Wolcott History
Wolcott Historical Society

Wolcott Historical Society News - February 2010

By Florence Goodman

This month's article continues with the history and development of the Woodtick Reservoir region by addressing the old and new Woodtick Chapel, which today is part of the Charles Rietdyke Senior Center. Most residents are familiar with the name Tyrrell because Eva M. Tyrrell was the town correspondent for the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper for over 50 years and was a charter member of many civic organizations in our town. Tyrrell Middle School was named in her memory. She was born in 1884 and her roots go back to 1750, the year her ancestors, the Hall's settled in town.

In the early years, the Woodtick region did not have a church, so residents either attended services at the Congregational Church in the center of town or went to Waterbury's Mill Plain Union Church. Eventually the minister from the Congregational Church held Sunday services at the stone schoolhouse on Nichols Road; attendance grew and the schoolhouse became too small.

In 1886, Mrs. Tyrrell's great, great aunt, Miss Harriet Juliana Hall, agreed to donate one half acre of land to the town for the purpose of constructing 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 was immediately appointed and began to raise funds for this new chapel.

The Chapel Committee consisted of Miss Hall, Frederick Upson, David L. Frisbie, and committee chair, Manville A. Norton. 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. Manville Norton asked Waterbury merchants and individuals to help with donations of money and materials.

In the spring of 1886, Charles S. Tuttle and David L. Frisbie began work on the building's foundation. By spring 1887, Mr. George Prichard and Mr. Cass began to frame the building and with the help of many volunteers, they were able to complete the outside of the structure.

By now funds were exhausted, but the people still held services in the unfinished building and slowly continued to work on the inside of the structure. Mr. J. Henry Garrigus built the pulpit for the chapel and at this time Deacon Carter brought Sunday School services from the stone schoolhouse to the Chapel. During the year of 1887, Reverend Woodruff from the Congregational Church at the Center dedicated the new chapel.

It wasn't until several years later that enough funds were raised to completely finish the structure; Deacon Carter's son, Charles, supervised this activity. Deacon Carter served as the Superintendent until his death in 1900.

Sunday School was held each Sunday at 2:30 and every other week, a preaching service was provided by the minister from the Congregational Church in the center of town. Many community activities continued to be held to raise funds to furnish the building. The chapel had a large library of several hundred books.

As earlier workers passed away, many of their descendants took up the task of maintaining the structure. Some of them were Charles S. Tuttle, son of Mrs. Fred Upson, Berkley L. Frisbie, son of David S. Frisbie, Harley Adelbert Norton, son of Manville Norton, and Mrs. Charles H. Tyrrell, grand niece of Miss Hall, plus many others.

The faithful members of this Chapel enjoyed many activities in this first wooden structure. Children were baptized here and others were laid to rest from this building and then carried over to the Woodtick Cemetery for their burial. On New YearŐs Day 1890, Julia Hadsell Fairclough married Benjamin Holt in this quaint little structure; this was the only wedding to be held in the wooden structure.

The new chapel was enjoyed by all until April 27, 1924; Mr. & Mrs. Frisbie were returning home from Sunday morning services at the Congregational Church in the center of town when 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 and other residents 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 38 years of hard work and much community comradery, the Chapel was lost.

The people did not let this destruction keep them down; on May 6, 1924, they held a meeting at the Wolcott Fair Grounds to discuss rebuilding the Chapel. Their treasury consisted of $18.81, but Mrs. Cornelis said, "Of course we are going to build again," and she was elected as chairman of the new committee. Mrs. Charles Tyrrell and Mrs. Claude V. Badger assisted 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 as long as weather permitted.

In 1925, as building funds diminished, Mrs. Cornelis advised that they borrow money to complete the exterior of the building. Mrs. Sarah Browne, mother of Mrs. Cornelis, 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, a Children's Day was held and Reverend H. Gertrude Coe of Wolcott baptized 16 children there. 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 were hired for the job for a total of $4523.08.

Reverend Joseph O. Todd of Mill Plain Union Church dedicated the new Woodtick Chapel on Sunday, June 25, 1933. Reverends H. Gertrude Coe and R. Wiley Scott assisted 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 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 began to use 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 175th 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, lunch, 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 History of the Old and New Woodtick Chapel by Mrs. Charles H. Tyrrell and from speaking with Marie Trerice.)

Our Schoolhouse Museum is open by appointment only during the winter months. Anyone interested in visiting the Museum, please call Loretta Leonard at 203-879-4310 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818.

Chapel circa 1924

Original Woodtick Chapel prior to the 1924 fire.

Chapel circa 1930

Woodtick Chapel after its completion in mid 1930s.

Dedication invitation 1933

Invitation to the dedication of the new Chapel in 1933.

circa 1976

Circa 1976, when the senior center was named for Charles Rietdyke.

To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.

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