The History of Elm Street Congregational Church
In 1795 a small group of people met in the Tavern House of Colonel Benjamin Freeman, now the site of the Southbridge Fire Station. They met to discuss the possibility of creating their own separate parish or precinct, and of building a parish meeting house. There was no town of Southbridge in 1795, and what is now Southbridge consisted of parts of Charlton, Sturbridge, and Dudley. In order to attend a Congregational worship service, people had to travel many miles to a church in one of the other towns. This group formed a committee consisting of Oliver Plimpton, Daniel Morse, Joshua Harding, Luther Ammidown, Asa Walker, Eleazer Putney, and James Dyer. Their charge was to come up with a petition to create a separate parish so that residents might have their own social, political, and religious privileges.
This committee chose a site for their meetinghouse, locating it where the Central Baptist Church now stands, and began the framing of this structure in 1797. On February 26, 1801 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved the petition giving existence to a parish to be known as the “Second Religious Society in the town of Charlton”, as the land on which the building stood was still a part of Charlton. This new district was called the Poll Parish, and was also known as Honest Town.
The use of the meetinghouse was shared equally by several denominations, the principal ones being the Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and Universalists. Since none of these groups had their own settled minister, each denomination had a minister of their own choosing preach at different times.
On September 16, 1801 the Congregational members of the Poll Parish convened a meeting at the Freeman Tavern. This council was composed of pastors and delegates from the churches of Woodstock, Dudley, and Sturbridge. At this meeting, the council voted to create a new church, which would be called the Second Congregational Church of Charlton. The original membership of the church consisted of 21 people, eight men, and thirteen women, and they continued to hold their worship services at the meetinghouse until 1816.
At this point in time, the Congregational Church having become the largest denomination sharing the meetinghouse, wished to install a permanent minister. There had been at least 74 preachers representing the various denominations during the first 15 years of the Poll Parish. The other denominations, although not having a formal church organization of their own, objected to this idea. The Congregationalists decided to sell their interest in the meetinghouse, and withdraw from the group. They now had to find a permanent minister, and a location for their worship. During the same year, Southbridge was officially incorporated as a town.
On December 18, 1816, the Reverend Jason Park was called to become the first pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Charlton. Major Calvin Ammidown deeded to the church one and one-quarter acres of land, which include the site of the present church, and property across Park Street where Catholic Charities is now located. A house was erected on this site and was called the Ministerial House. The first floor was the minister’s home, and the second floor was used as a temporary place of worship.
In 1821 the first church was built on the site of the present Elm Street Congregational Church, and was named the Congregational Church of Southbridge. The members of the church finally had their own minister, and a house of worship, and during the years to come, the church would become an important part of the Southbridge community.
What follows is a chronological listing of some of the important events and activities that have been a part of the last 200 years of Elm Street Congregational Church.
1815 The first official Women’s organization of the church is formed.
1821 The bell for the original church is cast by the Joseph W. Revere Company of Boston, and weighs 914 pounds. This was the first bell in Southbridge.
1839 The church is enlarged with the addition of a Vestry, and new windows. Two box stoves are installed, and they provided the only means of heat in the building.
1850 The present parsonage was built sometime around this time. There is no record of the actual date.
1851 The church celebrates it’s 50th Anniversary.
1856 Six members of the church establish a mission church in Genoa Bluffs, Iowa.
1869 Major renovations are made to the church. The organ loft and pulpit are lowered, the pews are rearranged into a semi-circle, gas lighting is installed, and a new furnace is put in. The church was 44 x 50 feet and had 275 seats.
1875 Clarissa Pratt, a member of the church leaves for Turkey on a missionary trip. Assistance was given to her on a yearly basis by the Women’s Organization.
1883 Permanent damaged is done to the church during a violent windstorm. The Steeple was blown down and crashed through the roof. It was decided that a new church must be built. The old church is dismantled and moved to lower Elm Street where it was later destroyed by a fire.
1885 The current church is built at a cost of $17,500. A new bell for the church is cast. The bell from the original church had been badly damaged and it was broken into pieces and became part of the new one. Up until this date, the church was referred to in many records as the “South Church” or “Old South Church”. When the new church was built, it was first called the “New Old South Church”. Shortly thereafter the church was renamed “Elm Street Congregational Church”.
1891 Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Monroe give the Johnson and Son Tracker organ, which is still in use today, as a gift to the church.
1901 The 100th Anniversary of the church.
1921 The Union Church at Globe Village disbands, and many of it’s
members join our church, which greatly increases our membership.
1938 The Susan Knight rooms are added to the rear of the church to be used as Sunday School rooms. Susan Knight, a teacher in the Southbridge schools, makes this possible through a bequest. Our conference room and offices now occupy this space.
1938 The hurricane of 1938 blows the steeple off of the church, and also destroys the stained glass window on the Park Street side of the
Sanctuary. The window is replaced through a memorial contribution left by Miss Carrie Stone, and a decision is made not to replace the steeple.
1943 For several months during this year we were without a Pastor, and the Universalists invited us to hold our meetings with them. In July of the same year Reverend Kraft was called to our church and our country was still at war. The Baptist Church was without a Pastor as he had gone into the army as a chaplain. For three years we held joint services at their church, with our minister occupying the Pulpit.
1951 Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the church.
1953 Our present Chancel was built and dedicated.
1956 Fellowship Hall, the Kitchen, Sunday School Rooms, and the Nursery are built.
1957 The General Council of Congregational Christian Churches merge nationally with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ.
1957 Elm Street Congregational Church and the Congregational Religious Society, who were in charge of business and financial matters, incorporate as one organization and new by-laws are approved.
1960 Elm Street Congregational Church approves the Constitution of the United Church of Christ by a majority vote.
1967 Elm Street Congregational Church, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, and Sturbridge Federated Church form “Operation Friendship”.
1968 The Wrighton Fund is established by a bequest made by William J. and Christina R. Wrighton. This fund provides the church with significant funding each year.
1970 At the Annual Meeting of the church, a new constitution and bylaws are adopted.
1975 Southbridge native Gilbert Martin composes two hymns, “Fight the Good Fight”, and “Psalm of Gratitude”, and presents them to the Church.
1975 During the winter of 1975-76, the national energy crisis forces Worship services to be held in Fellowship Hall.
1981 Nancy Cook is elected as the first female Moderator of the church.
1984 The Office, Nursery, and Vestry are renovated.
1986 The Senior Youth Fellowship travels to Dunkirk, New York on a Mission trip.
1992 The Parsonage is renovated.
1993 The Sanctuary is painted, and the large screen which had been covering the organ pipes is removed.
1994 The Senior Youth Fellowship travels to Kentucky on a Mission trip.
1995 The church’s first computer is purchased.
1996 The original slate roof of the church is replaced.
2000 Elm Street Congregational Church votes to become part of the Southbridge Interfaith Hospitality Network.
2000 Church members Ken and Effie Beres compose a hymn, “Thank God for His Sustaining Grace” for our 200th Anniversary celebration.
2000 The bathrooms in Fellowship hall are completely renovated and made handicapped accessible, and energy efficient windows are installed throughout the building.
2001 Elm Street Congregational Church celebrates its 200th Anniversary.
2015 Elm Street Congregational Church begins a renewal under the Leadership of Pastor Chris, a Revitalization and Intentional Interim Pastor.
2015 Elm Street Congregational Church votes to allow gay marriage without restrictions. All are welcome!
2017 Elm Street Congregational Church votes to call Kathryn S. Light as the church’s next settled Pastor. The vote was unanimous.