Celebrating 283 Years
In 1720 Jonathon Scott and Ebenzer Richason ventured into the northwest corner of the town of Waterbury. They each established a farm, setting the roots for a permanent settlement named Wooster Swamp. In 1729 the Garsney family moved to the Guernseytown area. By 1732 this region, renamed Westbury, boasted thirty-two people.
For the families and friends of Jonathon Scott, Ebenzer Richason and the Garsneys, attending worship meant a nine-mile journey to the nearest Congregational meetinghouse which was located in Waterbury. Most walked the distance; others rode in wagons or traveled by horseback.
Participation in Sunday services was a full day affair. The two hour morning service included a sermon of “not less than one hour.” The one and a half hour long afternoon service included a sermon of similar length.
A Court appointed committee was sent from Hartford to Westbury to decide where the meetinghouse should be located. By October 1739 the committee reported to the Assembly that they had “set a stake with stone laid into it in the Southwest corner of Eleazer Scott’s barn lot, near to the road or intended highway that ran north and south.” Remuneration to Scott was three acres of land or fifty schillings in money.
The population of the area at the time was 338 and familiar names are among those on the registry – Garnsy, Scott, Scoville, Hickox, Judd, Peck, Buckingham, Seymour, Fenn, and Dayton. Politically, Westbury was still part of Waterbury; religiously, it was finally independent.Rev. John Trumbull began his ministry in 1739 and the first child was baptized. Her name was Rebecca Prindle, and she lived to the age of 99.
For our first 81 years we were served by two pastors who witnessed tremendous growth in Westbury and in the country. These ministers witnessed the changes in government which led to a new country being formed, and they saw changes in the funding and governance of churches within the country. In 1818 a new state Constitution separated church and state and no church was supported or directed by the State. In this same year the Society motioned to provide a larger Bible and Psalm Book for its use. However, it was noted that the price of the Bible was not to exceed ten dollars.
By 1838 the Westbury Ecclesiastical Society had outgrown the second building and was looking to purchase land to erect a third building. 275 years, couples have been married, children have been baptized and communities have come together as one to do Gods Work.
First Congregational Church - Present Day - 275 Years
In 2014 we celebrated the 275th Anniversary of the establishment of the Westbury Ecclesiastical Society. A float was constructed for the Memorial Day parade. The theme was “Serving God and Country for 275 years”. We have sent men and women to every major war from the American Revolution to our latest involvement in Afghanistan. On September 26, 2014 we opened the doors of the Meetinghouse and Trumbull House to take part in the 9th annual Watertown Historical Society Open House Tour.
As we look back on 275 years of history and the resulting church which has lasted, William Cleveland, a former historian of the church said it best.
Our church continues to grow. Little children have been baptized. As they have grown within its fellowship, they have been taught the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ. Here they have married and in turn brought their children. Here the sorrowing have found comfort, the burdened – strength, the bewildered – guidance. Here they have experienced the faith that makes the families on earth and in heaven – One.
We celebrated our 250th anniversary in 1989 with special church services, trips, dinners, and a Homecoming Service followed by lunch and a memorable recreation of an old style annual meeting. The beautiful quilt hand crafted by several women of the church hangs in Fellowship Hall to commemorate the many aspects of our church history.
1950 - 1970
The 1950’s saw tremendous changes: a new organ was installed, more classrooms were built in the basement of the church hall, and Trumbull House came back into the possession of the church through a house swap with Mrs. Buckingham who was the owner of Trumbull House at the time. In essence she traded her home and a sum of money, for the church parsonage located on North Street directly behind the church. In the fall of 1956 a church office was established in Trumbull House.
The 1960’s also saw changes. The By-Laws were amended in 1961 to add deaconesses to the Diaconate. The minister’s annual report for the following year indicated how helpful this had been, not only in rendering certain practical services, but in bringing the women’s viewpoint into discussions of policy, and in increasing the effectiveness of church calling.
The Women’s Council, also formed in 1961, included all the previous individual women’s groups and all of the women of our church, members and non-members. In 1971 the Women’s Council was renamed Women’s Fellowship.
And in 1961 the members of First Church voted to become part of the United Church of Christ, a decision which resulted from the national merger of the Congregational Christian churches with the Evangelical and Reformed churches.
1939 marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Ecclesiastical Society and the 100th anniversary of the meetinghouse. Celebrations included an historical pageant, special church services, and a tea. The Celebration Service on May 28, 1939 followed the order of a New England church service of 1739.
The 1920's and 1930's
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s First Congregational Church continued to grow. For several years the church school superintendent used his annual reports to the congregation to ask for more teachers and that more space was needed for classes.
In 1933 a second floor was added to the rear building, put up in 1914, to accommodate the Sunday school.
In 1847, Rev. Hurd proposed that a letter be written to the state legislature in Hartford condemning slavery. We were probably the first congregation to do so. An excerpt from that letter dated January 25, 1847 states:
Whereas it is self-evident to those who believe that God has made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth, that involuntary slavery is a heinous sin against God, and injustice to man – therefore resolved:
That in view of our accountability to God, we feel bound each in his own way, and as conscience shall dictate, to do all we can to bring about the earliest extinction of slavery in the United States and throughout the world.
The following year, 1848, slavery was officially abolished in Connecticut.
New Meeting House Erected - 1839
In June, 1839 the new meetinghouse was raised, and in January, 1840 it was dedicated to God by the new minister, the Rev. Philo Hurd, with ministers from surrounding towns participating in the service.
When the new meetinghouse was dedicated in 1840, the system of pew rents was introduced. It continued until 1919 when all pews were declared free. From that time forward the church has been supported by voluntary pledges.
Trumbull House - 1772
The same year, 1772, Rev. Trumbull built Trumbull House, a new parsonage, across the street from the new church. He and Sarah raised eight children in this home, among them John Trumbull, poet of the American Revolution. During the war John wrote many of his inflammatory poems from this historic landmark.
After Sara’s death in 1794 the home was sold to Edmund Lockwood who turned it into a tavern. He added a large ballroom. After its tavern days, the ballroom was removed to form part of a house next door for the innkeeper’s son. First Congregational church did not reacquire Trumbull House until 1953.
First Congregational Church - Founded 1739
By 1741 a frame for the new meetinghouse had been erected. The building was most likely square, with small diamond shaped panes of glass set into lead strips. We do know that the roof was sloped to a center peak from all four sides. A drum was used to call people to worship. A balcony on three sides accommodated boys and on the fourth side was a platform for the pulpit. Simple wooden benches provided seating for women on one side and men on the other.