The First Church Building

The First Church Building

First Church in the 1800s

History of the Building and Grounds

The original Meeting House was constructed in 1716, after 40 years of debate with Springfield officials and final approval in the General Court of Boston. The building, which was relatively small (only 32 feet by 38 feet), was located where the flagpole is now standing on the Green. The nearly square unpainted building had a pyramidal roof with a central bell tower. The first bell was installed 27 years later. During the interim, Nathaniel Burt was paid 10 shillings a year ($2) to go up and down the street beating a drum announcing the services.

In 1729, after years of debate, it was agreed to lath and plaster the interior of the building. There were only two windows, located on the south side. In August of 1743, two more windows were added on the north side, one on each side of the pulpit. There was no heat in the building and the congregation sat on benches until about 1745, when square pews were added, a few at a time.

In 1764 so many repairs were needed that it was voted to build a second Meeting House which was built in 1767-68. The old Meeting House was torn down on June 12, 1769. The second Meeting House was located on the Green, just north of the first Meeting House. It was 56 feet at the base and 54 feet high. It had no heat for 51 years and, during the cold winter months, the minister wore a heavy homespun overcoat and mittens during the services.

The old bell proved too small for the new church and in 1809 a larger bell was purchased from the Paul Revere Company of Boston. The bell cost $526.20 and weighed 1,256 pounds. In 1815, during the victory celebration of the end of the War of 1812, the bell was rung so violently that it cracked and had to be recast. This same bell, used today, was rung by the townspeople at the close of the Vietnam Conflict and was tolled each day at noon during the Iranian hostage crisis and at the end of the Persian Gulf War. In March, 2010, it was rung to honor the 17 people who perished in the CONASPEH building in Haiti during the devastating earthquake. First Church donations had been used to help erect and support the operation of the building. The sound of the bell was transmitted via cell phone to Haiti and was heard at the start of a memorial service there.

No one is sure just when the weathervane was installed. The rooster was made in England and imported before 1800. The first mention of it was made in regard to the “Great Gale” of 1821, when the steeple was blown down and the weathervane had to be repaired. It is made of copper, covered with gold leaf, stands 4 feet high and measures 42 inches from beak to tail. It has green glass eyes, which one can see through. One eye was replaced in 1962.

In 1828, when the church was remodeled, the pulpit was moved from the north side to the east side of the sanctuary. Galleries were constructed on the remaining three sides and the old square pews were replaced by modern slips. Reverend Dorcus Clarke donated the clock for the belfry.

The church was moved from the Green to its present location in 1874. It was drastically remodeled again and painted brown. Much of the original timbers were used in this renovation and can still be seen in parts of the building. The balconies on the north and south side were removed and long windows replaced the smaller ones on the first and second floors. There were two front entrances, one on each side of a rose glass window leading to two aisles in the sanctuary. The pews were black walnut and went all the way to the windows on each side. The small chancel was raised up quite high and reached by stairs on both sides. At its top was a wooden carved panel with the words, “O Lord, How Excellent Is Thy Name.” The pulpit was center front and there was no lectern.

When the church was remodeled again in 1932, the white pillared front portico was added, fashioned after Boston’s Arlington Street Church with its triune (three doored) entrance.

The present Parish House was built in 1948-49 to house the church school classes that had previously been held in the Community House (owned by the church), the minister’s study and the church basement.

In 1967, a gift of the mahogany and brass cross was received and installed over the altar. It was designed by a Longmeadow architect and crafted in England. It is superimposed on a dossal curtain. The curtain was replaced as a memorial gift in 1992.

In April of 1975, a new organ, built by Schantz Organ Company, was installed in the chancel.

1997 was the year that saw the completion of the Open ARMS campaign ($1.3M) that allowed for the Accessibility and Restoration of the church, along with a Mission Support project.

The Memorial Garden on the west side of the Parish House was completed in 1998. It affords a place for the interment of ashes of members of the church.