A tale of three churches, part 2

Print More

First Congregational Church

Many attempts were made to revitalize the Salmon Brook Ecclesiastical Society. In April 1831, it was voted to build a new church, in the geographical center of Granby.  And of course, a new controversy raged over the proposed location.

In August, 35 members left, joining the Methodists in West Granby or the Baptists on North Granby near Day Street. The church was at its lowest point.

Loyal members tried fasting, humility and prayer. They met and counseled with those who dropped out. A vigorous temperance campaign resulted in a brief revival in membership.

According to James Hayes: “Finally, the old church was so bad they thought it best to build a new one. Rev. Porter was so much behind the times they thought it best to dismiss him and get a younger man. After quite a hard struggle, they did.”

Rev. Porter was asked to resign in November 1832. He demanded a year’s salary of $300, which was raised by subscription and donation. On December 31, 1832, after 38 years, Rev. Isaac Porter preached his farewell sermon.

Porter had been living at 45 Bushy Hill Road. He spent the rest of his life in the house on the corner of Mechanicsville and North Granby Roads (torn down in 1967). Isaac Porter died in 1844 at the age of 78. His epitaph reads: “A faithful expounder of the Gospel, his life exemplified its doctrine; And whether enjoying the confidence and affection of his people himself as their Pastor or seeing them bestowed upon others, he remained the same peaceful, peace-making holy man of GOD.”

This laudatory tombstone might have been erected by his former parishioners to assuage the guilt caused by the dismissal and neglect of their Puritan preacher.

The building of the present First Congregational Church in 1833 was conceived in dissent and constructed virtually as a bribe to the new minister.

Rev. Charles Bentley agreed, in 1832, to be the minister for $500 a year if the congregation would decide on a site for the Meeting House, build it the next year and also build a parsonage within a reasonable time.

A committee from different parts of town selected a site at the “corner of the roads south of the house of Hezekiah Goodrich (235 North Granby Road).”

The building committee consisted of Cullen Hayes, Oren H. Lee and Jefferson Cooley. In 1833, they signed a contract with Benjamin E. Palmer of Brooklyn, Connecticut.

The firm of Palmer and Smith agreed to build the church for $3300 and “complete it in the modern style of building and in the best manner.” The contract also specified that the church be “similar to the Baptist Meeting House in Southington” and that the “pulpit should be equal in expense to the Simsbury Meeting House pulpit.”

The new meeting house was to be 61 by 40 feet, with beams of oak and “no chestnut to be used where liable to occasion stain.”  The building committee agreed to build a basement 40 by 40 feet and use “Manitick stone” for underpinning. The church would rise two stories and include a bell tower. 

The interior had a gallery on three sides, with two tiers of seats, supported with iron rods. The main floor had a lobby and a center aisle with pews or slips on each side. Two chimneys were built and the stoves were moved from the old Meeting House. (Stoves had been purchased, contrary to Hayes’ memoirs, as seen in church records.)

To finance the church, pew doors were numbered and each pew was sold to the highest bidder. Deeds were given for the pews. William Dewey paid $12 for pew 7 in the East Half on the first floor.

The 1834 diary of Eliza Ann Colton revealed that the cornerstone was laid at a ceremony on March 25. A month later the Meeting House was raised and over 50 women provided a feast for the workers. Eliza said, “A very pleasant day, had good luck and there was no one hurt.”

On November 25, 1834, she wrote, “I attended the Dedication of the new Meeting House. The text was in Jeremiah 6 chapter 16 – ‘thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the way and see and ask for the old path, where is the good way and walk therein and ye shall find rest for your soul.’ A great many attended.”

A set of bylaws was adopted December 29 to prevent the defacing of the new Meeting House.

1. Use of tobacco in any of its preparations is unbecoming in the Sanctuary and a habit that ought to be abolished.

2. The practice of eating fruits, nuts and other provisions and strewing the fragments about the house should be entirely relinquished.

3. The presence of dogs in the Meeting House is a nuisance and the owners be unconditionally required to keep them entirely away from the house.

4. For any other prevailing habits a sand box be recommended for each pew.

A spit box was also put up in the lobby for these prevailing habits. The necessity for these rules creates a rather astonishing picture of early church services.

There is a continuity here, reaching back to that barn-like church of 1740. It was taken down and rebuilt in 1775. That church in turn was taken down and the boards, underpinning and step stones were used in building the new church in 1834.

The meeting house still stands; the quintessential New England church. Through the years of dissent, financial problems and change, a stronger church evolved—still growing, changing and meeting the needs of the congregation and the town.