Frontally-focused chapels of New England


Material Information

Frontally-focused chapels of New England
Physical Description:
52p. : photos.
Klingberg, Barbara A.
College of Architecure, University of Florida
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, FL
Publication Date:


General Note:
AFA HP document 153

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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All rights reserved by the source institution.
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Full Text

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The Tantucket

United Jlethodist Church

Church Telephone 228-0810

W E L C 0 M E
Visitors are most welcome and are requested to sign the Guest Book in the foyer. There s
Christian Fellowship, Fervor and Faith here we invite you to share. This is the House of
God, be Reverent, Thoughtful, and Prayerful. Whether your life be burdened or filled ,rth
joy, we pray God's Word will bring a message to your heart that will be of inspiration -rd
We covet the opportunity of introducing newcomers on Nantucket Island to such groups i c-r
Church as may be of special interest to them, and we welcome inquiries concerning Ch rch

riNaAAMa;B .t.^;rtMMail,. ".iiliM MM

Center Street Nethordl) t church
before 1 4.6

During the summer of 1981, as a student with the Preservation Institute:

Nantucket, I was a member of a survey team to document the Centre Street

Methodist Church on that island. The structure had been surveyed in 1969 by

an HABS team headed by Prof. F. Blair Reeves of the University of Florida

and our work in 1981 was to extend that Initial documentation to include

more detailed framing plans, flooring plans and attic details. The complete

report of the summer's work is available at the Peter Folger Museum Archives

on Nantucket and at the RECAP office in the College of Architecture, univer-

sity of Florida.

Our investigations led to some interesting discoveries and left many

more questions unanswered. It was to satisfy my own curiosity as to the

original plan of the chapel that I have continued my research. As a full

description of the summer's work has been written, I will summarize in this

paper only that which *s essential to this thesis and not include elaborate

descriptions of the Centre Street Methodist Church. Indeed, this research

involves a search for similar building plans and for a precedent for an

unusual church orientation, rather than the history of one building.

At first glance, the Centre Street Church appears to be one of many

Greek revival churches built in the first half of the 1800's, distinctive in

its exterior by the absence of a steeple. The gilt numerals on the pediment

announce the construction da-e as 1823, however, upon reading the short his-

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The modern p1an

tory printed on the back of the church bulletin, you find that 'Extensive

renovations were made in 1840 when the high pulpit, standing in the front of

the church, was translocated to the rear where it now stands, and the pews

turned to face it. A new gable roof was built right over the old one, and a
portico impressive with six Ionic pillars, was constructed.' The Trustees'

Reports document this 'modernization' stating that, after some discussion

concerning repairs to the deteriorating original porch, the members requested

that they 'alter the house on the outside and finish it in the style of the
atheneum' The Atheneum was the meetinghouse built a few blocks away in 1325,

by the Universalist congregation. The desire, fifteen years later, of the

Methodists for an equally impressive edifice perhaps reflects their increased

wealth and worldliness with the growth of the whaling industry.

Further reading of the Trustees' Records show that the 'translocation'

of the pulpit and the reversal of the pews did not occur until four years

later in 1844. Examinations of the flooring of the auditorium reveal that

the pews had originally been built integrally with the flooring, with the

side boards fitting into one inch slots between the aisle boards and the

pew flooring. The center back of each pew was braced with a tapered post

that fit into a hole in the floor. When the pews were reversed, the back

supports were cut off at the floor, the sides lifted out of their slots and

the entire pew turned around. There remain the marks of the pew locations in


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T'i. hy ipothetical 1323 plan

Left: Flooring pl.n *' the
church sihowinfF per, -rks from
1? 3 r-'v rned plan1

the flooring showing the original orientation. As described in the inter-

pretive report, through the discovery of several diagonal cuts and notches

in the flooring, as well as clear nailholes from square-cut nails running at

an angle across the wide boards, I was able to show that, in the original

plan, the pews on the outside walls and the pew floor boards had been angled

approximately 18 degrees facing toward the pulpit. The center section of

pews was set straight. There may have been elevated pews across the west end,

or perhaps there was a slight rake to the flooring, as there is a reference in
the records to making'the floor level by lowering the west end'. We were

unable to find any marks indicating the location of the 'lofty pulpit'. A

conjectured plan for the Centre Street Methodist Church is illustrated.

Aside from not being able to determine the exact interior plan, the real

question remaining was why the builder went to such trouble to orient the

interior so contrary to the normal church plan, only to have the congregation

reverse it just twentyone years later. Knowing that congregations frequently

copied other towns' churches, could there be other like plans in New England?

And how common was the construction of pews at an angle?

In a survey of churches built in New England at the beginning of the

19th century, I was easily able to find sixteen churches with the reversed

plan, although only two remain with their original orientation. The rest have

been subsequently modified. All but two of these churches were built between

1821 and 1830. There are probably a good many others that I could not find

due to limited resources. One of these churches was built by Isaac Damon,

two by Winthrop Clapp and three by David Hoadley, three noted architects in

New England at the time. Of Hoadley's churches Edmund Sinnott writes, 'In

most, the pulpit was originally placed at the entrance end of the church,

but before many years all had reversed this arrangement. It would be inte-

resting to know what Hoadley had in mind in connection with this feature.
Perhaps the idea was to discourage latecomers.' In an exhaustive two volume

account of the Connecticut meetinghouses, J. Frederick Kelly writes:

While the Congregational meetinghouse in New Preston (1824)
is the only remaining example wherein the pulpit is placed
against the vestibule wall of the audience room, this
arrangement originally existed in the Congregational meet-
inhouses in Derby (1821), Milford (1823), South Britian
(1825), Cheshire (1826), Southington (1828) and New Hartford
(1828). In some fourth-type structures [Mr. Kelly has
defined a typology for churches of the 18th and 19th
century.] such as these, wherein the customary arrangement
was reversed and the pulpit originally stood at the vesti-
bule end, there existed a small door-or even two doors-
at the far end of .the room, through which latecomers
could enter and occupy rear seats without being obliged
to face the assembled congregation and meet possibly
reproachful glances for their tardiness. 5

The points of view of the two authors seem to be contradictory; Mr. Sinnott

suggests that latecomers were to be discouraged, while Mr. Kelly indicates

that they were actually accomodated by the addition of extra doors. Either

explanation, I believe, misses the point that there is insufficient justifi-



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Which contains fifty pews on the first floor, and will accommodate about four
hundred people, which will be sufficiently large for most country parishes. The
front of the front gallery, is intended to come exactly over the partition, A.
The wall, including the cave cornice, is thirty three feet high. Make the eave
cornice about one twenty eighth part of thirty three feet; make the cornice to
the tower, about one twenty fifth part of the height, which is eleven inches;
make the cornice to the next story, which is an octagon, one twentieth part of
the height, which is nine inches. The cornice B, on plate twenty'seven, would
be proper for the eave cornice ; and D, on plate twenty six, for the cornice to
the tower. D, on plate twenty seven for the cornice to the next story.
The windows in the first story, are to contain twenty four panes of glass, often
by fifteen inches; second story, twenty eight panes of glass, ten by fifteen
inches.-This house may be built of wood, and on account of its simple plain-
ness, for a less sum of money, than houses of this sort usually are built.

J' ~II

Excerpts from the American Builder's Compnion
by Asher Benjamin

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Plat, 56 cation for major construction changes in the accommodation or discouragement

of tardy churchgoers, who could have, in fact, climbed the stairs in the

vestibule to sit in the galleries without disturbing the proceedings. At

any rate, the reversed church plan is presented as an aberation; perhaps

these churches should be referred to as 'frontally-focused', and should be

examined as a type reflective of a different emphasis of participation of

the congregation.

Before describing these frontally-focused churches, it is perhaps

necessary to present the typical church building of the beginning of the

19th century. As illustrated in Asher Benjamin's American Builder's Compa-

nion, the broader-than-long meetinghouse of the 18th century, with the en-

trance on one long side and the pulpit opposite has been replaced by what

is considered a normal church plan. This change coincides historically with

the separation of church and state which allowed congregations to build their

i own church buildings not intended for community use as town meetinghouses.

The projecting entrance bay, usually with three doors and three windows,

opens onto a vestibule, which contains two stairs to the galleries. The audi-

torium is entered by two or three doors opposite the aisles which lead to the

pulpit on the opposite end. There is frequently an elaborate pulpit window

on that end. The 'lofty' pulpit was usually raised up to the level of the

galleries so that there was good visual contact to the back of the galleries.

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(The later lowering of the pulpits has rendered most galleries useless, and

several churches lowered their galleries at the same time as their pulpits.)

The galleries were usually on three sides; the gallery above the vestibule,

the orchestra, accomodated the choir who sang with or without musical accom-

paniment. Long 'slips' had,in most instances, replaced the earlier square

'pews', which had in their turn, replaced backless benches or 'forms'. Slips

were hereafter referred to as pews. Most churches had a center section of

pews as well as side pews along the outside walls, although some smaller

churches had only center pews with the aisles along the walls. Most center

pews were divided in the middle with a board or 'rail' to separate the men

from the women, although family members usually sat together.

Following are descriptions of the sixteen frontally-focused churches.

The vague nature of most of the accounts reflects the general lack of records

and documentation of the original plans before they were altered. The churches

in order of construction are as follows:

Methodist Church, Tolland, Conn., 1794
Preston Baptist Church, Preston, Conn., 1812
First Congregational Church, Derby, Conn,. 1821
Meetinghouse, Weathersfield Center, Vermont, 1821
Centre Street Methodist Church, Nantucket, Mass., 1823
Congregational Church, Blandford, Mass., 1823
Congregational Church, Milford,Conn., 1823
Methodist Church, Deerfield, Mass., 1824
Old Congregational Church, New Preston Hill, Conn., 1824
Congregational Church, South Britian, Conn,, 1825
First Congregational Church, Cheshire, Conn., 1826
Congregational Church, North Amhurst, Mass., 1826

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'New Preston, Conn.

Second Congregational Church, North Cornwall, Conn., 1826
North Congregational Church, New Hartford, Conn., 1828
The Road Church, Stonington, Conn., 1829
First Congregational Church, Southington, Conn., 1830

OLD CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, N1W PRESTON, CONN., 1824, Theodore Cadwell, Builder

'In the audience room, an arrangement exists that is now
unique in Connecticut, for the pulpit is placed at the
entrance end of the room, between the two doors opening
from the vestibule. Consequently, the seats face the
front of the building.' 6

In 1823, a designated committee reported to the 'Society of Newpreston'

that 'having examined the Meeting house & find it in such a decayed State

that in our opinion it is not prudent for this Society to expend any con-

siderable sum in repairs of said house'. A committee was chosen on June 5

of that year to provide a suitable plan for a new meetinghouse. They

reported back later that month,' we are decidedly of an opinion that the

plan of Warren Meeting house as taken by our Rev P. & now ready to be laid

before this Meeting is preferable to any that we have seen or can devise
with few exceptions'. It is this building, contracted in Dec. 1823, that

remains with its frontally-focused interior. The contracted builder, Theo-

dore Cadwell of Windsor, Cornn,, was c!hr:.1d to build,

for the Society a Meeting house 44 by 54 feet with a steeple
annexed the walls of which to be of stone not less than
eighteen inches thick & twenty four feet high handsomely
faced and pointed the space between the stone in the walls
of the house in no place to exceed one Inch the Steeple


Above The pulpit from the rear

Rights The auditorium front the
vestibule entry next to the

Nw Freston floor plan

above the eve of the house & the Gable at the Steeple end
to be Clapboarded or ceiled at the option of the Committee
the opposite end to be carried up with stone... The Steeple
Fane & Lightning Rod and Pulpit to resemble those of Warren
Meeting house & not inferior in point of Style & Workmanship,
and said Cadwell further engages that the long aisles & the
one in front of the Pulpit & Pulpit Stairs shall be floored
with yellow Pine & Matched, the walls of the house to be
sealed as high as the Windows, with Pine, the Slips with
same except the capping, which is to be of Butternut, & he
is to paint all the woodwork throughout except the roof &
Seats such colour as said Committee shall direct 9

Later Mr. Cadwell was directed to 'dispense with the center aisle', to build
the wall pews 'straight with the house...even with the front of the gallery'.

The plan shows three sections of pews, straight with the body of the

house. The pulpit, reportedly not original (It is not at all like the

Warren pulpit which does still exist.), stands before an arched recess in the

vestibule wall, trimmed on both sides with pilasters. The gallery is three

sided with a flat front, coffered and trimmed with a modified dental course.

There is no secondary entry at the rear of the auditorium for the hypotheti-

cal 'latecomers'. There was quite a bit of debate around 1850 about the

possibility of tearing down the church to build anew, but luckily there was

so much controversy that a splinter group broke off, built their own church

and the older structure was left intact. The interior was renovated in 1962;1

the accompanying photographs however are from an 1948 publication.

The repeated references to the suitability of the Warren Meetinghouse

plan sug-ests that possibly it too was of the frontally- focused type.

0 1/0 / Z0 25
*F I E *

Warren, Conn. floor plan and pulpit


(The 1824 New Preston church was not modeled after the earlier meetinghouse

in the same city as there are accounts that the earlier meetinghouse was a

typical 18th century type with the entrance on a long side and the pulpit

opposite the door.) Indeed the plan of the Warren church is very similar to

the New Preston church plan. Warren Congregational Church was built in 1819
with 'Pews on the walls of the House, and Slips in the Body of the house',

but the pews were replaced or rearrafiged in 1822, one year before the New

Preston committee report. It is not clear if the committee then was enamored

with the 1819 plan or the 1822 one, if indeed the reference was to the inte-r

rior at all. The floor of the Warren sanctuary was raised and the pulpit

lowered in 1859 and at that time the old pews were removed and new ones in-
stalled. Although the present seating can offer few clues, the curved wall

of the vestibule strongly suggests the frontal focus. The pulpit window

over the present pulpit is referred to by Mr. Kelly as a 'modern renovation'

and does not necessarily indicate the original pulpit location.

IKTHODIST CHURCH, DEERFI D, MASS., 1824, Winthrop Clapp, architect

'at Deerfield, the pulpit is still at the vestibule
end of the church' 14

The brick church in Deerfield, Mass., built by a Methodist congregation,

but now owned by the Unitarian church, is the only other remaining frontally-

focused interior in New England. With a center aisle and box pews against

the walls, the plan is very similar to that early plan described for the


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Auditorium and modern pulpit, Deerfield, Mass.

Right above: North Amhurst, Mass.
below: Blandford, Mass

A' Warren meetinghouse. The original pulpit, cut down to a lower height than it

",7 .l-' awas originally built can be seen in a photograph from an 1914 publication.

'In a letter to me, Mr. David Proper, librarian of the Memorial Libraries of

Historic Deerfield, states, "Originally the pulpit was on the level of the
balcony, but some fifty years later it was partially lowered, The building

was surveyed in 1959 for the Historic American Buildings Survey and the pulpit

is shown in the lowered position. It is interesting to note on the HABS

plan, the location of the original door to the pulpit, now closed, and compare

it to the other similar church plans. The architect of the Deerfield church

was Winthrop Clapp, a student of the more prominent Isaac Damon. Clapp

also designed the Congregational Church in North Amhurst, hass. (1826) as a

j frontally-focu:ed church, and his teacher Damon, designed the Blandford,

Mass. Congregational Church with the same reversed orientation.

CONGRHEATIONAL CHURCH, NORTH AMHURST, MASS., 1826, Winthrop Clapp, architect

'In 1842 the interior was remodeled and the pulpit moved
from the entrance end to the one opposite' 16


S'Near the old pulpit recess at the front of the church
.(the pulpit was later moved to the rear) stands a massive
church viol with strings a quarter of an inch thick, once
the only musical instrument tolerated at a meetinghouse' 17

& f h. I could not locate a plan for this church but expect it to be very

3 / i i 5
CongregationalChurch,Milford Conn
CongregationalChurch, Milford,Conn,

similar to the Deerfield church. The reference to the church viol is inte-

resting in that there was great controversy at the dedication of the Centre

Street Methodist Church in 1823, when 'an innocent violincello, which was

prepared for the occasion, was ignominiously lugged by the neck from the
orchestra, deemed unfit for use, and thrown among the rubbish'. The choir

was forced to sing unaccompanied.

CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, MILFORD, CONN., 1823, David Hoadley, architect

'In 1826, an addition of 15 feet was made at the rear where
the pulpit now stands, having been moved from its original
position just inside the doors.' 19

'galleries surround the room on the east, south and west
sides. The side galleries are original, but that across
the southern end of the room was built when the original
north gallery was removed.' 20


'The floor of the auditorium, originally sloping down
toward the pulpit and doors, has now been leveled.' 21

'Originally the pulpit stood at the eastern end of the
audience room, opposite its present position. It stood
on columns, about eight feet above the floor and was
reached by a flight of stairs...the pulpit in Milford,
originally occupied a similar position, against the rear
wall of the vestibule and between the two doors opening
into the audience room... previously to 1857 a choir
gallery is said to have extended across the western end
of the audience room directly above the present pulpit.' 22

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First Congregational Church, Cheshire, Cnnn.

,',qirgre national Church, Avon, Conn.

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'As originally built, the pulpit was placed against the
western or vestibule end of the audience room, and the
seats faced the opposite way from the present arrangement.
Also there were galleries an all four sides of the room,
the western gallery occupying the space over the vesibule,
In 1849, this arrangement was changed, by removing the
gallery at the eastern end, placing the pulpit there,
and turning the seats about so that they faced it.' 23

A comparison of the plans of the three churches by Hoadley shows a

striking similarity among them. In contrast to the Mass. churches by Damon

and Clapp, the vestibule wall is straight, not curved. There are rear doors

on each of the plans that open onto later additions, but it is not clear if

they were original, The three churches all had galleries on four sides

including the space over the vestibule, with the gallery at the rear being

removed at the time of alterations in order to position the pulpit in its

stead. It is curious that the straight vestibule wall and the curved-front

galleries are like those in the Nantucket church.

Although it is definite that Hoadley's United Church in New Haven (1814)
was built with the typical plan, as was his earlier church in Orange, Conn.,

it is entirely possible that his other churches in Norfolk, Avon and Guilford,

Conn. were all of the frontally-focused type. The plan of the Avon church

is more closely related to Damon's and Clapp's churches and it is possible

that Hoadley's earlier designs were influencing their work even as he was

moving to a slightly different plan. There is a monograph on Hoadley written


First Congregational Church, Southington, Conn.

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by George Dudley Seymour which I have not as yet been able to obtain, which
may shed some light on Hoadley's intent.

PRESTON BAPTIST CHURCH, PRESTON, CONN., 1812, unknown architect

'renovated 1860, pulpit moved from front to rear' 26

Mr. Sinnott classifies this church as a type III, transitional church,

with the main entry on an end through the base of a separate tower. There

were no plans readily available.


'The pulpit is at the front, under the steeple.' 27

In reply to my inquiries, Mrs. Robinson D. Bullard, President of the

Trustees for the First Congregational Church of Weathersfield wrote:

Our Meeting House which was built by the Congregational
Society in 1821 after the original structure burned was
also very much changed in 1852. The original building
did have a layout similar to the one you describe in
your letter. However, the Ladies of the Society received
permission to put in a ceiling in the building so that the
public could use the downstairs hall for meetings etc. and
the upstairs was for the Sanctuary. Therefore our pulpit
is now to the rear of the upstairs portion, and I know of
noone who would have sketches, pictures, etc. of the
original set-up of theHall when'it was used for public
worship, as well as meetings.' 28

MeetinFhouFe, Weathersfield Center, Vermont


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Above and left
First Congregational Church*
Derby, Conn.

Right: Congregational Church,
South Britian, Conn,






'The pulpit stood where the middle door to the vestibule
is now, and was a high affair with a curved flight of
stairs on each side.' 29

Although the architect of the church in Derby is unkown, the exterior

has a very striking front portico with two pairs of Ionic columns at each

side. The original orientation of the interior is alluded to in the church

records of alterations made in 1847, specifying:

removal of east gallery
new gallery above vestibule
move pulpit to east
turning of pews 30

The records detail the layout of the galleries in the original plan, '& on

the East end of sd House a Gallery not exceeding six feet in width framed in

such a manner as that the front of sd Gallery may be finished to a circular
or elliptical line & supported by suitable pillars'. There was no organ

in the gallery above the vestibule as it was reported that the 'Venetian
windows' were visible over the front door from the seats.

CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, SOUTH BRITIAN, CONN., 1825, Winton and Hall, builders

An excerpt from the contract with Winton and Hall, 'Carpenters and Joiners'

dated Feb 9, 1825 reads as follows:

The pulpit in the front or steeple end like that in Derby,
and to be built in the same style with like stairs. The
galleries to be like those in Derby except that the parti-
tion in hack of the pulpit is to be carried clear up and

* F L T

Left: South Britian, Conn.

Below: Second Congregational Church,
North Cornwall, Conn.



there are to be five spaces to go from the fron [sic]
seat back to the outside space.
The floors in the church to be laid with oak lined and
to be plained in the aisles and to rise one half inch
in a foot.
Slips to be like those in Derby & the floor of the slips
raised four inches above the aisles. 33

The reference to the partition behind the pulpit being 'carried clear

up' is interesting considering the mention of the Palladian window visible

in the Derby church. Perhaps the South Britian congregation was not interested

in the view. The aisles were apparently raked with the pews raised above the

aisles, as were several other churches of this type. The plan was reversed

in 1869 when the rear gallery was also removed and a new gallery built out
from the vestibule end.


'The original pulpit is said to have been very elaborate.
It was a lofty structure, reached by two flights of stairs,
one of which was on each side. It stood originally between
the two doors at the eastern or vestibule end of the audience
room... The seats originally faced these doors, so that what
was then the rear of the room ia now the front. The floor
was slightly elevated toward the western end, in order that
the occupants of the rear seats could see over the heads of
those in front.' 35

This church, built by a splinter group from the first Congregational

Society, was designed and built by Hiram Vail, who had done the carpenter
on a church in ":haron a few years before. The other builders at Sharon had

just come from buildinpr the church in Warren which was the model for the


0 5 /0 /S ZO 5
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North Congregational Church,
New Hartford,Conn.

New Preston church. The church in Sharon seems to have been of the typical

plan. In a report to the deacons, Nov 7, 1825, the layout of the church was

planned as follows:

from this vestibule two doors open into the body of
the house and that the Body of the House be divided by
an aisle leading [sic] from each door to the opposite
[sic] end of the House each 3 feet wide that on the
outside of the Aisles there be one row and between the
Aisles there be two rows of slips making in all about
52 of about 3 feet in length. That the gallery be about
7 feet wide with two seats on a side and a narrow space
back of the seats. That the desk be in the front end
of the Body of the House and that the seats in the
Gallery extend in a circular form back of the desk and
to rise considerably one above the other as they extend
back into the steeple. The whole is to be done in
modern stile [sic] and fashion. 37

The church was drastically altered when the seats were turned in 1926.

The slightly curved vestibule wall is the only indication of the original

frontal focus,
The 'Road Church'
.tonington, Conn. NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, NEW HARTFORD, CONN. 1828, unknown architect

'In 1850 the church edifice was renovated and remodeled,
the pulpit, which formerly was on the east end, under the
singers' gallery, was removed to the west end of the room,
fronting the entrance and the choir. The high backed pews
were cut down; the floor, which formerly rose on an in-
cline of some two feet east to west, was leveled.' 38

( 1- ". THEi ROAD CHURCH (COIGRHEATIONAL), STONINGTON, CONN., 1829, unknown architect

S i 'The pulpit is next to the entrance, and the floor slopes
up from it to the rear.' 39

Methodist Church

) W
t-~ O(L~i "oh

~=~~fl~muunTflI.r r

4~I A A .1 flt~O~p j

M~ETHODIST CHURCH, TOLLAND, CONN., 1794, unknown architect

This tiny delapidated church in northeastern Conn. was built under the

direction of Jesse Lee, the circuit riding founder of Methodism in New Eng-

land. In his memoirs on Oct 11, 1974 he wrote, 'We rode to Tolland and
preached on our meetinghouse.' The Rev. Lee was apparently very active

in encouraging his new congregations to build their own meetinghouses. The

church in Tolland had a small vestibule with a gallery above; stairs to the

gallery rose from within the audience room. There were reportedly two aisles

with center pews and side pews. According to Mr. Kelly who has carefully

documented the structure (sometime before 1948; it is doubtful that the church

is still standing), 'the outlines of the seats, plainly visible on the dado

of the side walls, show beyond any doubt that the slips faced toward the
vestibule end of the building.'


1 Ii r -
I I HI II I'I \\


First Methodist preaching house in Boston, 179-
First Methodist preaching house in Boston, 1795

lesse Lee preaching under "the old elm" on Boston Common,

July 11, 1790.

-- -' t ;

The first Methodist Church at Lynn,
Massachusetss, 1791.

I did note that, as I was investigating the different churches, especially

those in Conn., there was occasional conflict as to the denomination of some

of the churches commonly referred to as congregational. It seemed that seve-

ral of them were built by splinter groups from the original towns' congrega-

tions. For example, the United Church, Congregational in New Haven, built

by David Hoadley was built for a group called the 'New Light', affiliated
with the Methodists through their teacher Rev. Whitefield from Savannah.

Originally a town's meetinghouse was paid for by community taxes and served

several denominations as well as for town meetings. After the turn of the

19th century and the separation of church and state was made legal, church

buildings were no longer supported by taxes, meaning that there could be more

than one church within a township.

Since the Congregational Church was the established church in New England

from the beginning, it is to be expected that most churches built even after

the beginning of the century would be Congregational. There were very few

Methodist churches built; of the 509 churches built before 1830 still standing

in New England listed by Edmund Sinnott, only nine- including the Nantucket

church- are listed as having originally been Methodist. They are in Readfield,

taine (1795), West Durham, Maine(1804), Newport, Rhode Island (1806), Bridgton,

raine (1811), Munroe, Conn.(1815),Naatucket, Mass. (1823), Wilmington, Vermont

(1825), -outhwick, iMass. (1826) and Readfield Corner Maine (1827). To that

Old Beech Hill Church, Granville, Massachusetts. In 1798
half of the New England Conference met here, the other
half meeting in Maine.

esse Lee Memorial Church, Last Rcadfield, Maine, 1795.

list I can add Deerfield, Mass (1824), Tolland, Conn. (1794), Lynn,Mass.(1791),

Boston, Mass. (1795), and Granville, Mass. (1798). Of the sixteen frontally-

focused churches identified, three of them were definitely built be Methodists

and several others by splinter groups or combined congregations. Of the group

built by the Methodists largely under the direction of Jesse Lee, we know that

the Tolland Methodist Church was frontally focused. Another church sponsored

by Lee was the Methodist Church in Readfield, Maine (1795), of which he wrote:

I tarried in town Readfield all day; and went in to
look at our meetinghouse. It is almost covered in.
Through my influence, the people began this house last
summer, and it is now nearly ready to preach in. It is
the first Methodist meetinghouse ever built in the Pro-
vince of Maine. I expect we shall see Methodism greatly
spreading in these parts before long. 43

Notes from the records of the church state, 'turned 1857. Two galleries
removed.'; the church had already been moved and remodeled in 1824. It is

entirely possible that the small church could have been similar to the church

in Tolland. Jesse Lee was involved in the building of the churches in Lynn,

Boston and Granville and possibly also in Monmouth and Easton, where he at

least planned to build. On Christmas Day in Monmouth he held services after

which he wrote in his journal:

This is the first time the Methodists ever communed in
this town. Then I gave the friends some advice about
building a meetinghouse in this place. I hope they will
pay attention to it. 45

f .

Headfield, Maine

Early the next year in Easton he wrote,

We then consulted about building a meetinghouse, and
determined to build it in the lower part of Easton, near
Bridgewater, as soon as possible. The people seem to be
in good spirits about it, though they are but poor. 46

It is interesting also that most of the Congregational churches built with

the frontal focus are in towns on Jesse Lee's circuit where he was repeatedly

welcomed with large congregations.

Lee tried to go to Nantucket in Feb, 1795, but was turned back by a win-
ter storm and instead spent a week on Martha's Vineyard. The Center Street

Methodist Church bulletin dates the beginning of Methodism on Nantucket to a
later visit by Jesse Lee in April of 1797.

The general attitude however of most texts on the New England meetinghouse

is that the Methodist Church contributed very little of note. Edmund Sinnott

There are few old Methodist church buildings in New
England, and only one, perhaps, for its historical
interest, deserves mention here. This is the church
at Readfield, Maine, built in 1795 and dedicated in that
year by Jesse Lee, the indefatigable propogator of Metho-
dism. This simple building was moved in 1824, and has
been much altered. It is of no architectural interest. 49

Not being able to leave it at that, turning to England and the growth of

Methodism under John Wesley, I discovered several aspects of Methodist church

building that are significant. First was the emphasis placed by John Wesley

himself on the importance of building suitable houses for preaching. Wesley

preferred, an octagonal church plan for various reasons including ease in con-


The Independent Octagon,
Norwich (1756).

Heptonstall, Yorks. ( 764).
(froi-m an old piinl)

St. John's, Arbroath,
Scotland (1772).
(and brelo:)

Plan of the Independent Octagon,

Yarm Octagon



M or ijnal. IM Ltr dJJi'flbns.

' if

The 'Round Church'
Richmond, Vermont

struction, economy of form (You could ctowd more people in), and excellent

acoustical properties. Although not many octagonal churches were built, even

in England, there was built in 1812 in Richmond, Vermont, a sixteen-sided

'Round Church', William Rhodes built the church for five congregations inclu-
ding the Methodists. When churches were not built octagonally, Wesley spe-

cified that they be rectangular with a length to width ratio of 21:18; most

frontally-focused churches in New England closely conform to this ratio.

The first Methodists were still very much involved in the Church of Eng-

landl while attending the Methodist meetings for instruction and preaching,

they returned to their parish churches for communion and other services. The

Lord's Supper was not performed in the early Methodist church as the organi-

zers did not want to totally separate themselves from the established religion.

The altar was not provided for in the Primitive Methodist church; the meeting

houses were for society meetings, preaching and discussion, It was also very

much against the law to practice any religion other than the Anglican and the

Methodists were under great pressure not to build meetinghouses that would

make them appear to be a separate church. There is a story of a group build-

ing what appeared to be two townhouses next to each other, when in fact there

were no interior partitions and no party wall between. Saying that they wanted

to roof the building before bad weather set in, they quickly converted the
the space for a meetinghouse before anyone was the wiser. Perhaps in this

I r Ir
czzzzzn cL\rz ~

COLNE OLD CHAPEL, LANCS (1777). 1S. :i _

THE OLD CHAPEL, PA I H A ,A LANCS. (751.) (Recnictd,).
Built, 61d j +terwds uVWd o two dwCli/i< houses.

conscious effort not to built traditional churches, there were built in the

north of England, several meetinghouses with the preaching pulpit just in-

side the two front doors. (The two doors were separate entrances for men and

women) There are two of these churches in Lancaster illustrated in The

Architectural Expression of Methodism by George W. Dolbey. Mr. Thomas Shaw,

author of a paper 6n Methodist churches in the Wesley Historic Society

Minutes, has indicated to me that there are quite a few others in the north

of England.

One comment I can make, and that is that in this country
it was a Primitive Methodist custom to arrange the church
with an entrance into its interior on either side of the
pulpit. This is what I commonly found in the north of
England years ago, and when I came to Cornw] I found one
of the comparatively few down here arranged in the same
way. Mr. Dolbey might confirm this. 52

I have written to George Dolbey concerning this but have not yet received

a reply. It does seem entirely possible that as Methodism was brought to the

colonies in the first half of the 18th century when still very much a contro-

versial religion, and not separated from the mother church, the frontally-

focused tradition came with it. Methodism was first established in the south-

ern states from its landing in Savannah, and in its introduction into New

England, the Methodists suffered many of the same persecutions that occurred

earlier in England.. ost Methodist services were held in private homes or

borrowed spaces- even in open fields or town commons- until the earliest

houses were built. Unfortunately there is little record of these early meet-


Carver Street, Sheffield (1804).



'T'he Mint', ixeter, England

ing houses; it is fortunate that we have a record of the Tolland Methodist

Chruch. At this time, if communion was served, it was served on a flipped-

up table attached to the Deacons' pew. Soon after most congregations became

established enough to build their own houses, the Methodist Church became

generally accepted as a proper religion. With that acceptance, came a new

formalization and the reemphasis of the communion service as part of the

religious experience. The frontally-focused churches, a holdover from the

primitive attitudes, were converted in short order to a more suitable con-

ventional plan.

There is another strong connection to the English Methodist organization

which especially relates to the Nantucket church and to the churches of David

Hoadley. That is the design of the four-sided oval gallery. The Methodist

city churches in London and other major English cities, built at the same

period- late 1700's and early 1800's, all have the oval gallery. One of the

best examples is The Mint, in Exeter, built in 1812,as is the City Road Chapel

in London. The plan of The Mint, except for the orientation, is very similar

to the Centre Street Methodist Church, including the angled side pews. The

Conference of 1790 actually directed that 'all preaching houses are to be

built in the futLure upon the same plan as the London or Bath Chapels', two
prototypical city churches.

I am not certain as to the significance of the Congregational churches

built with the frontally-focused plan. A major premise of the Congregational

Church is that each congregation is a self-governing body; there was less of

an interdependence on each other and on a major church organization directing

building activity. Like the Methodists, the Congregationalists were also

mainly concerned with preaching, and in some communities, especially in

Connecticut where Jesse Lee's influence was most strongly felt, the congrega-

tionsmay have decided that the deemphasis of the altar in the frontally-

focused plan wa: more to their liking.

With the religious rebirth that occurred in the first half of the 19th

century,and the acceptance of diverse denominations and their right to prac-

tice in their own churches, more formal traditional attitudes placed the altar

back in its celebrated position opposite the entry, The frontally-focused

churches were converted and forgotten...Perhaps a few habitual latecomers

breathed a sigh of relief,

fo Dh

from David Hoadley's church at Milford


1. From the bulletin of the Centre Street Methodist Church, Nantucket, Mass.
The entire history is reprinted in the Appendix to this paper.
2. Trustees' Records,June 13, 1840.
3. Ibid, Aug, 12 1844.
4. Sinnott, Edmund W., The Meetinghouse and Church in Early New England, p.102.
5. Kelly, J. Frederick, Early Connecticut Neetinghouses, Vol 1., p. xl.
6. Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 59.
7. Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 54.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid, Vol. 2, p.55.
10. Ibid, Vol. 2, p.56.
11. Sinnott, Op.cit., p. 125.
12. Kelly, Op. cit., Vol 2, p.248.
13. Ibid., Vol 2, p. 249.
14. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 109.
15. From a letter to me from Mr. David Proper, Deerfield, Mass. included in
the appendix to this paper.
16. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 119.
1. Ibid, p. 108.
18, Inquirer and Mirror, Sept. 30, 1823.
19. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 103.
20. Kelly, Op. cit., Vol.1, p. 313.
21. Sinnott, Loc. cit..
22. Kelly, Op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 87.
23. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 220.
24. Ibid., Vol. 2, pp.3,I19.
25. David Hoadley 1774-1839; the Self-Taught Architect of Waterbury, by George
Dudley Seymour, was privately printed in 1928.
26. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 215.
27. Ibid., p. 85.
28. From a letter to me from Mrs. Hobinson D. Bullard, Weathersfield Center,
Vermont, included in the Appendix.
29. Kelly, Op. cit, Vol. 1, p. 99.
30. Ibid., 'ol. 1, p. 100.
31. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 97.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 204.
34. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 205.
35. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 82.

36. Ibid..
37. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 81.
38. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 329.
39. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 124.
40. Thrift, Minton, Memoir of the Rev. Jesse Lee, p. 197.
41. Kelly, Op. cit., Vol 2, p. 232.
42. Ibid., Vol 2, p.35.
43. Thrift, Op. cit., p. 203.
44. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 217.
45, Thrift, O p cit., p. 210.
46. Ibid., p. 214.
47. Ibid., pp. 211-213.
48. From the Centre Street Methodist Church bulletin included in the Appendix.
49. Sinnott, Op. cit., p. 199.
50. Ibid., pp. 126-127.
51. Dolbey, George W., The Architectural Expression of Methodism, p.
52, From a letter to me from the Rev. Thomas Shaw, Cornwall, England, included
the the Appendix.
53. Shaw, Rev. Thomas, 'The Methodist Chapel Interior (1739-1839) in Relation
to Contemporary Church Arrangement' in the Proceedings of the Wesly' Historic
Society, Sept.1959, po 56.


from David Hoadley's church at Milford



1. Benjamin, Asher, The American Builders Companion, reprint of 1827 edition,
New York, Dover Publications Inc., 1969.

2. Chruch, Leslie F., The Early Methodist People, London, The Epworth Press,
especially the chapter 11; 'The Homeless and their Chapel

3. Clark, Elmer T., An Album of Methodist History, New York, Abingdon-
Cokesbury Press, 1952.
an excellent pictoral record including many old Methodist

4. Dolbey, George W., The Architectural Expression of Methodism, The First
Hundred Years, London, The Epworth Press, 1964.

5. Donnelly, Mariam Card, The New England MeetingHouse of the Seventeenth
Century, Middletown, Conn., Wesleyan University Press, 1968.

E. Embury II, Aymar, Early American Churches, Garden City, New York,
Doubleday, Page and Company, 1914.
includes the best interior photographs of any reference
encountered despite its age.

7. Kelly, J. Frederick, Early Connecticut Meetinrghouses, Being an Account
of the Church edificess Built Before 1830 Based Chiefly upon Town and
Parish Records, in two Volumes, New York, Columbia University Press, 1948.
if only there was equally thorough documentation available
from the other New England states...

8. Lathrop, Elise, Old New England Churches, Rutland,Vermont, Tuttle
Publishing Co. Inc., 1939.
a collection of fragmented historical anecdotes interesting
but less informative architecturally.

9. Ritson, Joseph, The Romance of Primitive Methodism, London, Primitive
Methodist Publishing House, 1909.

10. Shaw, Thomas,'The Methodist Chapel Interior (1739-1839) in Relation
to Contemporary Church Arrangement' in the Proceedings of the Wesley
Historic Society, Vol. XXXII Part Three, Sept. 1959, pp 53-58.

11. Sinnott, Edmund W.,Meetinghouse and Church in Early New England, Jerauld
A. Manter, Photographic Collaborator, New York, Bonanza Books, 1963.

12. Thrift, Minton, Memoir of the Rev. Jesse Lee, with extracts from his
Journals, first published in New York, N, Bangs and"T. Masson publishers,
1823, reprinted New York, Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969.

13. Wakeley, Rev. JB., Lost Chapters Recovered from the Early History of
American Methodism, New York, privately printed for the author, 1858.
includes excellent lithographs






Methodism on Nantucket traces its origin to the year George Washington left
the presidency, 1796. Jesse Lee, a great pioneering Methodist, came to the island
in April, 1797, and preached sixteen sermons in eighteen days. The following year
the Reverend Joseph Snelling came from Martha's Vineyard and, for lack of a suf-
ficiently large room, he held open air meetings on Mill Hill. Many were converted.
The Reverend Mr. Snelling was followed by the Reverend William Beauchamp who
organized the first Methodist Society on July 25, 1799, with nineteen charter mem-
bers. Several months later, on January first, 1800, he dedicated the first Methodist
Episcopal Church on Fair Street.

Increasing membership during the succeeding years made the erection of a new
building imperative. Accordingly, the present building was erected in 1823, with the
sanctuary seating 1,000 persons. Extensive improvements were made in 1840 when
the high pulpit, standing in the front of the church, was translocated to the rear
where it now stands, and the pews turned to face it. A new gable roof was built
right over the old one, and a portico impressive with six Ionic pillars, was con-

An interesting episode in connection with the history of this church occurred
during the Great Fire of 1846 in which one third of the town was swept away. While
the fire was furiously advancing toward the church orders had been given to dynamite
the building in order to check the fire. As the kegs of powder were being brought,
Maria Mitchell heard of the plan and ascended the steps of the church and, facing
the group of men with folded arms, defied them to carry out their plan. At that in-
stant, the wind changed its course and the church with the rest of the town was
saved. Maria, of course, became a heroine.

The simplicity and strength of the design reflect the sturdy character and
masculine reverence of the sea-faring men who built this church. The ceiling is
supported by 12 x 12 timbers 60 feet long. The secret of its beauty lies in its
sturdy simplicity. That quality is seen in the deep paneling of the balconies, the
single wide board that forms the pew back, and the mahogany top-rail that has no
intricate carving but ends in a graceful swirl design. The paneled door of each pew,
so quaintly reminiscent of another era, originally served the practical purpose of
holding in the heat of the foot warmers provided by each pew-holder. The owners
also had individually designed hymn book racks and arm rests installed in their

Of historic interest is the Appleton Pipe Organ, one of Five known organs of
Colonial times in continual use today.

During the summer of 1949 the church observed its 150th anniversary. For this
occasion extensive improvements were made.. The entire interior of the sanctuary
was redecorated, and a new carpeting was laid, The "Upper Room" was also re-
painted, which is now a beautiful place to worship.

In the new church activities center can be seen the original beams which were
hand hewn and brought here on whaling ships. The Society has been in continuous
operation since 1799, and the building is one of Methodism's historic churches. A short history of the Centre Street
Anyone caring to contribute to the preservation of this shrine may do so by making Methodist Church printed on the church
a check payable to The Board of Trustees. llet

14, Lanmoor Est.,
TR16 6HN
26 x 81

Teear Miss Klingberg,
I pm interested in your research but I am afraid I cannot
give ydn any further information on the subject than was
contained in my article. It is just possible that Ir.
Dolbey can. If you haven't already contacted him, his present
address is:
Rev. G.W. Dolbey, h.A., B.D.,
17, Rutland Road,
Hazel Grove,

Methodist architecture has been his special interest over
the years. My article was the result of a single foray into
the subject.
One comment I can make, and that is that in this country
it was a Primitive Methodist custom to arrange the church
with an entrance into its interior on either side of the
pulpit. This is what I commonly found in the north of
England years ago, and when I came to Cornwall I found one
of the comparatively few down here arranged in the same way.
Mr. Dolbey might confirm this.

Yours sincerely, /49m.

Weathersfield Center, Vermont

Miss. Barbara A. Klingberg October 20, 1981
1530 NW 4th Ave. Apt. 16
Gainesville, Florida 32603

Dear Miss. Klingberg:

Our Meeting House which was built by the Congregational Society in 1821
after the original wooden structure burned was also very much changed
in 1852.

The original building did have a layout similar to the one you describe
in your letter. However, the Ladies of the Society received permission
to put in a ceiling in the building so that the public could use the
downstairs hall for meetings etc. and the upstairs was for the Sanctuary.
Therefore, our pulpit is now to the rear of the upstairs portion, and I
know of noone who would have sketches, pictures etc. of the original
set-up of the Hall when it was used for public worship, as well as

I am sorry not to be of more help.


a e B. Bullard, Pres.
(M. Robinson D.)



October 20, 1981

Dear Ms. Klingberg:

Your letter addressed to the Minister of the Unitarian
Church has been given to our Library for a reply.

Enclosed we are sending you photocopy of the Historic
American Buildings Survey drawings showing the location of
the pulpit in the 1824 Brick First Church of Deerfield.
This unusual plan for an interior was evidently used in other
church constructions. Originally the pulpit was on the level
of the balcony, but some fifty years later it was partially

We hope that this information will assist you in the
study of the interior of the Center Street Methodist Church
in Nantucket.

Yours sincerely,

DRP:P David R. Proper, Librarian
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
Library and Henry N. Flynt Library of
Historic Deerfield, Inc.

Ms. Barbara A. Klingberg
1530 NW 4th Avenue, Apt. 16
Gainesville, Florida 32603