Wolcott Historical Society News - May 2023
By Florence Goodman
This September the Wolcott Congregational Church will celebrate 250 years in our town so I will continue with some interesting history about it.
As I stated last month on November 18, 1773, thirty members of the Farmingbury Society signed the "Covenant of Confederation" which was the beginning of the Parish Church. Joseph Atkins granted a two-acre site for the church on June 8, 1772, and the "Original Meeting House" was built during the years of 1772/73. The members of the Society donated most of the lumber, materials, and labor. This original small wooden structure served the Congregational parish for approximately sixty-six years.
In the early 1800s the anti-slavery spirit was on the rise in our country as well as in our town. Reverend James Chapman was ordained on October 25, 1837, and at that time began his service as the minister of the church serving 133 Society members. The Reverend was a strong anti-slavery supporter, but many of Wolcott 's Society members did not agree with his beliefs and had strong sympathy for plantation owners in the South. In April of 1839 the Society planned to form a committee to confer with the Reverend about dissolving his Pastoral relation with the church. Tensions were mounting in the town over this issue because New England farmers did not require the number of farm hands as did the crop growers in the South. In times of harvest, which required additional hands a communal effort from neighboring families to assist each other was the rule of thumb. More tension was created in the Wolcott Parish and Society when in November a new stove was placed in the church, but some members disagreed with this as well.
On December 12, 1839, a meeting was to be held at the Meeting House with the Reverend and his supporters. On the evening prior to this gathering someone placed gunpowder with a slow wick in the church stove causing an explosion shortly after 9:00 P.M. It is believed that the intent was to destroy the stove, not the church, but by midnight the church was engulfed in flames thus destroying the building.
The following day Reverend Chapman and his followers held their meeting concerning anti-slavery around the smoldering ashes of the church. The pro-slavery group still angry over the said meeting shaved the manes off the parson's horse as well as the manes off the horses belonging to other members of his anti-slavery group. Several people were arrested for the incident, but a trial was never held because of the lack of evidence.
At the annual meeting held in April 1840, seventeen anti-slavery parishioners, including Deacon Isaac Bronson withdrew from the Society and in July formed the Second Congregational Society. It was also voted that the remains of the old Meeting House be sold to the highest bidder. In July of 1840 several members of the original Society hoping to bring back those lost members voted to appoint a building committee for a new church. They also voted in November of the same year to dissolve their pastoral relationship with Reverend Chapman. The construction of the new structure began in 1841. In June 1842 in an unfinished interior, the Reverend Aaron Beach was ordained. While the new church was under construction meetings were held at the Center School where Reverend Beach gave his first sermon on December 19, 1841. He was ordained on June 22, 1842, with services being held under the rafters of the half-finished church. The new Congregational Church was finally completed on January 18, 1843. It has served as the focal point of our Town Center since then. This Greek Revival-style, post-and-beam frame structure is architecturally significant as the only example of a mid-19th-century church in our town.
Reverend Beach was also responsible for the building of the second Congregational Church Parsonage located at the corner of Bound Line and Brooks Hill Roads. It was referred to as the "Old Congregational Parsonage" built circa 1855. Today it is the home of the Rogozinski Family.
(Information for this article was taken from "The History of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to 1874" by Reverend Samuel Orcutt, "The Meeting House Atop of Benson's Hill" by John Washburne, "The 1986 Historic Resources Inventory" by J.P.Loether and "The Wolcott Congregational Church 1773-1948" by Rose E. Wakelee)I love to receive new information about local history that I have researched and shared with residents. I recently received and interesting email from Rich Mailly after last month's series on small planes that had gone down in our town over the years. Rich remembers a minor plane crash sometime in the mid 1960's (65/66) that happened on the east side of Alcott Road about 2/3's of the way up before it meets Spindle Hill Road. He remembers seeing the article in the Waterbury paper and thinks that the pilot's last name was Ciccio; no one was hurt. He said that by the time he was able to get over there to see it they had already removed the plane on a flatbed truck. Rich also remembers seeing the bent tail section but is not sure if he saw it when his parents drove them by the site after church (it was a Sunday) to look at it or if it was a photo in the newspaper. He stated too that later in the afternoon their family visited friends on Alcott Road and when he wanted to walk up to see it he was told they had already taken it away. If I'm not mistaken the property where the plane went down would have been owned by the Churchelow family. I have not tried to find the old newspaper article, but I will at some point. If anyone remembers this crash, I'd love to hear from you as well.
Early postcard of the Congregational Church with the stables next to it.
The first Center School was used for church services until the new Congregational Church was completed.
Early postcard of the Congregational Church on Benson's Hill. To the left of the road is where Edgewood Cemetery is located today.
The second Congregational Church Parsonage was located on the corner of Bound Line and Brooks Hill Roads. It was built circa 1855 by Reverend Beach. Today it is owned by the Rogozinski family.
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