With Easter right around the corner, it’s hard not to feature a church door today. I picked this one because I thought it would be easy to photograph and easy to write about. I was somewhat wrong on both counts.
Tucked in between the Post Office and Walgreens, the church really isn’t all that easy to photograph. It’s made harder by the fact that Windsor Locks has “one-sided” downtown district. I’d argue that, today, Windsor Locks has no downtown district, but the town is trying to create one. The one-sided nature is due to the fact that Dexter, I’m sorry Ahlstrom’s paper mill, occupies the east side of Main St. throughout most of the downtown area. The other significant portion of downtown is occupied by the abandoned Montgomery Building. Dexter and Montgomery both thrived for decades on the industrial island between the Windsor Locks Canal and the Connecticut River. Dexter still thrives, and we live in hope that a viable use for the Montgomery building will be found before it deteriorates further.
As I mentioned in an earlier doors post, Dexter has been a good neighbor and a very good corporate citizen. In the era when being able to walk to a good job at the mill was important, those mills helped Windsor Locks establish itself. The fact that the town lacks an important downtown district today is more the result of the warped thinking of some self-appointed-important people in the 60s. Ours was the kind of Urban Renewal that Joni Mitchell made famous in her song Big Yellow Taxi in 1970 – we didn’t know what we had, and now it’s gone.
Unlike most of the churches that I’ve featured, I wasn’t able to find a good source of history for the Windsor Locks Congregational Church (WLCC). I know that the original congregation grew from the First Church Congregation a few miles down the road in Windsor. Much of what is written about the WLCC is actually tied to the history of that more famous church than this beautiful “offshoot” as it is referred to. WLCC was first established in 1844 when Windsor Locks had slightly less than 300 residents and the church membership was fewer than 20, but when traveling 5 miles was still a challenge. This excerpt is from a 1900 book on Windsor Locks history:
“In 1846, when the membership had increased to twenty, Rev. Samuel H. Allen was called to the pastorate, which he held with great acceptance for sixteen years. During that time 113 were added to the membership, 36 dismissed to other churches, 14 died, and two were excommunicated – a gain of 61.”
The church was partially destroyed by fire in 1877, but the records I was able to find are not clear as to how much of the church was destroyed and what portions of the existing structure were constructed subsequent to the fire.
What is clear from the history is that most of the significant families of Windsor Locks were members of this church. You can almost tally the early membership of the congregation by rattling off the street names in the downtown area. The land that the church sits on was deeded to the congregation by a descendant of the Dexter family for $1. Recently, another interesting financial transaction played an important role in the future of Windsor Locks’ downtown district, and this church.
One of the Dexter Corporation buildings sat on the major corner of Main St. and Elm St. When the building was abandoned by the new owners, it sat empty for several years, until Walgreens expressed interest in building a drugstore. Some residents, spurred on to a degree by outside interests, opposed development on that parcel, citing the “historic” nature of the abandoned building. I put historic in quotes because the building was of a modern design and stood out in the historic district like a sore thumb. In a second attempt, Walgreens made several noteworthy concessions. First, they agreed to add a little park space to the southeast portion of the lot. Second, they agreed to build the store in keeping with the other historic buildings in the area. Third, and perhaps most interesting, they agreed to give a portion of the land to the church, in order to solve a long-standing parking problem.
The second attempt by Walgreens met with success. Supporting the town’s hallmark church still seems to matter.
This post is part of Thursday Doors, an interesting and fun series orchestrated by Norm Framptom. Check out Norm’s page to see his door, and a link to the other doors this week. You can also add a door of your own and join the fun.