One of the first people I met after moving to Connecticut was my best friend John. One of the first places he took me was a local hot dog stand called Bart’s for a dinner of hot dogs and burgers. I was a lot younger then, so plurals are appropriate. From the counter at Bart’s, you can look north across the Farmington River and see the profile of The First Church in Windsor. The fact that it is across the river figures prominently in the church’s history. At one point, due to the frequent flooding of that river, the settlers actually built a second church, to serve the community living south of the river.
John was born and raised in Windsor, which claims to be Connecticut’s first town. Wethersfield also claims that title. Numerically, things fall in Windsor’s favor. The Plymouth Trading Company in Massachusetts established a settlement in Windsor in 1633. Wethersfield was formed in 1634. Pretty simple huh? Well, Wethersfield adds a snarky little caveat to their claim:
“…depending on one’s interpretation of when a remote settlement qualifies as a town”
I’m going with Windsor. Congregations and towns were pretty much the same thing in the 1630s. By 1635, they had built a permanent Meeting House. In 2005, the church in Windsor celebrated its 375th anniversary.
There aren’t many things in this country that date back beyond the early 1600s, because the Native American population lived closer to the land, leaving fewer artifacts. They also had some difficulty keeping records as the European settlers forcibly moved them from place to place.
The Church (not the current building) is the oldest Congregational church in Connecticut and the fourth oldest Congregational Church in the world. Its history is well documented on the church’s website and in the records of the Windsor Historical Society. The current church building, which was the fourth meetinghouse to serve the congregation was completed in 1794.
According to the history on the church’s website, this congregation was associated with one other noteworthy “first” in America. They were instrumental in hanging the first witch in America.
375 years is a long time and I won’t dwell on the fact that the congregation was associated with that incident. I am not personally familiar with this church, but in reading the history that is available, I would rather focus on the fact that the church has long been known for its community outreach and service to the people in the surrounding area, including non-residents who happen to have found themselves in Windsor and in need of support.
The church established a Family Service Agency in the 1940s to help migrant tobacco workers and young people employed in the textile industry. They also sponsored a refugee family from East Germany after the end of World War II. In the 1960s, First Church created offices and programs to help wrestle with the growing number of social problems and to support the Civil Rights Movement. According to the history published on the church’s website:
“In 1963 the First Church Council passed a resolution stating that membership in First Church was open to all without restrictions of race or ethnic origin.”
If you lived through the 60s, you understand the significance of that small bit of history.
In case you’re wondering about First Church in relation to the other Windsor Doors I’ve featured, Elm Grove Cemetery is about three miles to the northwest, and Tunxis Grill lies about a mile beyond that. Both are also alongside the Farmington River. The tobacco barns are in the same area, but on the north side of the river. First Church is about a mile and a half from the Connecticut River (if you floated down the Farmington River). If you headed north along the Connecticut River, you would run into Denslow house after a few miles.
Since Windsor is such a historic town in Connecticut, and since I drive through it twice each day, there will likely be many Thursdays that feature a Windsor door.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s wonderfully entertaining Thursday Doors series. Please consider snapping a door photo and joining us on any given Thursday