Wolcott Historical Society News - June 2023
By Florence Goodman
Last month at the Congregational Church's 250th celebration planning meeting I was asked about the history of stone chapel on Nichols Road. This month I will revisit the history of the old and new Woodtick Chapel, which today is part of the Charles Rietdyke Senior Center.
In the early years of our town's development winter months were long and cold, but those early settlers were still required to attend Sunday services at their church which created many challenges. Those families who lived in the Woodtick section of town had to travel up Bound Line Road each Sunday. Try to imagine what it must have been like 250 years ago walking, riding a horse or in a wagon each Sunday in the snow. I understand why many of those early residents living in the Woodtick area were delighted when a chapel was built in that part of town.
Knowing how difficult winter travel was for the parishioners attending services at the Congregational Church, the minister began to hold a Sunday service at the stone schoolhouse (circa 1821) on Nichols Road, but as attendance grew the schoolhouse became too small. In 1886, Miss Harriet Juliana Hall donated a half-acre of land to the town to construct a building in the southwest district that would be utilized for church purposes only. She also stipulated that others must donate labor and materials for the construction of such building. The offer was accepted on April 2, 1886, and a chapel committee consisting of Miss Hall, Frederick Upson, David L. Frisbie, and Manville A. Norton was appointed. To help raise money for the structure, strawberry festivals were held at the homes of Gustave Cornelis and J. Arthur Bergen and in the fall, produce was exhibited in carts and sold at local fairs. Waterbury merchants and individuals also helped with donations of money and materials.
In the spring of 1886, Charles S. Tuttle and David L. Frisbie dug the building's foundation. By spring of 1887 George Prichard and Mr. Cass started framing the building and with the help of many volunteers they completed the exterior. Although funds were depleted at this point the people still held services in the unfinished building as they continued to work on the interior. Mr. J. Henry Garrigus built the pulpit and Deacon Carter moved Sunday school services from the stone schoolhouse to the Chapel. In 1887, Reverend Woodruff, from the Congregational Church dedicated the new Chapel. It wasn't until several years later that enough funds were raised to finish the structure.
Sunday School was held each week at 2:30 and every other week a preaching service was provided by the minister from the Congregational Church. Many community activities continued to be held to raise funds to furnish the building. As earlier workers passed away many of their descendants took up the task of maintaining the structure. The faithful members of this Chapel enjoyed many activities in this first wooden structure. Children were baptized there, and others were laid to rest from this building and then carried over to the Woodtick Cemetery for burial. In 1890 on New Year's Day, Julia Hadsell Fairclough married Benjamin Holt in this quaint little structure; this was the only wedding to be held in the wooden structure.
Sadly, on April 27, 1924, when Mr. & Mrs. Frisbie were returning home from Sunday morning services at the Congregational Church in the Center of town, they noticed a fire near the back of the chapel. They hurried to the home of Mr. & Mrs. Cornelis to call the Waterbury Fire Department while other residents began to help with the fire. Through everyone's quick response, residents were able to save some of the furniture as well as surrounding structures, but the chapel was gone. There was no insurance on the building because Miss Hall always said, "The building is insured in the hands of God." After thirty-eight years of hard work and much community comraderie, the chapel was lost, but the fire did not discourage the Woodtick residents. Quoting Mrs. Cornelis, "Of course we are going to build again." On May 6, 1924, a meeting was held at the Wolcott Fair Grounds to discuss rebuilding even with a treasury of only $18.81.
The newly formed rebuilding committee elected Mrs. Cornelis chairwoman with Mrs. Charles Tyrrell and Mrs. Claude V. Badger assisting her. A few years later Mrs. Badger resigned because of poor health so Mrs. Alfred J. German filled the position. The committee did as their predecessors had done and raised money through food and rummage sales, dinners held at fairs, and many other community activities and on September 15, 1924, Mr. Irving C. Miller donated the plans for the new structure. Construction began immediately and continued weather permitting. In 1925 as building funds diminished, Mrs. Cornelis advised borrowing money to complete the exterior of the building; her mother, Mrs. Sarah Browne loaned the committee $1000. By April 10, 1927, the exterior was completed and Reverend Joseph O. Todd, from Mill Plain Church, preached the first sermon in the new structure.
Many parishioners from Mill Plain donated furnishings for the new Chapel. Mrs. Benham donated the organ and Mrs. Raymond Miller, the piano and bench. Mrs. Ned Pritchard donated a large Bible and D.M. Stewart and Son, of Waterbury, donated the pews. Mrs. Emile Cornelis Teller of Wolcott donated many articles including a set of dishes and a sewing machine. Not long after the building was completed Reverend H. Gertrude Coe of Wolcott baptized sixteen children. The first wedding to be held at the new Chapel was in May of 1927 when Miss Alice A. Tyrrell married William A. Dumschatt. Alice was the great, great grandniece of Miss Julia Hall who had donated the land for the original structure. Hard times were finally in the past for the members of the Woodtick Chapel and they were especially blessed in March of 1930 when they realized that Mrs. Gertrude Bradley Walker had left a large sum of money in her estate for the Chapel. When the estate was settled a sum of $3275 was realized. This windfall gave members encouragement to now complete the interior of the Chapel. Mr. William Garrigus and Sons completed the job for a total of $4523.08.
On Sunday, June 25, 1933, Reverend Joseph O. Todd of Mill Plain Union Church dedicated the new Woodtick Chapel with Reverends H. Gertrude Coe and R. Wiley Scott assisting him. Alfred J. German, Chairman of the Trustees, gave the address and welcome. Reverend Coe presented the members with a mahogany plaque in memory of Mr. & Mrs. Gustave Cornelis for their inspiration in the construction of both buildings. The Chapel Committee, Mrs. Gustave Cornelis, Mrs. Charles H. Tyrrell and Mrs. Alfred German were given keys to the Chapel. Mrs. Cornelis was Chairman of the Chapel Committee from 1924 to 1949 and Mrs. Charles H. Tyrrell took over the chairman's job after 1949.
In May of 1955, Nellie Ames Browne left $300 to the Chapel Society and Charles D. Winters of Todd Road donated the weathervane for the building. During the summer months Church School was held in the Chapel for several years and in later years the Pentecostal Church and the Wolcott Community Church held weekly services there until they built their own churches. The All Saints Episcopal Church also used the Chapel until they built their new church at the Center of town in 1964. The church was used for Baptist Church services after that.
The Wolcott Senior Center moved into the Chapel in 1964. There was a small kitchen and meals were served from it. The building was also used by local organizations for meetings and by the Recreation Committee. In 1971 it served as the Headquarters for the 175 Anniversary Committee. In time the town added a portable classroom from one of the schools to enlarge the Center. This structure was placed next to the stone chapel and connected by a walkway. Around 1976, (I'm not sure of the exact date) the Center was renamed for Charles Rietdyke, a former First Selectman, and a strong advocate for seniors. In 2001 with funds from a State Grant construction on the new Charles Rietdyke Senior Center began. On July 5, 2002, the Dedication Ceremony was held for the new and improved Senior Center. Today the center is used daily for breakfast, lunches, and a variety of social activities for senior citizens from Wolcott and surrounding towns. Our residents are fortunate to have such a wonderful place for our seniors to meet.
(Information for this article was taken from The 175th Anniversary Booklet 1796-1971 by John Washburne, The Meeting House Atop of Benson's Hill by John Washburne; History of the Old and New Woodtick Chapel by Mrs. Charles H. Tyrrell; a 2010 interview with Marie Trerice; and the January 2010 Wolcott News article by Florence Goodman)
Old wooden Woodtick Chapel. Built 1887.
Original Woodtick Chapel, March 1898, taken from the middle of Nichols Road at the entrance to Recreation area.
Old Stone Schoolhouse, prior to 1898 before addition
Original Mill Plain Church (wooden structure). It is still standing and is across from Chase School on Meriden Road.
Senior Center Committee, circa 1976
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