The history surrounding today’s featured church is not unlike that of many of the historic churches whose doors I’ve featured in the past. When you need an impressive door, a church is a good place to go. This church has always caught my eye as I’ve driven by because of the glorious stone work and the details around the doors and windows. The building telegraphs its own history as your eye is drawn past different building materials and different styles, but a sense of strength is conveyed, regardless of your vantage point.
From 1851 until 1868, the congregation moved three times before building this permanent home. I think this is the second church I’ve written about where the congregation began meeting in a saloon. Ironically, they moved from the saloon to the Washington Temperance Hall on Main Street in Hartford. From there, the Presbyterian congregation purchased the what had been the South Baptist Church, about two blocks south of the Temperance Hall. In 1868, they built the chapel portion of the current church.
Also, like several other churches, the Chapel was partially destroyed by fire. Not only did the congregation decide to rebuild, but, in addition to rebuilding the Chapel, they laid the cornerstone of the present church. From the history page on their website:
The building was completed and dedicated May 17, 1870. Designed by Renwick and Sands of New York, the building is of Vermont granite with a trim of Portland brownstone in a blending of Gothic and Romanesque architecture… Although the architect’s plan called for a taller tower topped by a spire, it was built with a sloping roof only slightly higher than the main roof.
The next bit of history mentioned on the website sent me off on a tangent. They mention a struggle between a desire to remain a Presbyterian Church or whether to give control to the Ecclesiastical Society, which governed financial affairs at that time.
I’ve seen Ecclesiastical Societies mentioned so many times when I’ve researched churches in Connecticut that I had to know more. I’ll try not to bore you, but this is a remarkably important part of Connecticut history. Keep in mind that Connecticut towns, like most early New England towns, were formed around churches, specifically, Congregational churches. Churches that were not subject to the Church of England (originally) or any other hierarchical religious structure. According to an article in the Hartford Courant:
As soon as they erected crude shelters and cleared land, settlers of the first three towns — Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield — “set about organizing a way of living together under both Biblical and civil law,” Ellsworth S. Grant wrote in “The Miracle of Connecticut.”
The typical way of organizing was to ask the General Assembly for permission to establish an ecclesiastical society. This allowed the group to manage all religious affairs within its defined geographic area. In a similar fashion, the residents would ask the General Assembly for permission to establish a town, in order to handle the secular activity. Since attending church services was mandatory, travel could become a problem for early residents.
As populations grew and land use expanded, additional ecclesiastical societies had to be formed for practical reasons. I mentioned when I wrote about the Denslow House, that the Town of Windsor Locks was formed partially because the 3-5 mile journey to Windsor’s First Church Congregational was too difficult. One by one, ecclesiastical societies formed, churches were constructed and towns were established. This is how Connecticut, the third smallest state in the United States, ended up with 167 towns!
As the title suggests, today’s congregation decided to remain in the Presbyterian Church. They have struggled and they have grown. Today, the church is an important member of Hartford’s community and they are committed to community outreach as well as providing a place of worship. Please enjoy the photos of their beautiful church.
This post is part of a fun series called Thursday Doors, managed by Norm Frampton. Many of us come together, virtually, each Thursday to share pictures, drawings, history or stories about doors. If you want to join us, hop on over to Norm’s place. Check out his door(s) and click on the Linky thing (blue button). That will lead you to all the doors, and a chance to add yours.