18 feet shorter in the auditorium than it is today, the galleries overhead continuing to the front of the church sanctuary. Mr. Rood also maintained one of the highest yearly averages to that day of new members brought to the church (30).

Rev. Porter was minister during the construction of a small chapel in the rear of the meeting house in 1838-39. He resigned for the reason that the maintenance of such a large congregation (the largest in land area in the state) was beyond his physical abilities and accepted the call to a much smaller parish in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1846, he became a professor of moral philosophy and metaphysics at Yale and, in 1871, President of Yale University.

Having immigrated with his family from England to Bethel, Connecticut, Rev. Greenwood took over the church’s pastor reigns in 1843. He presided over the church for five years before the problems of an "affection of the throat" forced his retirement. A New Milford Gazette article of 1892 speaks so fondly of Mr. Greenwood that it can only be assumed he had a great deal of feeling for the town and its people. Many of the people interviewed for the article personally remembered Mr. Greenwood and his ministry. He returned to the town several years after retiring and lived here until his death in 1879.

One of the shortest ministries in the history is that of the Rev. Mr. Andrews. His ministry is said to have lasted only some six or eight months. He had previously been the pastor of the historical New York Broadway Church. He came each Sunday from Cornwall to preach and evidently was considered to be very good at his profession. He devoted most of his time, however, to the Alger Institute in Cornwall and brought in the Rev. Mr. Murdoch.

Note the relatively short tenure of Mr. Griswold and the four ministers that preceded Mr. Murdoch. This was a period of growth and expansion in the country. The west was opening up and it is easy to believe that the people were basically divided into two classes: those that had or would go west and those that would stay behind. There was restlessness in the country as boundaries kept moving, families kept packing, dreams of the better life kept pulling the folks out… Perhaps it is merely coincidence, but this general feeling in the country must have affected the people of New Milford and their ministers as well. "Go with the wagons or you’ll be left behind."

Rev. Murdoch served as the darkening clouds of the Civil War gathered on the horizon. History books tend to record such events as the firing on Fort Sumter as if they were unexpected violent acts that came with emotional determination for a cause. Such is seldom the case as most wars are telegraphed long before their commencement by the events of the time. The cataclysmic event that starts wars seldom is a surprise to anyone who is paying attention. All this is mentioned because of the type of description that the histories of the church give us of the Reverend Murdoch. Words such as "big, deep, vigorous voice, and forceful in his delivery" lead one to believe the folks of town knew where they were heading and like it or not were looking for strong leadership that could either avoid the conflict or carry them through it in God’s name.

"In the cause of the Union" Rev. Murdoch was never dull and many youngsters marched off for that cause because of his leadership and style of faith. It is also interesting to note that after the Civil War there was a marked awakening of religion within the church and a large number (81) of members were received in 1866.

At a cost of over 5000 dollars, new furnaces were purchased for the meeting house, a pipe organ was purchased and land was purchased in the rear of the church for use as horse sheds. Mr. Murdoch, after nineteen years, left for the pulpit of the Third Congregational Church of New Haven in 1868.

The Rev. James B. Bonar followed Murdoch and preached for the church till 1883. He is said to have been very devoted; a man whose ardent support of the temperance cause far exceeded his preaching ability, but in dealing with those ardent in support of any temperance it is easy to appear to slip.

"The cloud which rested upon him at the close of his service here may be charitably supposed caused by ill health. The church and society was so disposed to regard it and treated his case with great kindness and consideration…He left New Milford with the good wishes of the people ‘generally’ and preached in Marquette, Michigan. He was a Scotsman with many of the characteristics of that nationality," said the New Milford Gazette in 1892.

"Sounds like they could not’t wait till the old boy was out of town to talk about how charitable they’d been towards his shortcomings."

A Rev. George S. Thrall of Washington, Connecticut, succeeded Mr. Bonar but was already afflicted with tuberculosis at the time of his ordination. He died the following year.

Some interesting history surrounds the pastorship of Rev. Timothy J. Lee, acting pastor from 1885-1888. Again, think to the times in which the country found itself. The west, although still wild, had been settled. The remaining territories were becoming states with regularity and the limits of the expansion could be seen. Until this time the country had been mostly agricultural in nature, but the industrial revolution which had spawned the doctrine of Communism in Europe had also lead to great sympathy for the working class laborers in this country, those whose blood and seat fired the industry. The Communist Manifesto, though flawed in its supposition that all people would eagerly work for the general good, was, nevertheless, an attempt to truly point out ways in which those oppressed could realize the dream of equality in this life. The aberrations which Lenin added to this theme as he applied it to a basically agricultural society so skew its perception that its original intent is often lost.

In this light there were those in this country that saw an injustice in great wealth being in the hands of few and poverty and suffering in the lives of many workers. Mr. Lee often donned the coveralls of a furnace cleaner and paraded the town streets to prove his point that the clothes and outer vestments do not make the man.

He organized the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor which continues into the 1940’s and much acclaim is made of the fact that he married a direct lineal descendant of one of the town’s first settlers.

Mr. Frank Johnson came into the church in December of 1889. His own words describe the years of his ministry.

"He was an assiduous shepherd of his flock, and he greatly built up the numerical membership of the church…During his incumbency the present chapel was built (18,300 dollars)." The building of our fine chapel necessitated the removal of the old chapel, which was built in the rear of the church during Rev. Porter’s pastorate. The old chapel was a place of prayer and social festivity; it was also to many a place of precious memory. The present parsonage was erected during his pastorate (this was the second parsonage to be built on the old Elm Street site of the present hospital). In 1904, a new organ was given to the church by one of its prominent members, Miss Bostwick, and later (1916) the present clock on the church was presented by Mr. Francis L. Hine."

Imagine Mr. Frank Johnson, a historian of great note, sitting in the audience listening as Rev. George Herbert Johnson told of his achievements in the extensive historical address of 1916. Being present does help the detail of one’s place in the history of any organization.

The Junior Christian Endeavor Society was organized during Rev. Frank Johnson’s tenure and the auditorium was enlarged along with the addition of the chapel. Many of these expenses of the society were voted to be paid for by a special collection every third Sunday of the month. This vote was taken in 1902.

The Rev. George Herbert Johnson came from Swampscott, Massachusetts in March of 1908 and was installed in May. In 1908 the pledge system and weekly offering was selected as the official means of funding the needs of the church. This system had been in effect for several months prior to its official adoption. Some of these funds were used to completely remodel the interior of the church in 1909. But a method of raising the annual budget monies was needed and the demands of strict financial planning caused the adaptation of the "Every Member Canvass" is 1920 as the method of obtaining support for the fiscal goals of the church.

As an aside, the income tax in this country was passed by a "rump session congress" several years prior to this. It is not to imply that there were ulterior motives or any but charitable intent for the monies to be so collected, but when our country’s lawmakers decided that taxing would be the method of supporting itself the same sort of "taxing" idea carried over into the temporal needs of our church.

In 1939, the church decided that a wider, more representative, participation in the affairs of the church was needed and resolved that the Ecclesiastical Society be dissolved and the church itself be incorporated.

Mr. Johnson continued to serve until 1938 and left for Colorado where he lived until 1952.

The world entered the 1940’s. A mad man was loose on the continent of Europe. His mind, in its atrophy, would devise ways of doing away with entire races of people; of conquering and holding vast portions of the globe; of subjecting millions to his dream of a vastly superior race of people – a dream that had been implanted in the minds of the youth of his country for generations, but never with such emotion and technological skill.

In the Orient mystical rites of honor, warriors and love of country were being injected into the demands of modern nations for trade and trade routes. The seas were seen as the source of survival for a country not magnificently blessed with natural resources. All of this was being expressed in trade negotiations.

The madman had published his goals, his ambitions, and his beliefs and quickly risen to power. He looked askance and meek little men cowered. He huffed and we ignored.

While all of this was going on, the most notable events to come through the pages of the history of our church include the deposit of the church records from 1716 to 1 9 38 in a vault in the Litchfield County National Bank, by the then Rev. Rolland G. Ewing. Rigid New England rules were relaxed and card playing was allowed in the sanctuary. Mahogany cases for the newly established Books of Remembrance were donated. The sanctuary was redecorated and new chandeliers were installed.

Nothing comes as a surprise to those who are paying attention. The war found us unprepared, unwilling, unbelieving...convinced that the freedoms so enjoyed by many could be had through a wish. A darkness fell that would extinguish the lives of over 100 million people, the world went to war. It is not the place of any one person to look back from a historical perspective and point an accusative finger at any other generation. We have at least learned enough of news and the events that we receive as news to know they can be given to us in any context the sender wants us to see them…All we can hope to do with the events of the past is to see how they apply to the present, if at all, and vow to guard the freedoms we so easily take for granted.

The war ended and a fat, friendly faced monster took Lenin’s revolt and backed it with technological might and resolve in a world tired of war. An "Iron Curtain" fell over much of the free worship that we know. Rev. Ewing presided over a minor revolution of our own when the church, by a narrow margin, voted in favor of the Basis of Union which eventually brought the Congregational churches and the Evangelical Reformed Church into the United Church of Christ. Mr., Ewing retired to the call of the Old South Church of Boston and later to the Center Congregational Church of Torrington. The Korean War came and went without mention in the history of the church and the generation of people born to the generation that had lived through the great depression and the great war came. They would have everything given to them – everything to prove that the horror of the World War had not been in complete vain.

From 1952 until 1957 there were several interim ministers that took the job of instructing the congregation. The first of these was only to serve for three months. The Rev. Andrew F. Chamberlain was a local retired Methodist minister who was dearly loved by the members of the community and served the job well.

Then came the Rev. C. Victor Brown. Rev. Brown had a Doctorate of Divinity from the Chicago Theological Seminary and had been a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, Vassar College and Union College. He strongly opposed the efforts of Senator McCarthy to tyrannize churches, colleges and the U.S. Congress. Serving until the middle of September 1956, he left for the position of Dean of Elmira College and was replaced by C. Sumner Osgood, interim pastor, to be replaced by the Rev. A. Russell Ayre.

The size and dimensions of the Congregational Church of New Milford’s work were increasing with such rapidity that an assistant minister was placed in service. The first of these was Thomas V. Litzenberg, Jr., a senior at Yale Divinity School. He became the first pastor’s assistant since Stanley Griswold was hired to assist the Rev. Nathaniel Taylor in 1790. Those were big shoes to fill indeed and some of the work that was completed during this time indicates that Rev. Ayre and his assistants did just that. The new parish house was built in the rear of the meeting house on the property that had been acquired in 1956 (part of the original property of Nathaniel Taylor). This was accomplished only one year after a redoing of the entire inside of the church and installing a new carpet. The parish house had been ten years in the planning and followed a successful fund raising drive and arranging of finances. The building was dedicated on February 22, 1959.

Mr. James McGraw, later a staunch civil rights proponent, replaced Litzenberg as assistant in the same year and served until June 1961 when he left for the position of pastor of the Dean Street Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York.

The parish house was "pushed" by Mr. Gerald C. Marsh among many others. Mr. Marsh and the members of the church saw the need in the community as well as in the church for a building that could house offices, classrooms, meeting rooms and emergency shelter in time of need. It is a tribute to the people of the church at the time that the parish house today is used by a number of local civic organizations. The New Milford Board of Education needed more classroom space and rented from the church the necessary classrooms from September of 1960 until June 1962. The same was true again in the 1969-70 time frame.

One of the more interesting and indicative actions undertaken by the church during this period was the renting of the chapel to Temple Shalom, the local Jewish congregation, in January of 1959. This aided them in establishing their own temple in New Milford rather than requiring them to travel to Danbury. This tie with the Jewish organization in our community has been continued through the years with the reciprocal invitation each congregation has given to the other to attend their services and the occupation of the pulpit of our meeting house by the rabbis of the temple. The two religions have much in common in their early history and the experience has served many well. One of the more recent events that came about as a result of this union was the Maundy Thursday supper or Seder meal that the congregation observed with our friends of the Jewish Faith. The realization that the Last Supper was a traditional Jewish celebration of the Seder meal served to make a lasting impression on many of us – thereby emphasizing the common ancestry of our faiths prior to the Life of Christ.

Another assistant, Richard B. Hill, came to help Mr. Ayre when McGraw resigned in June 1961. Mr. Hill served for several years until accepting the call to the Congregational Church of Sherman to become its minister. Mr. Stephen Thompson replaced him in 1964.

A revised constitution was approved and adopted on January 21, 1963. A significant provision of this paper was that the moderator of the church meeting would be a lay person instead of the minister. This, it was felt, would free the minister to take a more active part in the discussions that were brought before the group.

In the month of May, 1964, a fund drive was decided upon to raise the necessary money to install a new pipe organ. Also included in the project was the replacement of the choir loft, exits, bells for the steeple, repair of the clock, retirement of the parish house debt, refurbishing windows in the sanctuary, repair work in the chapel, parlor, and parish house basement, along with redoing the stairs in the meeting house and work in the kitchen.

The sanctuary was remodeled and the new Austin Two Manual Pipe Organ installed in the summer and fall of 1966 as a part of the 250th celebration of the organization of the congregation. The organ project, conceived and promoted largely by and through the efforts of the church organist, Harold Ives Hunt, was paid for by pledges, contributions and gifts through the Book of Remembrance.

Later in 1966 a special plaque listing the names and dates of service of the former pastors was placed in the vestibule area of the church by the Harold Patterson family.

The sixties were a time of change in the history of our country as well as in the local area. Civil rights became the issue and the time and place and the manner in which the issue was debated became the specific topic of the day. Although later historians will write of the period as a short era of tremendous social unrest and probably leave it at that, those that lived through the time saw it quite differently. While the fifties had been more or less a period of quiet prosperity, the sixties were anything but tranquil. The men and women who had fought in the Second World War became the politicians of the time…a man named Kennedy inspired people to believe that nothing they did was insignificant, but a step in a great journey…hope prevailed and, when it met with tradition, the clashes erupted. A race of Black Americans no longer waited for, but demanded their equal place in the land…the areas of confrontation were usually far to the south of New Milford, but Rev. Ayre continued to urge the church and the parish to take a more active role in society, to adapt and change when necessary, and to put the principles of Christian faith into one’s daily living, not just to listen to them at the Sunday service.

For forty-three years Harold Ives Hunt had served as organist and choirmaster. In May, 1968 the organ was dedicated to him for serving since May, 1924. Mr. Gerald Marsh, later to have the parish house dedicated to his name and efforts, gave the address and quoted from the inscription on the scroll, "that Harold’s trust had always been the saying on that scroll. ‘That in worship…as well as the singers as the players on instruments will be there’."

Vietnam…

In 1969 Lawrence D. Reimer became the associate pastor of the church. He and Rev. Ayre were especially interested and wished the church to take an active part in the sponsorship of non-profit housing for the elderly. Through the establishment of the housing committee the possibility of low income housing was studied which eventually led to the ground breaking ceremonies for the Butterbrook housing project in town. The church donated $25,000.00 to this project and continues to support it through direction and guidance of the housing committee. The dedication of the church to those that have reached senior status continued through the purchase in 1981 of the Kappel property, 18+ acres to be used for further construction of housing.

The Rev. Richard Brindle came as associate pastor in 1974 and the timing of the arrival of this young, enthusiastic supporter of the programs for the youth of the church could not have been better planned. Hunger walks, assisting at Southbury Training School, retreats at Silver Lake and many other activities of the youth group of the church were undertaken. He was so well liked and respected by the young people at the church that he was asked to return and speak at the New Milford High School graduation of 1979 after he had gone to the Wheat Ridge Congregational Church of Denver, Colorado in 1977 to assume its pastorship.

The Rev. Thorpe Bauer was appointed the minister of calling in 1978 and served in that position until 1982 when he was replaced by Mr. Frank W. Thurston, a retired Methodist minister living in town. The creation of this position shows the vitality to which the congregation has grown under the pastorship of Mr. Ayre. There are now enough projects, people, and plans that the time of three men, plus the deacons, office staff and the Board of Trustees’ part time contributions are needed to maintain the operation of the church.

The A. Russell Ayre Scholarship fund was established in 1976 to help our youth, our future, and honor our pastor by its creation. Each year, funds are distributed to selected members of the church as they start their college careers. What more appropriate way could there be for sending a promising young person in to the "real world" than by helping them get a good start?

In December of 1977 a pastoral search committee extended an invitation to the Rev. Archie B. Aitcheson from Amelia United Church of Christ to become our associate pastor. Although he had been serving in Clayton, North Carolina, Archie is a native of Watertown, Connecticut.

One of Archie’s trips behind the Iron Curtain to East Germany serves to remind us all that "enemies" of countries can be made up of individual friends. It is hard to describe Kirchengemeinschaft, or the feeling of two bodies of people united in a common cause, but try and imagine the warmth that comes from knowing two churches, separated by military and political boundaries, and filled with supposedly potential adversaries, are actually praying for each other’s health and happiness in God’s work.

The Present Edifice

In 1748 William Gaylord had conveyed to Nathaniel Taylor "30 acres of land and all improvements". Thereafter, Mr. Taylor, by various documents of conveyance, disposed of portions of this acreage to family members. In many of these deeds there is a description of "the lot set aside for church purposes". Eventually one of the heirs, Mr. John Taylor, sold a lot "on the East side of Main Street; 76 feet wide, 170 feet deep" to the First Ecclesiastical Society. That was in 1831 and since that date, several smaller pieces of real estate have been acquired to form the premises of the "Society" today.

An interesting story about this land states that when Reverend Nathaniel Taylor was installed as minister of the congregation, the 30 acre parcel of land in the area of the Main Street School ran back to nearly the present location of Butterbrook. Once when asked why he spent so much time cultivating his land and seemingly so little in the office he responded that had the church given him a little more money and a little less land perhaps he could spend more time working on his ministerial duties. The congregation voted him no further funds, but it also stopped asking for such strict accounting of his time.

At any rate a committee was later installed "to intend to the building of the new meeting house". The house was to replace the former structure which stood in the middle of the present Green. (An early map of the town shows that the Main Street of town ran down only the west side of the Green and the former Congregational church faced this street.)

The house was built under the direction of the committee of George Taylor, Gerardus Roberts, Walter Booth, Anan Hine, and Cyrus Northrop. The committee was to see not only to the building of the church, but to the collection of monies to pay for it. They were to seek help in both money and physical materials "to be used in building said house and in transportation of lumber, stone, timber, lime and other materials and also in labor."

On June 28, 1833 it was voted by the committee to pay itself in the following amounts for services rendered: $175.00 to Anan Hine for his services in building the meeting house, to the rest of the committee $10.00 for collecting the subscriptions.

When the church had been built on the Green in 1754, some of the fittings from the original meeting house had been used in its foundation. In this tradition some nails and materials from the church on the Green were included in the present structure along with some forged beam fittings, gallery posts (used as basement supports) and certain foundation items. From the stand of giant oaks on the Edgar Welles farm came the columns. To hold the huge columns and steeple that were planned great stone steps and rock to case and fill the foundation were dragged by oxen from the Mine Hill quarry.

The building was dedicated officially on August 8, 1833. The total cost for the building was about 9019.00. Unfortunately, this was a bit long of the amount that had been subscribed and an additional

11 percent tax was levied on the 142 contributing members of the society…remember that at that time money was collected through the payment for pews belonging to a family and not through individual pledges…This probably made it a lot easier to levy such a tax.

In 1839 a chapel was added in the rear. In 1860 a complete renovation of the meeting house took place. The stoves were done away with and furnaces installed under the pulpit for the first central heating. "God will not put up with a boring sermon with those furnaces under the pulpit." In 1861 land was acquired for horse sheds, to be discussed later, and in 1866 a pipe organ was added.

A Congregational Church Annual of January 1885 shows the first recorded hints of a desire to expand the facility. On the back page of that annual, Rev. Lee writes:

"Even before I have presented my cause, I hear someone answer readily, ‘Oh! Yes, we do need a new chapel. The building now in use is old, badly in need of repairs, with cold floors, poorly ventilated and with so many inconveniences that I for one, will gladly give my mite (sic) towards a new one; but as to church parlors, I take no stock in that department, not in the Sewing Society, gossipy old places anyway."

And the debate was on.

The first important meeting of the church society in relation to the proposed changes in the church building was held on the 22nd of September, 1890. A committee was selected and reported on December 8, 1890 that it was estimated 8000 dollars would be needed and that in their opinion this amount of money could be raised.

On April 29, 1891, the report on the committee was charged with raising the money and was probably made up of the same people that reported back that the funds could be raised in the first place. $9341.00 had been pledged at that time and a building committee was selected and work begun to:

"Add a section of 12 feet to the church sanctuary, cut off the galleries at the west side of the east windows of the church as it is now, deepen the center arch of the church sufficiently to put the organ and choir behind the pulpit and finish the remaining improvements substantially according to the plan adopted at the meeting on December 8. All votes of this society not in accordance with this vote are hereby rescinded."

Man the hammers.

The work was done as ordered. The most noticeable feature was the beautiful a arch for the choir and organ behind the pulpit, the splendid stained glass windows which replaced the plain windows of the same size, the beautiful and artistic work around the edge of the ceiling (gone) and the shortened and curved ended galleries.

The foundation had to be on a level with the remaining portion of the church and this required the removal of a large amount of earth around the rear of the structure and the building of a stone wall some

2 to 5 feet from the building to prevent the encroachments of earth. There are 160 yards of stone work in this wall.

The organ was overhauled and rebuilt. The pulpit was cut down in size and reupholstered in red. The ancient deacon’s chairs were kept, the size of the sanctuary was increased to 48 by 56 (longer by eight feet) allowing more pews. There were many other improvements and it must be remembered that the original Sunday school building and chapel that had been added during Rev. Noah Porter’s time in 1838-1839 was torn down and done over for this modification.

In short, the heating system was completely renovated with huge radiators over the furnace that allowed warm air to flow around the church. The furnaces under the pulpit were overhauled and the furnace floor cemented.

The new building in the rear of the old was 48 by 52 feet long. The main Sunday school room – now the Taylor Room and kitchen – had a ceiling that ran to the top of the building while the ladies’ parlor and library (now chapel) and the entry vestibule on the south side had room for two stories. The three overhead rooms could be connected by sliding doors to the main room at the second level.

The final bill was $18,300.00. It seems cost overruns are not a modern phenomenon.

The old pipe organ was replaced in 1904 and in 1905 the clock was installed in the steeple. A New Milford Times article of 1916 mentions a gift of some $5,000.00 by a Mr. Francis L. Hine. Given in 1904 it was used toward the purchase of a clock in the steeple. The clock was wound once per week by a member of the church until it was later electrified in 1950.

1938 finds the mention of remodeling when the sanctuary and fellowship room were completely redone and new lighting installed. The huge chandeliers were a gift at that time by the Book of Remembrance.

The church steeple was redone in a remodeling effort in 1947 and in 1966 the organ was replaced with an Austin two model and general remodeling or refurbishing of the church was accomplished.

 

 

The Horse Sheds

One of the more interesting chapters in the history of the buildings of the church concerns a group of horse sheds that surrounded the church from 1861 until 1931…when they had become so run down and shabby, compared to the rest of the surrounding buildings, that they were torn down.

The land was purchased from a Dr. George Taylor and William Starr for the sum of 400 dollars. Miss Katherine Wells, in a New Milford Times article printed in February of 1932, recalled also that a Mr. Royal I. Canfield donated some land for the "further accommodation of erecting sheds purchased of Dr. George Taylor."

In the shadow of the Civil War that was falling on the nation, the primary method of transportation to and from church, if one did not walk, was either a two seated wagon or the high wheeled buggy.

"The horses were mostly those used on the farm during the week. There were some notable exceptions. Homer Buckingham usually drove a mettlesome span of colts. Ebenezer Marsh and his son, Edward, and Benjamin Buckingham were all lovers of fine horses. The high wheeled buggy was the young man’s vehicle and was a very fancy affair. The body was usually a glossy black and the running gear bright red or wine color. The seat was supposed to accommodate two, but there wasn’t much room to spare…The Phaeton was used about 1880 and a little later the buckboard came into style. With the advent of the buckboard the high wheeled buggy vanished and the body of all vehicles was hung much lower."

The sheds were deeded by the church to various members during the years, but very poor records were kept. Most of the knowledge of ownership extended only to who was responsible at any given time. There were 28 sheds in all.

Think of the need for a few minutes to calm down prior to the Sunday service when events such as the following immediately preceded the introit:

"Myron Cole and Allen Hill were chums and, in a sense, rivals. They both rode in the latest high wheeled buggies, drawn by a span of fine driving horses. Neither of the young men was accustomed to taking anyone’s dust."

This was from a lady who routinely saw the two young men pulling into church in those fine buggies of which she spoke. Was the yell of the driver and the crack of a buggy whip any louder than a slightly modified catalytic converter and muffler???

A member of the current congregation can remember using the sheds in his days as a boy in New Milford. He would drive the morning milk down from the farm and deposit it at the dairy and then go to school in the Main Street building, leaving the horses in the family shed for the day…

Of the thirty-six people who probably were owners at the time the piece in the Times was written, twenty-nine of them were farmers, two were mill owners, one was a blacksmith, three were brick manufacturers and one a merchant.

Around the turn of the century there seemed to have been some misunderstanding as to the intended use of the sheds. Four men had rented theirs for storage and one man put a padlocked chain in front of his. This brought the following notice:

"To the members of the First Ecclesiastical Society of New Milford, Connecticut: The sheds and ground now used by members of said society are so held and used in accordance with a vote of said society. Parties who have built or purchased sheds have no right to sell or rent the same to any person other than members of said society and they are to be kept free from all obstructions and used for the temporary sheltering of teams and only for the use and benefit of the society…"

Warning was given to non-members to move out.

By the mid-thirties, when they were torn down, the sheds had become less and less useful as the horseless carriages that replaced them did not require heat during the service.

Author’s Notes

The trouble with asking a person who considers himself an amateur writer to do a history such as this one is that sooner or later he has to add his own two cents. I would like to take the history of this church and add to it what I consider are the current trends in the New Milford area today. These reflect, with minor regional differences, the characteristics I feel are applicable to an American Society in change.

The most significant daily change in the lives of our generation has been the television. The electron screen flooded the average American home from the early 1950’s to the present with a barrage of opinion that it has long since swallowed, but only recently begun to digest or remove.

Given that a person’s basic reactions to life are formed by about the age of ten to twelve, it is important to look at what we came through in those formative years.

We were the "Pepsi Generation". We had a lot to live. Sociologists point out that we saw life in terms of half hour adventures with six or seven interruptions for the good life. We solved problems neatly, succinctly, straight up on the hour with asides to ogle at beautiful bodies that smoked cigarettes, drank beer, smelled pretty and never got depressed without a pill that could plop, fizz or otherwise dispel that depression.

What are the characteristics that this upbringing has brought to a generation of Americans?

First is our desire for a quick fix, neatly packaged answers: truths that will change what we do not like in the world and change it quickly – before the fun begins again. We see political systems fat with excess and cry out for moderation, but only every four years – at the proper time – neatly. If we do not have the money to purchase something we desire,, we flash a plastic card and obtain instant gratification. We spent a small portion of a recent year arguing the threat to our lives of nuclear war, held an emotional town meeting that showed we "overwhelmingly" disapprove of dying by nuclear holocaust, and then, in a week’s time, went back to church bake sales and discussions of vandalism of Christmas trees on the town Green. Having turned the switch that should shut off nuclear war, we buried out thoughts back in the good life…On with the pastries.

We lived through a war that lasted from the early sixties to the mid-seventies. Every night the horror of this was was brought to us with our evening meal – right in our own home – in living color. We tried to "turn off the war" for over ten years, the end result being a hasty withdrawal from promised treaties and a curtain of darkness falling on a part of the world that has cost millions their homes, their families, or their own lives in the wave of terrorism unequalled since Hitler. Our communities today bear the evidence of government so cruel that people flee into the sea in rowboats to escape. International policies and the histories of people do not lend themselves to our U.S. brand of quick solutions. They go on after the "commercial" and the good life resumes for us. We are responsible for the way those lives go on, whether we like it or not, and we cannot turn that responsibility off = whether we ignore it or not.

A young college professor recently reminded me that in a cataclysmic moment in time, the T.V. brought us the assassination of a young emotionally popular president. We saw one of the good guys that we knew die. He was not a Roy Rogers villain who groaned and died bloodlessly, but our man, us, blown away right in our living room.

How did we handle this bit of truth brought to us in the stark reality of "live’ coverage? It is hard to forget that all through the few days that followed the death of John Kennedy, the commercials on T.V. were replaced with assurances that all would go on smoothly. It will be okay, we’re sorry but don’t worry, we’ll be okay. The power has smoothly passed. . . relax. . . it’s okay. . . honest. . . we’ll be back to normal soon.

Along with this desire for instant gratification, the second purely American attribute that I see our generation had developed holds what I believe to be the hope for change. We have an almost unbelievable ability to find humor in all we do, to see our hopes as a culture dashed and step back, waiting for the next show, laugh at ourselves and start over. Many would argue that we are a ship of fools sailing blithely toward destruction, worrying only about the NFL and diet soda. I disagree.

This ability to take our failures lightly is, in its purest form, optimism. If we missed our mark we will not brood over it, but start over and go after it again making light of our former attempts.

It is my hope that the blending of these two traits and the lessons they’ve taught us will bring change. We have failed in the past, but are not bound by these failures. We have sought to solve immensely difficult questions quickly and caused grievous harm, but hopefully will not continue to fail – can’t continue to fail – at least not for the same shallow reasons.

As change and technological advances increase exponentially, we reach out and realize there are certain truths that are not instant, but everlasting. Our children may come to believe that two and two are four with no more substantiation than that is the number that appears on a screen, but we hope to leave them with a desire to hold on to other truths which are enduring. You who read this in the future will judge best how well we were able to do just that. In fact, know that we came to realize that the truth of Love is everlasting; that truly loving or caring for others is not always the quickest, easiest way to solve problems, but the best. Know that truly loving another, more than oneself, the golden rule of our God, was our aim. Also know that leaving you a church proud of its tradition, loved for its symbolism, and as a token of our continuing goal of pleasing God with our lives was our aim.

Ross Detwiler

(prepared for the Internet by Cathy Nelson - August, 1998)

rule2.gif (1398 bytes)

smallnew.gif (926 bytes)Continuation of our history - added May 20, 2001
by Ross Detwiler

One of Archie's trips behind the Iron Curtain to East Germany serves to remind us all that "enemies" of countries can be made up of individual friends. It is hard to describe Kirchengemeinschaft, or the feeling of two bodies of people united in a common cause, but try and imagine the warmth that comes from knowing two churches, separated by military and political boundaries, and filled with supposedly potential adversaries, are actually praying for each other's health and happiness in God's work.
In 1990, Reverend Mike Mo0ran was installed as the senior pastor of the church. Reverend Moran had been raised in New York City and had experience in a number of church positions and ministries in the Northeast prior to coming to New Milford. Reveremd Deborah Rose was selected shortly after Mike was appointed to be the first female assistant pastor of the church. Deborah replaced Reverend Dennis Calhoun, who's immense promise was quickly recognized by the people of Woodbury who made him their senior pastor less than a year after he had joined us.
Mike and Deborah undertook project "Vision 95" soon after they were installed. This enormously ambitious project intended to raise a half a million dollars for the repair and renovations of parts of the church, most notably the steeple. Through special fund raising events, special pledges, and projects this lofty goal was not only reached, but surpassed as the project drew in approximately 655,255 dollars.
The major undertakings of this project included the restoration of the steeple. Remembering that this steeple had been up since being erected in 1833, it was undeniably time for a redo of the entire edifice. As described earlier in this history, the steeple had taken on a 6 degree list over the years and the upper belfry and the spire were both taken down by crane and placed in a protective fencing in the middle of the green to be rebuilt. Ms. Joy Geiser and her father, owners of an arts and crafts shop in the town,her name, took wood from this old steeple and made panoramic scenery displays of the town itself. These, and the corresponding panoramas made from the old bandstand that was replaced on the green are highly prized art treasures in the area.
    Other improvements of the project included a new roof on the sanctuary, new electric wire in the sanctuary replacing some of the 1930's type free hooked wires that had been merely draped like curtain ropes across the beams of the attic area above the sanctuary. New front doors were added to the sanctuary and the floor under the sanctuary was upgraded to modern strength standards. The down stairs bathrooms were remodeled to handicapped standards and the fellowship hall was redone again. Eventually a handicapped lift and an all new kitchen were added to the church partly from these monies and partly from bequests to the church.
    As Mike's ministry continued the congregation was thrilled with the addition of the Reverend Virnette Hamilton as the associate pastor. Virnette, who as a member of the congregation had put herself through Yale divinity School, became the new associate when Deborah Rose was asked to leave.
    In the latter part of the decade of the 1990's the front of the church was painted, the clapboards on the sanctuary were replaced with vinyl siding after much discussion on the damage this would do to the building's historical landmark status.
    The stained glass windows on the north and south sides of the church were removed and sent away for renovations. The tiffany windows at the front of the church did not need replacement as they were of a higher quality and had only been in the church for about one hundred years.
    In 1992 a large portion of the sanctuary ceiling, weakened after nearly 160 years in place fell on some of the pews below. Fortunately this happened during the night and it was only the next morning that the custodian found the large rock size chunks of plaster in the area of the sanctuary in which they had impacted. The portion that feel was actually a patch that had been put in place during the 1892 renovation of the church and the addition of the fellowship hall on the rear. The patch had been put in the place where the exhaust hold had been for the gas chandelier that hung there and can been seen in some of the pictures of the church. The local press, ignoring fact, made much of the possibility of the ceiling falling on the congregation when the "great vibration of the organ" occurred during the morning hymns. But the mistruth sold papers. The ceiling overhead was repaired by pulling the plaster back for approximately ten feet in all directions and replacing it with sheetrock and then blending the paint.
    One of the largest initiatives undertaken during this time was "Call to Caring." This program was made up of four parts; Intense prayer, Visitation by Parish Visitors, the meal chain, and hospitality programs.
    In the early part of 1999 much discussion was entertained over a proposal by Omnipoint Inc. to rent the steeple as an antenna host for it's wireless communications business. While there was sincere concern over taking money into God's house, the fact that the antenna is invisible, requires no upkeep and provides a tidy monthly subsidy overcame early concerns.
    Other initiatives include the mentoring of the confirmation classes by adult members of the congregation. When the congregants are presented to the congregation, the are introduced by the adult that has spent much time with each of them at learning, recreational, and worship services during the previous two months. The youth group took many mission trips during this time and annually raised a field of large pumpkins for sale during the Halloween period. This through the efforts of Mr. Wayne Hackney, a member of the congregation, was one of the groups most enduring and successful fund raising efforts.
    Also, during this time there was a major increase in the involvement of the deacons in the life of the church. Nearly every program or committee had a deacon representative that they reported to on a regular basis. The deacons actively participated in the planning and operation of every religious service and program of the church.
    Reverend Moran became involved, at this time, in a major debate with the state of Connecticut over the ownership of the historical records of the church. These documents, as one can imagine are major historical records of the early history of the state of Connecticut. They were turned over to the state for safe keeping during the 1930's when the state library became a major depository to recive old town records. In the 1940's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) volunteered to photocopy all the records of the state in an effort to ascertain the geneology of some of their members.

The Present Edifice

In 1748 William Gaylord had conveyed to Nathaniel Taylor "30 acres of land and all improvements". Thereafter, Mr. Taylor, by various documents of conveyance, disposed of portions of this acreage to family members. In many of these deeds there is a description of "the lot set aside for church purposes". Eventually one of the heirs, Mr. John Taylor, sold a lot "on the East side of Main Street; 76 feet wide, 170 feet deep" to the First Ecclesiastical Society. That was in 1831 and since that date, several smaller pieces of real estate have been acquired to form the premises of the "Society" today.
An interesting story about this land states that when Reverend Nathaniel Taylor was installed as minister of the congregation, the 30 acre parcel of land in the area of the Main Street School ran back to nearly the present location of Butterbrook. Once when asked why he spent so much time cultivating his land and seemingly so little in the office he responded that had the church given him a little more money and a little less land perhaps he could spend more time working on his ministerial duties. The congregation voted him no further funds, but it also stopped asking for such strict accounting of his time.
At any rate a committee was later installed "to intend to the building of the new meeting house". The house was to replace the former structure which stood in the middle of the present Green. (An early map of the town shows that the Main Street of town ran down only the west side of the Green and the former Congregational church faced this street.)
The house was built under the direction of the committee of George Taylor, Gerardus Roberts, Walter Booth, Anan Hine, and Cyrus Northrop. The committee was to see not only to the building of the church, but to the collection of monies to pay for it. They were to seek help in both money and physical materials "to be used in building said house and in transportation of lumber, stone, timber, lime and other materials and also in labor."
On June 28, 1833 it was voted by the committee to pay itself in the following amounts for services rendered: $175.00 to Anan Hine for his services in building the meeting house, to the rest of the committee $10.00 for collecting the subscriptions.
When the church had been built on the Green in 1754, some of the fittings from the original meeting house had been used in its foundation. In this tradition some nails and materials from the church on the Green were included in the present structure along with some forged beam fittings, gallery posts (used as basement supports) and certain foundation items. From the stand of giant oaks on the Edgar Welles farm came the columns. To hold the huge columns and steeple that were planned great stone steps and rock to case and fill the foundation were dragged by oxen from the Mine Hill quarry.
The building was dedicated officially on August 8, 1833. The total cost for the building was about 9019.00. Unfortunately, this was a bit long of the amount that had been subscribed and an additional
11 percent tax was levied on the 142 contributing members of the society…remember that at that time money was collected through the payment for pews belonging to a family and not through individual pledges…This probably made it a lot easier to levy such a tax.
    In 1839 a chapel was added in the rear. In 1860 a complete renovation of the meeting house took place. The stoves were done away with and furnaces installed under the pulpit for the first central heating. "God will not put up with a boring sermon with those furnaces under the pulpit." In 1861 land was acquired for horse sheds, to be discussed later, and in 1866 a pipe organ was added.
A Congregational Church Annual of January 1885 shows the first recorded hints of a desire to expand the facility. On the back page of that annual, Rev. Lee writes:
"Even before I have presented my cause, I hear someone answer readily, 'Oh! Yes, we do need a new chapel. The building now in use is old, badly in need of repairs, with cold floors, poorly ventilated and with so many inconveniences that I for one, will gladly give my mite (sic) towards a new one; but as to church parlors, I take no stock in that department, not in the Sewing Society, gossipy old places anyway."
And the debate was on.
    The first important meeting of the church society in relation to the proposed changes in the church building was held on the 22nd of September, 1890. A committee was selected and reported on December 8, 1890 that it was estimated 8000 dollars would be needed and that in their opinion this amount of money could be raised.
    On April 29, 1891, the report on the committee was charged with raising the money and was probably made up of the same people that reported back that the funds could be raised in the first place. $9341.00 had been pledged at that time and a building committee was selected and work begun to:
"Add a section of 12 feet to the church sanctuary, cut off the galleries at the west side of the east windows of the church as it is now, deepen the center arch of the church sufficiently to put the organ and choir behind the pulpit and finish the remaining improvements substantially according to the plan adopted at the meeting on December 8. All votes of this society not in accordance with this vote are hereby rescinded."
Man the hammers.
    The work was done as ordered. The most noticeable feature was the beautiful a arch for the choir and organ behind the pulpit, the splendid stained glass windows which replaced the plain windows of the same size, the beautiful and artistic work around the edge of the ceiling (gone) and the shortened and curved ended galleries.
    The foundation had to be on a level with the remaining portion of the church and this required the removal of a large amount of earth around the rear of the structure and the building of a stone wall some
2 to 5 feet from the building to prevent the encroachments of earth. There are 160 yards of stone work in this wall.
    The organ was overhauled and rebuilt. The pulpit was cut down in size and reupholstered in red. The ancient deacon's chairs were kept, the size of the sanctuary was increased to 48 by 56 (longer by eight feet) allowing more pews. There were many other improvements and it must be remembered that the original Sunday school building and chapel that had been added during Rev. Noah Porter's time in 1838-1839 was torn down and done over for this modification.
    In short, the heating system was completely renovated with huge radiators over the furnace that allowed warm air to flow around the church. The furnaces under the pulpit were overhauled and the furnace floor cemented.
    The new building in the rear of the old was 48 by 52 feet long. The main Sunday school room - now the Taylor Room and kitchen - had a ceiling that ran to the top of the building while the ladies' parlor and library (now chapel) and the entry vestibule on the south side had room for two stories. The three overhead rooms could be connected by sliding doors to the main room at the second level.
    The final bill was $18,300.00. It seems cost overruns are not a modern phenomenon.
    The old pipe organ was replaced in 1904 and in 1905 the clock was installed in the steeple. A New Milford Times article of 1916 mentions a gift of some $5,000.00 by a Mr. Francis L. Hine. Given in 1904 it was used toward the purchase of a clock in the steeple. The clock was wound once per week by a member of the church until it was later electrified in 1950.
    1938 finds the mention of remodeling when the sanctuary and fellowship room were completely redone and new lighting installed. The huge chandeliers were a gift at that time by the Book of Remembrance.
    The church steeple was redone in a remodeling effort in 1947 and in 1966 the organ was replaced with an Austin two model and general remodeling or refurbishing of the church was accomplished.
   


The Horse Sheds

    One of the more interesting chapters in the history of the buildings of the church concerns a group of horse sheds that surrounded the church from 1861 until 1931…when they had become so run down and shabby, compared to the rest of the surrounding buildings, that they were torn down.
    The land was purchased from a Dr. George Taylor and William Starr for the sum of 400 dollars. Miss Katherine Wells, in a New Milford Times article printed in February of 1932, recalled also that a Mr. Royal I. Canfield donated some land for the "further accommodation of erecting sheds purchased of Dr. George Taylor."
    In the shadow of the Civil War that was falling on the nation, the primary method of transportation to and from church, if one did not walk, was either a two seated wagon or the high wheeled buggy.
"The horses were mostly those used on the farm during the week. There were some notable exceptions. Homer Buckingham usually drove a mettlesome span of colts. Ebenezer Marsh and his son, Edward, and Benjamin Buckingham were all lovers of fine horses. The high wheeled buggy was the young man's vehicle and was a very fancy affair. The body was usually a glossy black and the running gear bright red or wine color. The seat was supposed to accommodate two, but there wasn't much room to spare…The Phaeton was used about 1880 and a little later the buckboard came into style. With the advent of the buckboard the high wheeled buggy vanished and the body of all vehicles was hung much lower."
    The sheds were deeded by the church to various members during the years, but very poor records were kept. Most of the knowledge of ownership extended only to who was responsible at any given time. There were 28 sheds in all.
    Think of the need for a few minutes to calm down prior to the Sunday service when events such as the following immediately preceded the introit:
"Myron Cole and Allen Hill were chums and, in a sense, rivals. They both rode in the latest high wheeled buggies, drawn by a span of fine driving horses. Neither of the young men was accustomed to taking anyone's dust."
    This was from a lady who routinely saw the two young men pulling into church in those fine buggies of which she spoke. Was the yell of the driver and the crack of a buggy whip any louder than a slightly modified catalytic converter and muffler???
    A member of the current congregation can remember using the sheds in his days as a boy in New Milford. He would drive the morning milk down from the farm and deposit it at the dairy and then go to school in the Main Street building, leaving the horses in the family shed for the day…
    Of the thirty-six people who probably were owners at the time the piece in the Times was written, twenty-nine of them were farmers, two were mill owners, one was a blacksmith, three were brick manufacturers and one a merchant.
    Around the turn of the century there seemed to have been some misunderstanding as to the intended use of the sheds. Four men had rented theirs for storage and one man put a padlocked chain in front of his. This brought the following notice:
"To the members of the First Ecclesiastical Society of New Milford, Connecticut: The sheds and ground now used by members of said society are so held and used in accordance with a vote of said society. Parties who have built or purchased sheds have no right to sell or rent the same to any person other than members of said society and they are to be kept free from all obstructions and used for the temporary sheltering of teams and only for the use and benefit of the society…"
    Warning was given to non-members to move out.
    By the mid-thirties, when they were torn down, the sheds had become less and less useful as the horseless carriages that replaced them did not require heat during the service.



Author's Notes

    The trouble with asking a person who considers himself an amateur writer to do a history such as this one is that sooner or later he has to add his own two cents. I would like to take the history of this church and add to it what I consider are the current trends in the New Milford area today. These reflect, with minor regional differences, the characteristics I feel are applicable to an American Society in change.
    The most significant daily change in the lives of our generation has been the television. The electron screen flooded the average American home from the early 1950's to the present with a barrage of opinion that it has long since swallowed, but only recently begun to digest or remove.
    Given that a person's basic reactions to life are formed by about the age of ten to twelve, it is important to look at what we came through in those formative years.
    We were the "Pepsi Generation". We had a lot to live. Sociologists point out that we saw life in terms of half hour adventures with six or seven interruptions for the good life. We solved problems neatly, succinctly, straight up on the hour with asides to oogle at beautiful bodies that smoked cigarettes, drank beer, smelled pretty and never got depressed without a pill that could plop, fizz or otherwise dispel that depression.
    What are the characteristics that this upbringing has brought to a generation of Americans?
    First is our desire for a quick fix, neatly packaged answers: truths that will change what we do not like in the world and change it quickly - before the fun begins again. We see political systems fat with excess and cry out for moderation, but only every four years - at the proper time - neatly. If we do not have the money to purchase something we desire,, we flash a plastic card and obtain instant gratification. We spent a small portion of a recent year arguing the threat to our lives of nuclear war, held an emotional town meeting that showed we "overwhelmingly" disapprove of dying by nuclear holocaust, and then, in a week's time, went back to church bake sales and discussions of vandalism of Christmas trees on the town Green. Having turned the switch that should shut off nuclear war, we buried out thoughts back in the good life…On with the pastries.
    We lived through a war that lasted from the early sixties to the mid-seventies. Every night the horror of this was was brought to us with our evening meal - right in our own home - in living color. We tried to "turn off the war" for over ten years, the end result being a hasty withdrawal from promised treaties and a curtain of darkness falling on a part of the world that has cost millions their homes, their families, or their own lives in the wave of terrorism unequalled since Hitler. Our communities today bear the evidence of government so cruel that people flee into the sea in rowboats to escape. International policies and the histories of people do not lend themselves to our U.S. brand of quick solutions. They go on after the "commercial" and the good life resumes for us. We are responsible for the way those lives go on, whether we like it or not, and we cannot turn that responsibility off = whether we ignore it or not.
    A young college professor recently reminded me that in a cataclysmic moment in time, the T.V. brought us the assassination of a young emotionally popular president. We saw one of the good guys that we knew die. He was not a Roy Rogers villain who groaned and died bloodlessly, but our man, us, blown away right in our living room.
    How did we handle this bit of truth brought to us in the stark reality of "live' coverage? It is hard to forget that all through the few days that followed the death of John Kennedy, the commercials on T.V. were replaced with assurances that all would go on smoothly. It will be okay, we're sorry but don't worry, we'll be okay. The power has smoothly passed. . . relax. . . it's okay. . . honest. . . we'll be back to normal soon.
    Along with this desire for instant gratification, the second purely American attribute that I see our generation had developed holds what I believe to be the hope for change. We have an almost unbelievable ability to find humor in all we do, to see our hopes as a culture dashed and step back, waiting for the next show, laugh at ourselves and start over. Many would argue that we are a ship of fools sailing blithely toward destruction, worrying only about the NFL and diet soda. I disagree.
    This ability to take our failures lightly is, in its purest form, optimism. If we missed our mark we will not brood over it, but start over and go after it again making light of our former attempts.
    It is my hope that the blending of these two traits and the lessons they've taught us will bring change. We have failed in the past, but are not bound by these failures. We have sought to solve immensely difficult questions quickly and caused grievous harm, but hopefully will not continue to fail - can't continue to fail - at least not for the same shallow reasons.
    As change and technological advances increase exponentially, we reach out and realize there are certain truths that are not instant, but everlasting. Our children may come to believe that two and two are four with no more substantiation than that is the number that appears on a screen, but we hope to leave them with a desire to hold on to other truths which are enduring. You who read this in the future will judge best how well we were able to do just that. In fact, know that we came to realize that the truth of Love is everlasting; that truly loving or caring for others is not always the quickest, easiest way to solve problems, but the best. Know that truly loving another, more than oneself, the golden rule of our God, was our aim. Also know that leaving you a church proud of its tradition, loved for its symbology, and as a token of our continuing goal of pleasing God with our lives was our aim.

Ross Detwiler




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