History Of The First Congregational Church
New Milford, Connecticut

By Ross Detwiler, originally published November, 1983
revised 2001 and 2016

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 His wit and charm, along with his unbelievable historical reference material give this work an historical authority that it could not otherwise hold.

 

New Milford – in its 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. 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 its 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.” (Big Y) It is generally considered that he was accompanied by his eight year old daughter, Sarah. Some accounts list his 10 year old daughter, Hannah, as having accompanied him. Hannah later became the town’s first schoolteacher. They 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 counsel 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.

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 its 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.” (Big Y) It is generally considered that he was accompanied by his eight year old daughter, Sarah. Some accounts list his 10 year old daughter, Hannah, as having accompanied him. Hannah later became the town’s first schoolteacher. They 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 counsel 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.

Why were the settlers coming in the first place?

In the book “Two Centuries of New Milford, Connecticut 1707-1907”, which was prepared as “an account of the bi-centennial celebration of the founding of the town held June 15, 16, 17, and 18 1907, with a number of historical articles and reminiscences,” the town is described as an “unbroken wilderness, save for the Indian settlement across the river on Fort Hill, where the smoke, curling from many wigwams, marked the homes of over two hundred warriors with their families. An irregular cart path, winding in and out among stumps of newly cut trees, formed the Main Street. A narrow road led from the north end of this street to the river, then followed the river bank a mile north to the rapids, the general crossing place.  The first bridge over the Housatonic wasn’t built until 1737.”

John Noble’s house, although the very first year he lived here had been in the Ft. Hill area had moved across the river by that time.  The high area up behind Aspetuck Hill and in the area of Park Lane West, had been thought to be where the town would eventually develop, but apparently the protection of the mountains during the harsh winters drove the settlement down into the valley

Why did they come?  During its first 50 years, New Milford was considered a frontier town. In 1715 There was a “line of guards” established that ran from roughly Woodbury, through New Milford, to the New York line.  This, in the 1907 history, is called a “train band” service, and it was quite severe.  Every male citizen who could walk had to participate.

“These militia-men had to provide their arms and equipment at their own expense, and, if any business required their absence from the town, they were obliged to provide a substitute and to pay, themselves, for his services. The arms which each soldier furnished consisted of a musket or rifle, a bullet pouch containing twenty bullets, a powder horn containing twenty charges of powder, and such an amount of cloth or buckskin as would make sufficient wadding for this number of charges.”

Until as late as 1755, New Milford was allowed to “duck” any call for men to bear arms. Why? Because the town was doing enough by being on the very frontier of civilization in the Northwest of the settled area. A final strong and maintained militia line between savagery and civilization.

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:

The Rev. Daniel Boardman

John Bostwick

Samuel Brownson & Lydia Brownson

Zachariah Ferriss (obviously forgiven by the N.M. Land Company for plowing their land)

Samuel Beebe & Hannah Beebe

Samuel Hitchcock & Sarah Hitchcock

John Weller

Roger Brownson & Dorcas Brownson

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. That may seem tough, but it should be remembered that before services were held in town, people had to traverse on foot or buggy a 28 mile round trip to Woodbury for church. This trip had to be made on a mere path through the woods.

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. Just after Boardman’s time, out of towners were allowed to store up wood, cider and food in special houses that those folks could go to refill their foot stoves and relax and gossip between the extremely long Sunday sessions in church. These “Sabba’ Day Houses” became important institutions. As near as one can figure the church’s first was near the present day parsonage on the bottom of Aspetuck Road and the second was on Bridge Street, probably in the area just east of the present day railroad.

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 . . . Towns were considered the basic structure for protection of individuals and the central part of that structure came from a church and the teachings of its minister. The church was the moral guide for the town, “the proper matrix within which government could function to control each individual.” Bushman (see below). 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.

It should be noted that this wasn’t necessarily a voluntary set up on the part of all the worshippers. In his book, “From Puritan to Yankee-Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765,” Richard Bushman states that in this time frame there was very little competition to the Congregational Establishment. In fact, it was reported to the King of England that “there are 4 or 5 Seven-day men, in our Colony, and about so many more Quakers.” It was around 1674 that Baptists convinced John Rogers, one of the richest men in New London, that such things as baptism and Sunday worship were not scriptural ideas. These dissenters had been called Rogerenes and due to their wealth were able to do away with Sunday worship, long prayers and actually practice faith healing. Their faith was considered a concoction of deviant doctrines common in Rhode Island. In New Milford a group of so called “deviants” formed the Quaker Society in that town, but were more interested in defending Sunday worship than the rest of such groups. Prior to 1708, the laws of the colonies civil governments did not allow “heresy” and after that these groups could worship as they believed. BUT they still had to pay for Congregational worship. Since, it was felt, “religion guarded civil peace,” all were expected to contribute to the protecting institutions. The Connecticut magistrates agreed with Cotton Mather that the pastor in a town was really the King’s minister, and taxes for him were therefore collected in the name of the Crown. Everyone had to support the church for the same reason that they paid for bridges or the militia” Dissenters believed that the state could not force men’s minds in matters of religion and that only offerings that were “free will offerings of the people” were acceptable.

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. In the introduction to the book “ Resistance and Obedience to God” by David Ferris as edited by Martha Grundy, we learn that David Ferris, the 14 year old son of Zachariah Ferris, was a strong young leader in this movement. The book tells of David’s life long struggle to live the way he thought God wanted him to live, but his reluctance to preach the word for fear that he would be considered a minister and held to a higher standard of judgment by the people of the town.

The Quaker movement began mostly supported by very young people and a few that were nearly thirty.  They held their meetings on Thursday and Sunday, although they seemed to go out of their way to say that Sunday just happened to be a convenient day, not sacred. In the book “Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England, Dr. Charles Chauncy says that they were of the belief that formal training was not nearly as important as believing in the conversion of the soul being the most important qualification for preaching. “They deny the necessity of human learning, as a qualification for the work of the ministry.  If men are converted, that they think is sufficient; nor may any but such take upon them the business of preaching. They likewise hold, that no one are converted, but such as conform to them; and therefore they join with none else in religious affairs.” From the time they first set out, according to Chauncy, they had a great “Assurance in Believers.”

Dr. Chauncy goes on to describe David Ferris who had gone to Yale denouncing his Quaker beliefs, but took them up once there as “the greatest enthusiast I ever knew. I believe it was partly owning to his constitution and partly to his ignorant, superstitious and illiterate New Milford companions. By his enthusiasm and superstition, he was led into such wild errors and absurdities, that a man, who was guided by reason and scripture, would be amazed at his folly.” Basically when Ferris was strongly engaged in debate he would apparently, when intellectually cornered say that he believed that was because he was moved by the spirit of God.

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. Bushman again states that the “Anglicans” started around 1722, when four Congregational ministers declared for the Church of England and three others expressed approval of Episcopal government. Episcopalians were considered “the poorer sort of people” made up mostly of “recent” immigrants.

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, Waramaug, 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.

Think of these awakenings as more of an evangelistic type revival than a new order of Christian Worship. And the spirit spread rapidly up and down the Connecticut Valley. But even in the church, there are politics, and the settled clergy began to preach against these revivals with their screaming, passing out. Ministers set out, according to Bushman, to stop these “unhappy misunderstandings and divisions”. Itinerant preachers were forbidden in 1742. The basis of the ministry, which left many changed people behind it was that hard work wouldn’t be what saved a soul, but the grace of God. Men that believed this were lifted from a sense of misery as a way of attaining grace.

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. A minister in New England during these times was considered THEE person in town. As the early town history says, “even the divinity that doth hedge a king” commands hardly more reverence than that which was paid to the minister. Children were taught to make obeisance to him as he passed in the street. And any one that spoke against the preacher could be fined whipped, banished or have his ears cut off. That’s how some of these feuds were able to be managed by the wishes of just one man in town.

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, who had married the daughter of Boardman, 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 strict separatists then 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.

But the congregations also fought over how the hymns should be sung. The old way was to have the deacons stand in front and lead the congregation. The new way was to be led by a choir and choirmaster. That dispute went on for almost two years, alternately using one method then the other in services.  Psalms and how they would be read or sung caused another debate that went on for years until it was settled by a vote to sing the new way

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. That spire appears in the painting of Mr. Daniel Boardman, grandson of the first minister, which 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. Taylor 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”.

An interesting side note concerns the lovely daughter of Reverend Taylor. It seems she had caught the eye of a Major Jones of Virginia, who was the quartermaster for the army encamped, 5000 strong on the Second Hill area near what is now the Bridgewater Mobil Station. Major Jones was smitten with the lovely Tamar Taylor and she with him. Nevertheless, while Rev.Taylor may have been willing to give his life for his country, his daughter’s hand was a little harder to win.  Rev and Mrs. Taylor had no intention of seeing their little baby head off to the other side of the world (Virginia). Major Jones was considered a “very fine man, who won golden opinions from everyone.” He just lived too far away.

The major continued to pine for Tamar and wrote a friend in the area after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown many years later to say she was on his mind every day. He came back after the war to be with his love, but she had found true love closer to home. Mom and dad were pleased. The major rode off alone.

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. Griswold came to the town after having participated in Connecticut’s debate over the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1789.  He was in the camp that favored amending the constitution to include specific assurances of personal freedoms. This movement led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights or first ten amendments to the Constitution.  Griswold goes to great lengths to explain his reasoning for various positions in a paper written, basically to posterity, around the turn of the century.

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 straits. 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, raised as a well to do farmer’s son, had served, as a youth, in several Revolutionary War campaigns and the hardship and injuries he received caused him to seek an education and a  career away from the land. 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 wealthier than the average town in the state 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 alleged ministerial conduct. The allegations probably had more to do with his liberal outlook than his conduct.

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was elected President. It should be remembered that Jefferson would not have been the choice of much of New England and particularly the residents of our area. There were many in this area that worried about having broken our allegiance to England, even though they had fought bravely for independence from that country. England was protestant as were the very strict Congregationalists. England, through its holdings in the West Indies could help the colonies get out of debt through trade. The area was experiencing a loss of families as they moved west to find work.

The country had aligned itself with France, a Roman Catholic country and that greatly worried many folks. This became even more worrisome after the French Revolution seemed not to have truly launched a free and democratic country and had been a virtual blood bath in the streets. You might say that people wondered if “all men are created equal.”

Griswold liked Jefferson. In fact, some writers refer to Griswold’s efforts to be noticed by Jefferson as seeming “sycophantic” at the time. By championing Jefferson, Griswold was as close to a heretic as one could become in the eyes of many established ministers in the conference. Griswold, like Jefferson, favored the separation of church and state in an effort to avoid the bloodshed that the union of those two forces had foisted upon Europe for the preceding thousand years.

He gave a sermon, at a jubilee in Wallingford celebrating Jefferson’s election, to some ten thousand people. In this speech he extolled the virtues of Jefferson, who, like Christ met hatred and derision with love. He proclaimed that men must choose their destiny and act upon it. That true love of fellow men would conquer hatred. He went on to list the many ill things that had been said about Christ and that Christ had met that hatred with Love.  We were to do the same. We were to act on our beliefs and secure our own salvation.

“The art, my hearers, of turning death into a pleasing scene, is the most important art ever learned by mortals. Such an art does really exist. We are dull indeed to learn it. Yet it is the most simple art; it consists only in being good. And to be good is far easier than to be evil; for the way of transgressors is hard, whereas the yoke of Christs is easy and his burden light.” (This from a later sermon)

Griswold’s basic religious belief was that acts and efforts led to salvation. Most ministers of the time considered this false. Only God, they preached, through his Grace, could bestow salvation. They didn’t like Griswold preaching against the total depravity of man and advocating universal salvation was possible. Salvation was their job. When Griswold opposed the close union of church and state, it is easy to see why the minister members of Litchfield South felt the need to move him out of town.  He was accused of heresy and social conduct unbecoming a minister. When he travelled to Roxbury to “unofficially” defend himself, the ministers refused to meet with him.

He was defended officially 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. The Congregation of this church loved and supported their minister and refused to abide by the decision to expel Griswold. They pulled out of the Association in 1805, three years after Griswold left, for many years.

It was an era of great new beginnings. Religious diversity was sweeping into the area. Lewis and Clark would soon set out to explore the Louisiana territory which had recently been purchased from our new ally. While we take the separation of church and state as a given these days, such a thought was considered (at least by the ministers) to be heresy. Remember that not only religious was involved in this matter. As stated before, the ministers were THEE people in town, almost the state’s representatives. Because the Congregational Church and the state were not separated at the time, the Church was able to reap the benefits of the ability to tax the citizenry for the good of the community, read church.

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, after leaving New Milford became a newspaper editor in New Hampshire and then, through Jefferson becoming aware of Griswold, was appointed to be the secretary to the governor of the Michigan Territory. During the absence of Governor Hull, Griswold became acting Governor of the Territory. Keep in mind that when a man went to Washington to touch base with the government or back to Boston to handle legal affairs, the government of Michigan fell on Griswold’s shoulders for extended periods of time. Griswold was unhappy, having to maintain the governor’s duties on his secretary’s salary and made his displeasure known.

Michigan was not a part of the Louisiana Purchase obviously, but nevertheless a new horizon. Griswold’s relationship with Governor Hull started well enough, but later turned sour. He complained to friends in Congress that he could barely survive on his salary and moved on. He later became a Senator from Ohio appointed to finish another’s term, and later a chief justice of the Northwest Territory – big political accomplishments for the former 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.

The church had built its second edifice in a location near the middle of the current green. But the green was not as we know it today.  Having developed from a “winding path up through tree stumps toward the top of the hill” (remember the first plans for the new town considered it would be built on top of Aspetuck Hill) to a  place where “pigs were kept in the street, and before almost every house was a long trough, where twice a day they were fed.” Geese also roamed at will and the place, with the stream running through the middle, a virtual swamp, was not a pretty sight. It was in 1838, five years after our present building was built that the stream was made to run along a paved water course that greatly cut down on the mud in the area. Around 1871, this paved waterway was covered as a sewer and the green took on its current look. This is approximately 160 years after the town was founded.

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). It’s interesting to note that, in Reverend Bonar’s speech giving at the celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday, he mentions that “In regard to Mr. Rood, the Church and Society both voted unanimously that a change was needful for their well-being. But, even then they voted a gift of only $400 dollars and borrowed the money to give it to him, which seems to indicate that there might have been less than universal approval of Rev. Rood’s achievements, as notable as they were.

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.

On April 23 1865, Reverend Murdoch gave a stirring sermon concerning the death of Abraham Lincoln at the hand of John Wilkes Booth.

“Like a thunder clap out of a clear sky came the intelligence, a week ago yesterday morning, that Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, had been killed by the hand of an assassin. Never, probably, in the history of mankind was there such a sudden revulsion from joy to sorrow produced within so many hearts as that which was caused by those few words, which vibrated through the land—“The President is dead.”……He had been lifted up to an eminent position, to be a leader and governor in the grandest work of the age.”

Murdoch went on to discuss the misery and challenges, failures and heartbreaks the nation had been through. How finally the cause had been given to a man (Grant) that would not “lift his hand from the plow” and saw the work finished.

Late in the sermon, Murdoch states a feeling that was prevalent in the country at the time, but seems odd coming from a minister of God.

“Let us beware of the leaven of a false theology here; a system which ignores justice and speaks only of mercy; which sees no suffering God atoning for sin, and thus makes sin but a trifling affair. For were we not on the brink of such a fatal gulf? Good as our late President was, may not this have been his greatest defect, – the disposition to shrink from punishment of deserved crime, leaning too much to the side of mercy and thus bearing the sword in vain.”

Murdoch does not set himself up as the final judge of Lincoln. He only states that he may have been too merciful and, for that, God called him home. He goes on to say “He (Lincoln) saw and recognized the outstretched hand of the Omnipotent One over us for good. And it was this divine vision which cheered and held him up in the darkest moments. “Murdoch states that if Lincoln could speak to us today it would be with a humble confidence in God.

The sermon is mesmerizing in its word construct and in its thought. To think this sadness, this misery, this history took place in the very room in which we today worship weekly.

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 wait till the old boy was out of town to talk about how charitable they’d been towards his shortcomings.”

A notable legacy of Mr. Bonar’s service was the  historical address he gave to the congregation in 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  In it he provides a fairly detailed history of the founding of the church and its first 150 years of operation. He notes that until around 1750, the church was the town. Until that time all the tasks since taken on by the “Society” of the church were considered town functions. Remember the early intertwining of church and state which Jefferson and Griswold and many others sought to break down. Another very interesting passage from the address concerns finances. Imagine that:

“This Society has always shown a characteristic New England thrift and prudence in regard to its finances. So early as 1755, it appointed a committee to ‘take care of the money, coming from the sale of the Parsonage lands, to loan out said money on good and sufficient security.’ From that time to this, the Society has always had money loaned, invested in Government securities or in Bank stock.  And in 1787, it was voted that only the interest over six percent, should be used for current expenses. But this rule has not been observed or the Society would now be rich.”

Apparently, then as now, members were encouraged to leave legacy gifts to the Society upon their death. The size of these gifts would be considered generous by today’s standards. To think that, over 150 years ago, people were leaving gifts of $1080, $832, $100 and $500 is hard to imagine, but they did.

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 pastor ship 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, an attempt to 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.

After Reverend Frank Johnson, during the time that Rev. George Herbert Johnson was the pastor of the church, an extended celebration of the church’s 200 years of history took place. Starting on the 29th of October in 1916, the celebration lasted for four days. The entire record of the event as well as copies of the speeches is available in “The Historical Address and Other Accounts of Exercises Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Organization of the First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT. That’s a long winded title for a pamphlet that gives us a good idea of how much effort went into this enterprise.

From the pamphlet:

“Memories of the recent past, tales of the days when the first settlers hewed homes and homestead from out of the stark wilderness and took their religion and their church attendance with a certain grim earnestness; just pride in the present; visions of the days to come and of a strong church mightily influencing for good the lives of its members and the community at large-these things, and many others, combined to make most enjoyable and inspiring the Bi-centennial celebration of the First Congregational Church of New Milford, which began Sunday morning and came to a conclusion Wednesday night.

Addresses by the pastor of the church, the Rev George Herbert Johnson; former pastor, Rev. T.J. Lee and former pastor Rev. F.A. Johnson; the Rev. Dr. Rockwell  H. Potter, pastor of Center Church, Hartford, and the Rev. Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis, of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn; services at which special music and a spirit of amity and Christian fellowship created an atmosphere that often thrilled the worshipers and celebrants with a feeling of devotion to church and the cause of Christ; an historical pageant depicting scenes of church and town history and a gift of $5000 from Francis L. Hine, a New Milford boy whose financial career in New York has been a matter of pride to his fellow townsmen; a reception by  the church to townspeople……….”

The pamphlet goes on to discuss the meaning of the very high meaning and lofty goals expressed by the celebrants and particularly by the distinguished speakers. At the end of the celebration, Rev Johnson reminded folks that they had to return from the heights of glory to which the past few days had taken them and go to:

“the foot of the mountain, where suffering and sinful humanity still waited to be redeemed.

As the Rev. Mr. Johnson finished speaking, the congregation joined in singing on of its favorite hymns, one that has come to hold a place all its own in their affections-‘Blest be the tie that binds’ “

The Rev. George Herbert Johnson had come 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 legalized in 1913 by the 16th Amendment. The Income Tax and the Internal Revenue system had been started in 1862 to fund the Civil War, but the Amendment ended debate on its legality.  When lawmakers decided that taxing would be the method of supporting our country,  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.

The war found us unprepared, unwilling, unbelieving…convinced that the freedoms so enjoyed by many could be had through a wish. A darkness fell over mankind that would extinguish the lives of over 80 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 “baby boomers” 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 (see below). 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.

Reverend Moran, facing an extremely difficult challenge with the congregation to raise over half a million dollars to repair the church roof, penned the following history in early 2016:

Sixty years ago (1956) the congregation was in a tough spot.  Their minister, C. Victor Brown, had resigned after just four years of service to become Dean of Elmira College. Kimberly Clark had announced plans to build a new plant in New Milford but the church did not have the facilities to provide programs for the expected growth in population.  It seemed they were lacking leadership at one of the most critical moments in their recent history.

So what did they do?  The congregation voted to challenge themselves to sacrificial giving and raise $125,000 to build a new Parish House to allow expanded church school and youth programming to serve new families and strengthen the overall ministry of the church in the community.

If you were to plug that $125,000 figure into an inflation calculator, you’d find that in they challenged themselves to raise $1,103,195 in 2016 dollars – over a million dollars and this was before the congregation increased in size due to the growth of the town with the arrival of KC.

The leader of this effort was Gerald Marsh.  In 1981 the church honored Mr. Marsh with this proclamation:

In the year of our Lord 1981 on the 28th day of the month of June, the First Congregational Church family gathers to celebrated the life and leadership of Gerald G. Marsh

We are thankful for his leadership in our State as a State Representative; in our town as Moderator; in our church as Deacon, Trustee, and Sunday School Superintendent. His vision of a Parish House and his imaginative leadership and faithful guidance made the vision a reality.

It is with great pride that we do this day dedicate the Parish House of the First Congregational Church of New Milford to him. From this day forth it shall be known as the  Gerald G. Marsh Parish House, in recognition of his dedication and leadership to all the people of our community. In the name of our Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master

Mr. Marsh was assisted in the leadership of the Capital Campaign by Miss Josephine Brown, Donald Paisley, Mrs. & Mr. Harold Robbins, John Nash, Douglas Smyth, Malcolm Carrier, Mrs. Stanford White, Joanne Anderson, Henry Brant, George Wells, Walter Southworth, Dr. Robert Miller, and Rev. C. Sumner Osgood, interim pastor between Victor Brown and Rev. Russ Ayre.

The Goal of the campaign was truly a stretch for the congregation.  The campaign committee told the congregation: Meeting the goal will clearly necessitate sacrificial giving on the part of the congregation.  It will necessitate discarding all our previous conceptions of stewardship, and boldly stepping out over this three year period of a new adventure in giving.  Prepare yourself for giving:

By quiet meditation.

By counting your blessings.

By considering the need for giving.

By considering the result of your giving.

By considering God’s pleasure in receiving your gift.

Thanks to their vision and boldness we have enjoyed the use of the Marsh Parish House for over half a century.  It’s a lesson from the history of this church that will serve us

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. Mr. Marsh managed the construction of this building during the time between Reverend Brown and Reverend Ayres as settled ministers.

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.

In 2016, Reverend Moran added further light to the work done by Reverend Russ Ayre during his term in New Milford.

In 1969, Reverend Ayre saw the need to establish non-profit elderly housing in New Milford and began working toward that goal. During the 1970’s, Reverend Ayre’s dream came to life.  Non-profit housing for the elderly was established, and continues to be maintained today.  Butterbrook, Glen-Ayre, and Chestnut Grove are all in existence today because of Reverend Ayre’s vision.

Many members of the congregation put in long hours on countless committees to get from the idea of senior housing to opening the door to the first residents.  The initial planning committee, as noted in the 1969 Annual Report, was Edwin Kinkade, Mrs. Donald Tutson, Miss Caroline Keeler, Mr. Webster Caye, Mrs. Thomas Hubbell, and Dr. John Haxo.  The church donated $25,000 to get the ball rolling on Butterbrook and both land and money to start up Glen Ayre.  The Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ offered expertise and management to shepherd the projects along and help secure funding from State and Federal sources.

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 (these can be seen in the basement as the two Western most columns that are different shape from the rest of the columns that support the floor above.) and certain foundation items. From the stand of giant oaks on the Edgar Welles farm came the columns. (See the comments in the 2016 update reference these “giant oaks”.) 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

An 11 ½ 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 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 ½ 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.

Continuation of our history – added May 20, 2001 by Ross Detwiler

In 1990, Reverend Mike Moran 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. Reverend Deborah Rose was selected shortly after Mike was appointed to be the Minister of Parish Life of the church. Deborah replaced Reverend Dennis Calhoun, whose 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 Gaiser and her father, owners of an arts and crafts shop in the town, 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, was called to the church a few months after Deborah Rose left.

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 hole 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 Care.” 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 its 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 included the mentoring of the confirmation classes by adult members of the congregation. When the congregants were presented to the congregation, they were introduced by the adult that has spent much time with each of them at learning, recreational, and worship services during the previous ten 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 receive 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 genealogy of some of their members.

Further continuation of history March 2016-Ross Detwiler

On September 11, 2001 the largest single attack ever to take place on American soil occurred when four airliners were hijacked by Muslim terrorists and flown into both towers of the New York Trade Center and into the Pentagon in Washington.  A fourth airplane was scheduled to impact the US Capital in Washington, DC, but it was thwarted in this attempt by the unbelievably brave actions of a few passengers. These folks had heard about the other hijackings through mobile telecommunications devices and attempted to take back their plane from the hijackers.  It was the beginning of the fight back against terrorism that the United States is waging to this day.

On the Sunday following the terrorists’ attacks, the auditorium of the church was filled to overflowing. The entire nation was still in shock from the events that had killed nearly 3000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania where the failed re-take of the fourth airplane led to its crashing short of its target. The time was similar to that described as Reverend Murdoch took the pulpit after the death of Lincoln.

Reverend Moran gave a sermon entitled “Two Chairs.” This was taken from sermon delivered on the topic of forgiveness. After discussing the anguish, horror, heartbreak, and sorrow of the person in the first chair, the subject was to turn to the perpetrator, the person in the second chair and try to see what was in his mind. The gathered church members nodded silent approval when Rev. Moran stated that “there are probably things to be said from the other side, but at this point, we just don’t want to hear them.”

In the weeks that followed, many parishioners, Minister Moran and his wife Eileen leading the charge, devoted their time, and risked their health while serving as hospitality stations for the rescuers and construction personnel that tended to the huge collapse of the buildings that had made up the World Trade Center. Just as many parishioners and the parson had devoted their time and their monies, in some cases entire annual salaries, to charities in New Haven to help those who had not fared well during the French and Indian Wars in the mid 1700’s.

Major capital improvements were made in the church with the kitchen being completely redone, many overhead lights and a modern power center being added to the ceiling and on the ceiling supports above the sanctuary. The front two rows of pews were removed and a “stage” built out similar to the way that the sanctuary had looked in the late 1800’s right after the “new” addition had been added.

Reverend Moran’s comments on the role of women in this church follow in the next few paragraphs.

In spite of the fact that “in church work women are more zealous than men,” ( this a statement from a church publication during the 1892 addition to the back of the church.) this church did not have a woman serving as a Deacon until 1971 when Agnes Ormsby and Jane Southworth were elected to that office.  Later in the 1970s Nan Tutson, Vivian Harris, Mary Miller, Hazel Neubauer, Sally Rinehart, Doris Curtiss and Barbara Holsten were also elected Deacons.  In the 1980s the practice began of having half the Deacons be men and half be women.

After Deborah Rose Rev. Virnette Hamilton, one of “our own” served from 1993 – 2004, followed by Leslie Foley 2004 – 2007 and Wendy Hammond 2007 – 2009.

Reverend Moran continues, “I don’t know that anyone has put together a complete history of women’s activities and contributions of the life of our church.  The first records I can find of Women’s Fellowship here is the “Constitution of the New Milford Female Charitable Cent Society.”  “The object of the society shall be to relieve the poor, particularly poor children, by furnishing them with clothing, with the Bible, and such tracts as may be useful in their moral and religious instruction.”  The constitution is not dated, but records attached date as early as 1814 when the “distributing committee” contained some names linked to the very early history of the town and the church – Susan Taylor, Rebecca Camp, Maria Hine, Susan Noble, Julia Treadwell, Doris Northrop, and Lois Wells.

Members of the Cent Society (sometimes called the Mite Society) were also among the early benefactors of the church trust funds with these gifts: Lois Wells, 1844, $200; Ann Hine, 1851, $200; Sally Northrop, 1860, $200

A Church Manual published in 1891 lists the officers of the church and its organizations – The Woman’s Board of Missions is led by Miss Charlotte B. Bennet, the Woman Home Missionary Union by Mrs. Mary P. Johnson, the Ladies Sewing Society by Mrs. Harry S. Mygatt, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) by Mrs. Mary A. Stone, and the Valley Wide Awakes (Missionary Circle) by Miss Harriet L. Johnson.

Also, there is a handwritten “Report of Woman’s Work in Cong. Church N. M. 1889-1899” by Charlotte B. Bennett which states: It is a far step from the day when Paul exhorted the women to keep silence in the churches, to this end of the nineteenth Century, when they have their place in every department of Christian work.”

Charlotte mentions three women’s societies in the church: “The oldest is the Woman and Home Miss. Soc. being a continuation of the old Mite Soc. which dates back in the church history and was for many years the only channel of benevolence special for women.”  She also mentions the Ladies Sewing Society and the Aux. of the Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions, and the money raised and contributed to a variety of causes.  She ends: If we thank God and take courage as we halt briefly at the milestone, may we not also remember our work has been but a drop in the great ocean of the world’s need; that new doors daily opening call us to larger work and higher service, and that the best record of the last ten years will be the next ten years.  Charlotte B. Bennett December 31, 1899.

A church bulletin from 1913 lists three Women’s organizations – Woman’s Missionary Society, The Mission Circle, and the Sewing Society.  A 1914 bulletin announced a meeting of the WCTU but it is not listed as an official organization.  By 1917 a fourth organization, the Philothea Circle, has been added and by 1935 the Congregational Church Women are established.  The report of the minister in 1942 mentions that the Amithea Circle for young women has ceased to exist, largely a war casualty, but the Congregational Church Women and the Mission Circle are strong, and the Philothea Circle has taken responsibility, with the Men’s Club, for “a watch at the local air services.”

The Annual Report for 1958 shows the same three Women’s group – Congregational Christian Women reported by Ethel Mae Baldwin, Mission Circle reported by Mrs. Leslie W. Marsh, and Philothea Circle reported by Mary Webster.  In 1959 there was a major reorganization and a single “Women’s Fellowship” begun with a Morning Mission Circle and an Evening Mission Circle.  Their last official entry in the Annual Reports was for 1967, when they met twice a month, although I know a Mission Circle group continued to meet up to the 1990s at least once a month.

After 1967 various configurations of Mission and Social Action committees appear in the pages of the annual report, staffed by women and men.  The annual Women’s Retreat was first organized by the Christian Education Committee in 1982 under the leadership of Judy Packard, Jan Kamm, and Liz Aitcheson and has become an important part of the life of our church, and women’s fellowship continues but with a more informal structure and interests – like the Mothers of Pre-Schoolers group that started two years ago and the Chapel Stichers, a Prayer Shawl ministry, begun by the Deacon Leslie Schlemmer in 2009. I bet the women of the Ladies Sewing Society are smiling down on such beautiful fellowship and work and would love to see how women today are fully integrated into the formal leadership of the church.  All these changes, however, do not diminish the truth of what Charlotte Bennett wrote 117 years ago: “may we not also remember our work has been but a drop in the great ocean of the world’s need; that new doors daily opening call us to larger work and higher service, and that the best record”

The downstairs fellowship hall was completely refinished around 2008 and the kitchen was redone shortly after, adding new dishwasher and oven/stove combinations. In 2014, the area under the front steps was completely re-enforced through the addition of concrete being pumped in the hollow area under the steps. Remember from the description of “The Present Edifice” that it was stated that the columns in the front of the church came from the stand of giant oaks on the Welles farm.  Trustee Wittman, curious as to the condition of these oaks after 181 years probed into the façade on the Greek style columns.  To all of our surprise, it was revealed that the columns held no oak trees, but were of cement and brick construction wrapped with a Greek column looking façade. Probably better in the long run of things, but interesting as to how that church lore came about.

During the winter of 2012 several very heavy snowfalls caused considerable damage. What has been affectionately called the “Wittman Crack” named after a beloved and hardworking Trustee, John Wittman, started to become larger. This crack is on the ceiling/wall joint on the North wall, exactly where the 1833 structure had had its Eastern most wall.  The reader will remember that the 1891 addition was discussed in “The Present Edifice” portion of this paper, it was stated that the church added 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(ed) the center arch of the church sufficiently to put the organ and choir behind the pulpit and finish(ed) the remaining improvements substantially according to the plan…..”

It’s important to consider the part about moving the front wall of the sanctuary, (East Side) back some twelve feet. The original East end of the sanctuary was a rafter or ceiling joist with vertical support coming from the wall below it to support high winter loads. That wall was correctly determined to be strong enough to stand those potential loads without support under it, just as the rest of the ceiling joists that run north to south across the top of the sanctuary.

During several very heavy storms, the load from the roof truss that was transferred to the North/South running joist became so great as to cause the center of the joist to split, and lower, raising the ends.  The ends of the joist actually pulled out of their pegged position and rested upon the side wall supports. Insurance agents came, determined that the cause of the failure was snow load, supplied the church with $50,000 dollars for construction of a temporary steel interior framework (see picture) that would prevent the possible collapse of the roof of the sanctuary.

As the estimated cost of the reconstruction went beyond $500,000 the insurance company backed out of their position that the damage was caused by snow loads and stated that it was “normal wear and tear.” They would not pay. Several parishioners, along with Reverend Moran and Jim Lambert, a well-respected local contractor and church member, worked with the insurance company and eventually, under threat of legal action, got them to give another 60000 to the cause of reconstruction. It was decided that Jim would handle that re-construction project.

Thus began the great capital drive of 2016.

 

 

 

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 war 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.

 

 

Further Author’s Notes Added 2016.

It’s interesting to note that when I first wrote this history around 1977, I considered “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.”

Well, that was my generation, the generation that was pretty much in charge of running the church in the 70’s. America has moved ahead two generations since that time. Today, the advent of mobile telecommunications, texting, tweeting, Instagram, “Facebooking,” and other forms of instant communication have added new and even more challenging prospects to the lives of our people.  With the television, life was wrapped up in 30 minute segments and came to a happy ending just in time for the last commercial. Often the family watched the shows together, after a family dinner and before some other type of family activity in the evening.

Today instant communication has allowed people to work more and more from home and to be in constant contact with their families throughout the day. While this is a wonderful advantage, the backside is that life communications are texted in bursts, carrying only the most basic of requirements for that communication and with no emotional bias at all. We have become a nation of people who are constantly tapping into communications devices and achieving no lasting transfer of thought in the process.

For old, small town churches these developments have had some devastating results. As Reverend Moran wrote in his 2016 Easter letter to the congregation:

“A lot of people look at the local church and wonder if its future is among the living or the dead. Many see it going the way of the neighborhood grocery store or the family farm. The economics of scale will force it to change and grow or wither and die. Churches need to “brand” themselves and appeal over a wide area to attract like-minded people ……………………..

“But we are not selling soap or any commodity here- in fact we’re not selling anything. We are here to bear witness to the risen Lord. Paul wrote: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake……….”

“The local church-your local church-relies on the commitment, loyalty, and enthusiasm of its members. The commitment and loyalty is not to the church, but to the witness and service which we gather together to accomplish. “

This church has stood for 300 years as a beacon in the community. Indeed, in its early years, as a beacon to the nation. Adams and Jefferson stopped through this village and probably attended services with their friend Roger Sherman. The church championed many civil and community events and causes over those three hundred years, but always it has stood as a band of people that believe that over 2000 years ago a man was murdered by a mob and rose from the grave and lives today. We believe that man, who was born to a virgin, was crucified, died, and was buried. We further believe that He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sittith at the right hand of God Almighty.” In fact, we believe that man to have been the earthly representation of the Power that designed and built everything. We believe that Power is Love. All we have to do is stop, think of our earthly families and know that that wonderful feeling we have, at that time, is the presence of God in our life. God is Love. Love is God.

Let us go forth and witness that fact!

Ross Detwiler

In the book “Two Centuries of New Milford, Connecticut 1707-1907”, which was prepared as “an account of the bi-centennial celebration of the founding of the town held June 15, 16, 17, and 18 1907, with a number of historical articles and reminiscences,” the town is described as an “unbroken wilderness, save for the Indian settlement across the river on Fort Hill, where the smoke, curling from many wigwams, marked the homes of over two hundred warriors with their families. An irregular cart path, winding in and out among stumps of newly cut trees, formed the Main Street. A narrow road led from the north end of this street to the river, then followed the river bank a mile north to the rapids, the general crossing place.  The first bridge over the Housatonic wasn’t built until 1737.”

John Noble’s house, although the very first year he lived here had been in the Ft. Hill area had moved across the river by that time.  The high area up behind Aspetuck Hill and in the area of Park Lane West, had been thought to be where the town would eventually develop, but apparently the protection of the mountains during the harsh winters drove the settlement down into the valley

Why did they come?  During its first 50 years, New Milford was considered a frontier town. In 1715 There was a “line of guards” established that ran from roughly Woodbury, through New Milford, to the New York line.  This, in the 1907 history, is called a “train band” service, and it was quite severe.  Every male citizen who could walk had to participate.

“These militia-men had to provide their arms and equipment at their own expense, and, if any business required their absence from the town, they were obliged to provide a substitute and to pay, themselves, for his services. The arms which each soldier furnished consisted of a musket or rifle, a bullet pouch containing twenty bullets, a powder horn containing twenty charges of powder, and such an amount of cloth or buckskin as would make sufficient wadding for this number of charges.”

Until as late as 1755, New Milford was allowed to “duck” any call for men to bear arms. Why? Because the town was doing enough by being on the very frontier of civilization in the Northwest of the settled area. A final strong and maintained militia line between savagery and civilization.

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:

The Rev. Daniel Boardman

John Bostwick

Samuel Brownson & Lydia Brownson

Zachariah Ferriss (obviously forgiven by the N.M. Land Company for plowing their land)

Samuel Beebe & Hannah Beebe

Samuel Hitchcock & Sarah Hitchcock

John Weller

Roger Brownson & Dorcas Brownson

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. That may seem tough, but it should be remembered that before services were held in town, people had to traverse on foot or buggy a 28 mile round trip to Woodbury for church. This trip had to be made on a mere path through the woods.

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. Just after Boardman’s time, out of towners were allowed to store up wood, cider and food in special houses that those folks could go to refill their foot stoves and relax and gossip between the extremely long Sunday sessions in church. These “Sabba’ Day Houses” became important institutions. As near as one can figure the church’s first was near the present day parsonage on the bottom of Aspetuck Road and the second was on Bridge Street, probably in the area just east of the present day railroad.

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 . . . Towns were considered the basic structure for protection of individuals and the central part of that structure came from a church and the teachings of its minister. The church was the moral guide for the town, “the proper matrix within which government could function to control each individual.” Bushman (see below). 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.

It should be noted that this wasn’t necessarily a voluntary set up on the part of all the worshippers. In his book, “From Puritan to Yankee-Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765,” Richard Bushman states that in this time frame there was very little competition to the Congregational Establishment. In fact, it was reported to the King of England that “there are 4 or 5 Seven-day men, in our Colony, and about so many more Quakers.” It was around 1674 that Baptists convinced John Rogers, one of the richest men in New London, that such things as baptism and Sunday worship were not scriptural ideas. These dissenters had been called Rogerenes and due to their wealth were able to do away with Sunday worship, long prayers and actually practice faith healing. Their faith was considered a concoction of deviant doctrines common in Rhode Island. In New Milford a group of so called “deviants” formed the Quaker Society in that town, but were more interested in defending Sunday worship than the rest of such groups. Prior to 1708, the laws of the colonies civil governments did not allow “heresy” and after that these groups could worship as they believed. BUT they still had to pay for Congregational worship. Since, it was felt, “religion guarded civil peace,” all were expected to contribute to the protecting institutions. The Connecticut magistrates agreed with Cotton Mather that the pastor in a town was really the King’s minister, and taxes for him were therefore collected in the name of the Crown. Everyone had to support the church for the same reason that they paid for bridges or the militia” Dissenters believed that the state could not force men’s minds in matters of religion and that only offerings that were “free will offerings of the people” were acceptable.

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. In the introduction to the book “ Resistance and Obedience to God” by David Ferris as edited by Martha Grundy, we learn that David Ferris, the 14 year old son of Zachariah Ferris, was a strong young leader in this movement. The book tells of David’s life long struggle to live the way he thought God wanted him to live, but his reluctance to preach the word for fear that he would be considered a minister and held to a higher standard of judgment by the people of the town.

The Quaker movement began mostly supported by very young people and a few that were nearly thirty.  They held their meetings on Thursday and Sunday, although they seemed to go out of their way to say that Sunday just happened to be a convenient day, not sacred. In the book “Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England, Dr. Charles Chauncy says that they were of the belief that formal training was not nearly as important as believing in the conversion of the soul being the most important qualification for preaching. “They deny the necessity of human learning, as a qualification for the work of the ministry.  If men are converted, that they think is sufficient; nor may any but such take upon them the business of preaching. They likewise hold, that no one are converted, but such as conform to them; and therefore they join with none else in religious affairs.” From the time they first set out, according to Chauncy, they had a great “Assurance in Believers.”

Dr. Chauncy goes on to describe David Ferris who had gone to Yale denouncing his Quaker beliefs, but took them up once there as “the greatest enthusiast I ever knew. I believe it was partly owning to his constitution and partly to his ignorant, superstitious and illiterate New Milford companions. By his enthusiasm and superstition, he was led into such wild errors and absurdities, that a man, who was guided by reason and scripture, would be amazed at his folly.” Basically when Ferris was strongly engaged in debate he would apparently, when intellectually cornered say that he believed that was because he was moved by the spirit of God.

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. Bushman again states that the “Anglicans” started around 1722, when four Congregational ministers declared for the Church of England and three others expressed approval of Episcopal government. Episcopalians were considered “the poorer sort of people” made up mostly of “recent” immigrants.

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, Waramaug, 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.

Think of these awakenings as more of an evangelistic type revival than a new order of Christian Worship. And the spirit spread rapidly up and down the Connecticut Valley. But even in the church, there are politics, and the settled clergy began to preach against these revivals with their screaming, passing out. Ministers set out, according to Bushman, to stop these “unhappy misunderstandings and divisions”. Itinerant preachers were forbidden in 1742. The basis of the ministry, which left many changed people behind it was that hard work wouldn’t be what saved a soul, but the grace of God. Men that believed this were lifted from a sense of misery as a way of attaining grace.

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. A minister in New England during these times was considered THEE person in town. As the early town history says, “even the divinity that doth hedge a king” commands hardly more reverence than that which was paid to the minister. Children were taught to make obeisance to him as he passed in the street. And any one that spoke against the preacher could be fined whipped, banished or have his ears cut off. That’s how some of these feuds were able to be managed by the wishes of just one man in town.

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, who had married the daughter of Boardman, 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 strict separatists then 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.

But the congregations also fought over how the hymns should be sung. The old way was to have the deacons stand in front and lead the congregation. The new way was to be led by a choir and choirmaster. That dispute went on for almost two years, alternately using one method then the other in services.  Psalms and how they would be read or sung caused another debate that went on for years until it was settled by a vote to sing the new way

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. That spire appears in the painting of Mr. Daniel Boardman, grandson of the first minister, which 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. Taylor 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”.

An interesting side note concerns the lovely daughter of Reverend Taylor. It seems she had caught the eye of a Major Jones of Virginia, who was the quartermaster for the army encamped, 5000 strong on the Second Hill area near what is now the Bridgewater Mobil Station. Major Jones was smitten with the lovely Tamar Taylor and she with him. Nevertheless, while Rev.Taylor may have been willing to give his life for his country, his daughter’s hand was a little harder to win.  Rev and Mrs. Taylor had no intention of seeing their little baby head off to the other side of the world (Virginia). Major Jones was considered a “very fine man, who won golden opinions from everyone.” He just lived too far away.

The major continued to pine for Tamar and wrote a friend in the area after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown many years later to say she was on his mind every day. He came back after the war to be with his love, but she had found true love closer to home. Mom and dad were pleased. The major rode off alone.

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. Griswold came to the town after having participated in Connecticut’s debate over the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1789.  He was in the camp that favored amending the constitution to include specific assurances of personal freedoms. This movement led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights or first ten amendments to the Constitution.  Griswold goes to great lengths to explain his reasoning for various positions in a paper written, basically to posterity, around the turn of the century.

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 straits. 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, raised as a well to do farmer’s son, had served, as a youth, in several Revolutionary War campaigns and the hardship and injuries he received caused him to seek an education and a  career away from the land. 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 wealthier than the average town in the state 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 alleged ministerial conduct. The allegations probably had more to do with his liberal outlook than his conduct.

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was elected President. It should be remembered that Jefferson would not have been the choice of much of New England and particularly the residents of our area. There were many in this area that worried about having broken our allegiance to England, even though they had fought bravely for independence from that country. England was protestant as were the very strict Congregationalists. England, through its holdings in the West Indies could help the colonies get out of debt through trade. The area was experiencing a loss of families as they moved west to find work.

The country had aligned itself with France, a Roman Catholic country and that greatly worried many folks. This became even more worrisome after the French Revolution seemed not to have truly launched a free and democratic country and had been a virtual blood bath in the streets. You might say that people wondered if “all men are created equal.”

Griswold liked Jefferson. In fact, some writers refer to Griswold’s efforts to be noticed by Jefferson as seeming “sycophantic” at the time. By championing Jefferson, Griswold was as close to a heretic as one could become in the eyes of many established ministers in the conference. Griswold, like Jefferson, favored the separation of church and state in an effort to avoid the bloodshed that the union of those two forces had foisted upon Europe for the preceding thousand years.

He gave a sermon, at a jubilee in Wallingford celebrating Jefferson’s election, to some ten thousand people. In this speech he extolled the virtues of Jefferson, who, like Christ met hatred and derision with love. He proclaimed that men must choose their destiny and act upon it. That true love of fellow men would conquer hatred. He went on to list the many ill things that had been said about Christ and that Christ had met that hatred with Love.  We were to do the same. We were to act on our beliefs and secure our own salvation.

“The art, my hearers, of turning death into a pleasing scene, is the most important art ever learned by mortals. Such an art does really exist. We are dull indeed to learn it. Yet it is the most simple art; it consists only in being good. And to be good is far easier than to be evil; for the way of transgressors is hard, whereas the yoke of Christs is easy and his burden light.” (This from a later sermon)

Griswold’s basic religious belief was that acts and efforts led to salvation. Most ministers of the time considered this false. Only God, they preached, through his Grace, could bestow salvation. They didn’t like Griswold preaching against the total depravity of man and advocating universal salvation was possible. Salvation was their job. When Griswold opposed the close union of church and state, it is easy to see why the minister members of Litchfield South felt the need to move him out of town.  He was accused of heresy and social conduct unbecoming a minister. When he travelled to Roxbury to “unofficially” defend himself, the ministers refused to meet with him.

He was defended officially 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. The Congregation of this church loved and supported their minister and refused to abide by the decision to expel Griswold. They pulled out of the Association in 1805, three years after Griswold left, for many years.

It was an era of great new beginnings. Religious diversity was sweeping into the area. Lewis and Clark would soon set out to explore the Louisiana territory which had recently been purchased from our new ally. While we take the separation of church and state as a given these days, such a thought was considered (at least by the ministers) to be heresy. Remember that not only religious was involved in this matter. As stated before, the ministers were THEE people in town, almost the state’s representatives. Because the Congregational Church and the state were not separated at the time, the Church was able to reap the benefits of the ability to tax the citizenry for the good of the community, read church.

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, after leaving New Milford became a newspaper editor in New Hampshire and then, through Jefferson becoming aware of Griswold, was appointed to be the secretary to the governor of the Michigan Territory. During the absence of Governor Hull, Griswold became acting Governor of the Territory. Keep in mind that when a man went to Washington to touch base with the government or back to Boston to handle legal affairs, the government of Michigan fell on Griswold’s shoulders for extended periods of time. Griswold was unhappy, having to maintain the governor’s duties on his secretary’s salary and made his displeasure known.

Michigan was not a part of the Louisiana Purchase obviously, but nevertheless a new horizon. Griswold’s relationship with Governor Hull started well enough, but later turned sour. He complained to friends in Congress that he could barely survive on his salary and moved on. He later became a Senator from Ohio appointed to finish another’s term, and later a chief justice of the Northwest Territory – big political accomplishments for the former 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.

The church had built its second edifice in a location near the middle of the current green. But the green was not as we know it today.  Having developed from a “winding path up through tree stumps toward the top of the hill” (remember the first plans for the new town considered it would be built on top of Aspetuck Hill) to a  place where “pigs were kept in the street, and before almost every house was a long trough, where twice a day they were fed.” Geese also roamed at will and the place, with the stream running through the middle, a virtual swamp, was not a pretty sight. It was in 1838, five years after our present building was built that the stream was made to run along a paved water course that greatly cut down on the mud in the area. Around 1871, this paved waterway was covered as a sewer and the green took on its current look. This is approximately 160 years after the town was founded.

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). It’s interesting to note that, in Reverend Bonar’s speech giving at the celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday, he mentions that “In regard to Mr. Rood, the Church and Society both voted unanimously that a change was needful for their well-being. But, even then they voted a gift of only $400 dollars and borrowed the money to give it to him, which seems to indicate that there might have been less than universal approval of Rev. Rood’s achievements, as notable as they were.

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.

On April 23 1865, Reverend Murdoch gave a stirring sermon concerning the death of Abraham Lincoln at the hand of John Wilkes Booth.

“Like a thunder clap out of a clear sky came the intelligence, a week ago yesterday morning, that Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, had been killed by the hand of an assassin. Never, probably, in the history of mankind was there such a sudden revulsion from joy to sorrow produced within so many hearts as that which was caused by those few words, which vibrated through the land—“The President is dead.”……He had been lifted up to an eminent position, to be a leader and governor in the grandest work of the age.”

Murdoch went on to discuss the misery and challenges, failures and heartbreaks the nation had been through. How finally the cause had been given to a man (Grant) that would not “lift his hand from the plow” and saw the work finished.

Late in the sermon, Murdoch states a feeling that was prevalent in the country at the time, but seems odd coming from a minister of God.

“Let us beware of the leaven of a false theology here; a system which ignores justice and speaks only of mercy; which sees no suffering God atoning for sin, and thus makes sin but a trifling affair. For were we not on the brink of such a fatal gulf? Good as our late President was, may not this have been his greatest defect, – the disposition to shrink from punishment of deserved crime, leaning too much to the side of mercy and thus bearing the sword in vain.”

Murdoch does not set himself up as the final judge of Lincoln. He only states that he may have been too merciful and, for that, God called him home. He goes on to say “He (Lincoln) saw and recognized the outstretched hand of the Omnipotent One over us for good. And it was this divine vision which cheered and held him up in the darkest moments. “Murdoch states that if Lincoln could speak to us today it would be with a humble confidence in God.

The sermon is mesmerizing in its word construct and in its thought. To think this sadness, this misery, this history took place in the very room in which we today worship weekly.

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 wait till the old boy was out of town to talk about how charitable they’d been towards his shortcomings.”

A notable legacy of Mr. Bonar’s service was the  historical address he gave to the congregation in 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  In it he provides a fairly detailed history of the founding of the church and its first 150 years of operation. He notes that until around 1750, the church was the town. Until that time all the tasks since taken on by the “Society” of the church were considered town functions. Remember the early intertwining of church and state which Jefferson and Griswold and many others sought to break down. Another very interesting passage from the address concerns finances. Imagine that:

“This Society has always shown a characteristic New England thrift and prudence in regard to its finances. So early as 1755, it appointed a committee to ‘take care of the money, coming from the sale of the Parsonage lands, to loan out said money on good and sufficient security.’ From that time to this, the Society has always had money loaned, invested in Government securities or in Bank stock.  And in 1787, it was voted that only the interest over six percent, should be used for current expenses. But this rule has not been observed or the Society would now be rich.”

Apparently, then as now, members were encouraged to leave legacy gifts to the Society upon their death. The size of these gifts would be considered generous by today’s standards. To think that, over 150 years ago, people were leaving gifts of $1080, $832, $100 and $500 is hard to imagine, but they did.

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 pastor ship 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, an attempt to 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.

After Reverend Frank Johnson, during the time that Rev. George Herbert Johnson was the pastor of the church, an extended celebration of the church’s 200 years of history took place. Starting on the 29th of October in 1916, the celebration lasted for four days. The entire record of the event as well as copies of the speeches is available in “The Historical Address and Other Accounts of Exercises Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Organization of the First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT. That’s a long winded title for a pamphlet that gives us a good idea of how much effort went into this enterprise.

From the pamphlet:

“Memories of the recent past, tales of the days when the first settlers hewed homes and homestead from out of the stark wilderness and took their religion and their church attendance with a certain grim earnestness; just pride in the present; visions of the days to come and of a strong church mightily influencing for good the lives of its members and the community at large-these things, and many others, combined to make most enjoyable and inspiring the Bi-centennial celebration of the First Congregational Church of New Milford, which began Sunday morning and came to a conclusion Wednesday night.

Addresses by the pastor of the church, the Rev George Herbert Johnson; former pastor, Rev. T.J. Lee and former pastor Rev. F.A. Johnson; the Rev. Dr. Rockwell  H. Potter, pastor of Center Church, Hartford, and the Rev. Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis, of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn; services at which special music and a spirit of amity and Christian fellowship created an atmosphere that often thrilled the worshipers and celebrants with a feeling of devotion to church and the cause of Christ; an historical pageant depicting scenes of church and town history and a gift of $5000 from Francis L. Hine, a New Milford boy whose financial career in New York has been a matter of pride to his fellow townsmen; a reception by  the church to townspeople……….”

The pamphlet goes on to discuss the meaning of the very high meaning and lofty goals expressed by the celebrants and particularly by the distinguished speakers. At the end of the celebration, Rev Johnson reminded folks that they had to return from the heights of glory to which the past few days had taken them and go to:

“the foot of the mountain, where suffering and sinful humanity still waited to be redeemed.

As the Rev. Mr. Johnson finished speaking, the congregation joined in singing on of its favorite hymns, one that has come to hold a place all its own in their affections-‘Blest be the tie that binds’ “

The Rev. George Herbert Johnson had come 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 legalized in 1913 by the 16th Amendment. The Income Tax and the Internal Revenue system had been started in 1862 to fund the Civil War, but the Amendment ended debate on its legality.  When lawmakers decided that taxing would be the method of supporting our country,  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.

The war found us unprepared, unwilling, unbelieving…convinced that the freedoms so enjoyed by many could be had through a wish. A darkness fell over mankind that would extinguish the lives of over 80 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 “baby boomers” 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 (see below). 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.

Reverend Moran, facing an extremely difficult challenge with the congregation to raise over half a million dollars to repair the church roof, penned the following history in early 2016:

Sixty years ago (1956) the congregation was in a tough spot.  Their minister, C. Victor Brown, had resigned after just four years of service to become Dean of Elmira College. Kimberly Clark had announced plans to build a new plant in New Milford but the church did not have the facilities to provide programs for the expected growth in population.  It seemed they were lacking leadership at one of the most critical moments in their recent history.

So what did they do?  The congregation voted to challenge themselves to sacrificial giving and raise $125,000 to build a new Parish House to allow expanded church school and youth programming to serve new families and strengthen the overall ministry of the church in the community.

If you were to plug that $125,000 figure into an inflation calculator, you’d find that in they challenged themselves to raise $1,103,195 in 2016 dollars – over a million dollars and this was before the congregation increased in size due to the growth of the town with the arrival of KC.

The leader of this effort was Gerald Marsh.  In 1981 the church honored Mr. Marsh with this proclamation:

In the year of our Lord 1981 on the 28th day of the month of June, the First Congregational Church family gathers to celebrated the life and leadership of Gerald G. Marsh

We are thankful for his leadership in our State as a State Representative; in our town as Moderator; in our church as Deacon, Trustee, and Sunday School Superintendent. His vision of a Parish House and his imaginative leadership and faithful guidance made the vision a reality.

It is with great pride that we do this day dedicate the Parish House of the First Congregational Church of New Milford to him. From this day forth it shall be known as the  Gerald G. Marsh Parish House, in recognition of his dedication and leadership to all the people of our community. In the name of our Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master

Mr. Marsh was assisted in the leadership of the Capital Campaign by Miss Josephine Brown, Donald Paisley, Mrs. & Mr. Harold Robbins, John Nash, Douglas Smyth, Malcolm Carrier, Mrs. Stanford White, Joanne Anderson, Henry Brant, George Wells, Walter Southworth, Dr. Robert Miller, and Rev. C. Sumner Osgood, interim pastor between Victor Brown and Rev. Russ Ayre.

The Goal of the campaign was truly a stretch for the congregation.  The campaign committee told the congregation: Meeting the goal will clearly necessitate sacrificial giving on the part of the congregation.  It will necessitate discarding all our previous conceptions of stewardship, and boldly stepping out over this three year period of a new adventure in giving.  Prepare yourself for giving:

By quiet meditation.

By counting your blessings.

By considering the need for giving.

By considering the result of your giving.

By considering God’s pleasure in receiving your gift.

Thanks to their vision and boldness we have enjoyed the use of the Marsh Parish House for over half a century.  It’s a lesson from the history of this church that will serve us

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. Mr. Marsh managed the construction of this building during the time between Reverend Brown and Reverend Ayres as settled ministers.

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.

In 2016, Reverend Moran added further light to the work done by Reverend Russ Ayre during his term in New Milford.

In 1969, Reverend Ayre saw the need to establish non-profit elderly housing in New Milford and began working toward that goal. During the 1970’s, Reverend Ayre’s dream came to life.  Non-profit housing for the elderly was established, and continues to be maintained today.  Butterbrook, Glen-Ayre, and Chestnut Grove are all in existence today because of Reverend Ayre’s vision.

Many members of the congregation put in long hours on countless committees to get from the idea of senior housing to opening the door to the first residents.  The initial planning committee, as noted in the 1969 Annual Report, was Edwin Kinkade, Mrs. Donald Tutson, Miss Caroline Keeler, Mr. Webster Caye, Mrs. Thomas Hubbell, and Dr. John Haxo.  The church donated $25,000 to get the ball rolling on Butterbrook and both land and money to start up Glen Ayre.  The Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ offered expertise and management to shepherd the projects along and help secure funding from State and Federal sources.

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 (these can be seen in the basement as the two Western most columns that are different shape from the rest of the columns that support the floor above.) and certain foundation items. From the stand of giant oaks on the Edgar Welles farm came the columns. (See the comments in the 2016 update reference these “giant oaks”.) 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

An 11 ½ 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 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 ½ 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.

Continuation of our history – added May 20, 2001 by Ross Detwiler

In 1990, Reverend Mike Moran 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. Reverend Deborah Rose was selected shortly after Mike was appointed to be the Minister of Parish Life of the church. Deborah replaced Reverend Dennis Calhoun, whose 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 Gaiser and her father, owners of an arts and crafts shop in the town, 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, was called to the church a few months after Deborah Rose left.

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 hole 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 Care.” 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 its 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 included the mentoring of the confirmation classes by adult members of the congregation. When the congregants were presented to the congregation, they were introduced by the adult that has spent much time with each of them at learning, recreational, and worship services during the previous ten 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 receive 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 genealogy of some of their members.

Further continuation of history March 2016-Ross Detwiler

On September 11, 2001 the largest single attack ever to take place on American soil occurred when four airliners were hijacked by Muslim terrorists and flown into both towers of the New York Trade Center and into the Pentagon in Washington.  A fourth airplane was scheduled to impact the US Capital in Washington, DC, but it was thwarted in this attempt by the unbelievably brave actions of a few passengers. These folks had heard about the other hijackings through mobile telecommunications devices and attempted to take back their plane from the hijackers.  It was the beginning of the fight back against terrorism that the United States is waging to this day.

On the Sunday following the terrorists’ attacks, the auditorium of the church was filled to overflowing. The entire nation was still in shock from the events that had killed nearly 3000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania where the failed re-take of the fourth airplane led to its crashing short of its target. The time was similar to that described as Reverend Murdoch took the pulpit after the death of Lincoln.

Reverend Moran gave a sermon entitled “Two Chairs.” This was taken from sermon delivered on the topic of forgiveness. After discussing the anguish, horror, heartbreak, and sorrow of the person in the first chair, the subject was to turn to the perpetrator, the person in the second chair and try to see what was in his mind. The gathered church members nodded silent approval when Rev. Moran stated that “there are probably things to be said from the other side, but at this point, we just don’t want to hear them.”

In the weeks that followed, many parishioners, Minister Moran and his wife Eileen leading the charge, devoted their time, and risked their health while serving as hospitality stations for the rescuers and construction personnel that tended to the huge collapse of the buildings that had made up the World Trade Center. Just as many parishioners and the parson had devoted their time and their monies, in some cases entire annual salaries, to charities in New Haven to help those who had not fared well during the French and Indian Wars in the mid 1700’s.

Major capital improvements were made in the church with the kitchen being completely redone, many overhead lights and a modern power center being added to the ceiling and on the ceiling supports above the sanctuary. The front two rows of pews were removed and a “stage” built out similar to the way that the sanctuary had looked in the late 1800’s right after the “new” addition had been added.

Reverend Moran’s comments on the role of women in this church follow in the next few paragraphs.

In spite of the fact that “in church work women are more zealous than men,” ( this a statement from a church publication during the 1892 addition to the back of the church.) this church did not have a woman serving as a Deacon until 1971 when Agnes Ormsby and Jane Southworth were elected to that office.  Later in the 1970s Nan Tutson, Vivian Harris, Mary Miller, Hazel Neubauer, Sally Rinehart, Doris Curtiss and Barbara Holsten were also elected Deacons.  In the 1980s the practice began of having half the Deacons be men and half be women.

After Deborah Rose Rev. Virnette Hamilton, one of “our own” served from 1993 – 2004, followed by Leslie Foley 2004 – 2007 and Wendy Hammond 2007 – 2009.

Reverend Moran continues, “I don’t know that anyone has put together a complete history of women’s activities and contributions of the life of our church.  The first records I can find of Women’s Fellowship here is the “Constitution of the New Milford Female Charitable Cent Society.”  “The object of the society shall be to relieve the poor, particularly poor children, by furnishing them with clothing, with the Bible, and such tracts as may be useful in their moral and religious instruction.”  The constitution is not dated, but records attached date as early as 1814 when the “distributing committee” contained some names linked to the very early history of the town and the church – Susan Taylor, Rebecca Camp, Maria Hine, Susan Noble, Julia Treadwell, Doris Northrop, and Lois Wells.

Members of the Cent Society (sometimes called the Mite Society) were also among the early benefactors of the church trust funds with these gifts: Lois Wells, 1844, $200; Ann Hine, 1851, $200; Sally Northrop, 1860, $200

A Church Manual published in 1891 lists the officers of the church and its organizations – The Woman’s Board of Missions is led by Miss Charlotte B. Bennet, the Woman Home Missionary Union by Mrs. Mary P. Johnson, the Ladies Sewing Society by Mrs. Harry S. Mygatt, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) by Mrs. Mary A. Stone, and the Valley Wide Awakes (Missionary Circle) by Miss Harriet L. Johnson.

Also, there is a handwritten “Report of Woman’s Work in Cong. Church N. M. 1889-1899” by Charlotte B. Bennett which states: It is a far step from the day when Paul exhorted the women to keep silence in the churches, to this end of the nineteenth Century, when they have their place in every department of Christian work.”

Charlotte mentions three women’s societies in the church: “The oldest is the Woman and Home Miss. Soc. being a continuation of the old Mite Soc. which dates back in the church history and was for many years the only channel of benevolence special for women.”  She also mentions the Ladies Sewing Society and the Aux. of the Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions, and the money raised and contributed to a variety of causes.  She ends: If we thank God and take courage as we halt briefly at the milestone, may we not also remember our work has been but a drop in the great ocean of the world’s need; that new doors daily opening call us to larger work and higher service, and that the best record of the last ten years will be the next ten years.  Charlotte B. Bennett December 31, 1899.

A church bulletin from 1913 lists three Women’s organizations – Woman’s Missionary Society, The Mission Circle, and the Sewing Society.  A 1914 bulletin announced a meeting of the WCTU but it is not listed as an official organization.  By 1917 a fourth organization, the Philothea Circle, has been added and by 1935 the Congregational Church Women are established.  The report of the minister in 1942 mentions that the Amithea Circle for young women has ceased to exist, largely a war casualty, but the Congregational Church Women and the Mission Circle are strong, and the Philothea Circle has taken responsibility, with the Men’s Club, for “a watch at the local air services.”

The Annual Report for 1958 shows the same three Women’s group – Congregational Christian Women reported by Ethel Mae Baldwin, Mission Circle reported by Mrs. Leslie W. Marsh, and Philothea Circle reported by Mary Webster.  In 1959 there was a major reorganization and a single “Women’s Fellowship” begun with a Morning Mission Circle and an Evening Mission Circle.  Their last official entry in the Annual Reports was for 1967, when they met twice a month, although I know a Mission Circle group continued to meet up to the 1990s at least once a month.

After 1967 various configurations of Mission and Social Action committees appear in the pages of the annual report, staffed by women and men.  The annual Women’s Retreat was first organized by the Christian Education Committee in 1982 under the leadership of Judy Packard, Jan Kamm, and Liz Aitcheson and has become an important part of the life of our church, and women’s fellowship continues but with a more informal structure and interests – like the Mothers of Pre-Schoolers group that started two years ago and the Chapel Stichers, a Prayer Shawl ministry, begun by the Deacon Leslie Schlemmer in 2009. I bet the women of the Ladies Sewing Society are smiling down on such beautiful fellowship and work and would love to see how women today are fully integrated into the formal leadership of the church.  All these changes, however, do not diminish the truth of what Charlotte Bennett wrote 117 years ago: “may we not also remember our work has been but a drop in the great ocean of the world’s need; that new doors daily opening call us to larger work and higher service, and that the best record”

The downstairs fellowship hall was completely refinished around 2008 and the kitchen was redone shortly after, adding new dishwasher and oven/stove combinations. In 2014, the area under the front steps was completely re-enforced through the addition of concrete being pumped in the hollow area under the steps. Remember from the description of “The Present Edifice” that it was stated that the columns in the front of the church came from the stand of giant oaks on the Welles farm.  Trustee Wittman, curious as to the condition of these oaks after 181 years probed into the façade on the Greek style columns.  To all of our surprise, it was revealed that the columns held no oak trees, but were of cement and brick construction wrapped with a Greek column looking façade. Probably better in the long run of things, but interesting as to how that church lore came about.

During the winter of 2012 several very heavy snowfalls caused considerable damage. What has been affectionately called the “Wittman Crack” named after a beloved and hardworking Trustee, John Wittman, started to become larger. This crack is on the ceiling/wall joint on the North wall, exactly where the 1833 structure had had its Eastern most wall.  The reader will remember that the 1891 addition was discussed in “The Present Edifice” portion of this paper, it was stated that the church added 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(ed) the center arch of the church sufficiently to put the organ and choir behind the pulpit and finish(ed) the remaining improvements substantially according to the plan…..”

It’s important to consider the part about moving the front wall of the sanctuary, (East Side) back some twelve feet. The original East end of the sanctuary was a rafter or ceiling joist with vertical support coming from the wall below it to support high winter loads. That wall was correctly determined to be strong enough to stand those potential loads without support under it, just as the rest of the ceiling joists that run north to south across the top of the sanctuary.

During several very heavy storms, the load from the roof truss that was transferred to the North/South running joist became so great as to cause the center of the joist to split, and lower, raising the ends.  The ends of the joist actually pulled out of their pegged position and rested upon the side wall supports. Insurance agents came, determined that the cause of the failure was snow load, supplied the church with $50,000 dollars for construction of a temporary steel interior framework (see picture) that would prevent the possible collapse of the roof of the sanctuary.

As the estimated cost of the reconstruction went beyond $500,000 the insurance company backed out of their position that the damage was caused by snow loads and stated that it was “normal wear and tear.” They would not pay. Several parishioners, along with Reverend Moran and Jim Lambert, a well-respected local contractor and church member, worked with the insurance company and eventually, under threat of legal action, got them to give another 60000 to the cause of reconstruction. It was decided that Jim would handle that re-construction project.

Thus began the great capital drive of 2016.

 

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 war 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.

 

 

Further Author’s Notes Added 2016.

It’s interesting to note that when I first wrote this history around 1977, I considered “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.”

Well, that was my generation, the generation that was pretty much in charge of running the church in the 70’s. America has moved ahead two generations since that time. Today, the advent of mobile telecommunications, texting, tweeting, Instagram, “Facebooking,” and other forms of instant communication have added new and even more challenging prospects to the lives of our people.  With the television, life was wrapped up in 30 minute segments and came to a happy ending just in time for the last commercial. Often the family watched the shows together, after a family dinner and before some other type of family activity in the evening.

Today instant communication has allowed people to work more and more from home and to be in constant contact with their families throughout the day. While this is a wonderful advantage, the backside is that life communications are texted in bursts, carrying only the most basic of requirements for that communication and with no emotional bias at all. We have become a nation of people who are constantly tapping into communications devices and achieving no lasting transfer of thought in the process.

For old, small town churches these developments have had some devastating results. As Reverend Moran wrote in his 2016 Easter letter to the congregation:

“A lot of people look at the local church and wonder if its future is among the living or the dead. Many see it going the way of the neighborhood grocery store or the family farm. The economics of scale will force it to change and grow or wither and die. Churches need to “brand” themselves and appeal over a wide area to attract like-minded people ……………………..

“But we are not selling soap or any commodity here- in fact we’re not selling anything. We are here to bear witness to the risen Lord. Paul wrote: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake……….”

“The local church-your local church-relies on the commitment, loyalty, and enthusiasm of its members. The commitment and loyalty is not to the church, but to the witness and service which we gather together to accomplish. “

This church has stood for 300 years as a beacon in the community. Indeed, in its early years, as a beacon to the nation. Adams and Jefferson stopped through this village and probably attended services with their friend Roger Sherman. The church championed many civil and community events and causes over those three hundred years, but always it has stood as a band of people that believe that over 2000 years ago a man was murdered by a mob and rose from the grave and lives today. We believe that man, who was born to a virgin, was crucified, died, and was buried. We further believe that He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sittith at the right hand of God Almighty.” In fact, we believe that man to have been the earthly representation of the Power that designed and built everything. We believe that Power is Love. All we have to do is stop, think of our earthly families and know that that wonderful feeling we have, at that time, is the presence of God in our life. God is Love. Love is God.

Let us go forth and witness that fact!

Ross Detwiler