Wolcott Historical Society News - April 2009
By Florence Goodman
In this edition I will conclude the series of historic structures found on or around the Town Green: the Congregational Church, and the Wolcott Grange.
On November 18, 1773, 30 members of the Farmingbury Society signed the "Covenant of Confederation," which was the beginning of Parish Church. Joseph Atkins granted a two-acre site for the church on June 8, 1772, and the "Original Meeting House" was built in 1772/73. Abraham Wooster was hired as the master carpenter. It was voted that the building should be "48 feet long and 36 feet wide, to be boarded and clapboarded with drent oak and shingled with chestnut." The siding was painted white and the roof was painted red. The members of the Society donated most of the lumber, materials, and labor. This original building served the Congregational parish for approximately 16 years.
In the early 1800s, the anti-slavery spirit was on the rise in our country as well as in our town. Reverend Chapman, minister of the church, was a strong anti-slavery supporter and 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, it is believed that someone placed gunpowder with a slow wick in the church stove causing an explosion and thus, destroying the building. The following day, the Reverend Chapman and his followers held their meeting concerning anti-slavery around the smoldering ashes. The pro-slavery group, still angry over the said meeting shaved the manes off the parsonŐs horse as well as the manes off of 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, 17 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. The new Congregational Church was finally completed on January 18, 1843. Today it is the focal point of our Town Center. It is located on the north side of Center Street facing the Green. 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.
The Wolcott Grange, founded in 1909, is located on Boundline Road just southwest of the Wolcott Green. This one and one-half story wood-frame structure is built on a raised fieldstone foundation. The existing meeting hall was erected in 1929 to replace an earlier structure that was located on the south side of the Green next to the present town hall approximately where Farmingbury Road is now located. Some of the beams in the present building were taken from the original structure.
This building is architecturally significant as an excellent example of a rural grange hall dating back to the post-World War I era. Its historical significance is that it shows the continuing importance agriculture played in Wolcott's economy in the 20th Century.
For the many non-Grange members who have often questioned, "What exactly is the Grange?" let me explain. The Grange is a community, agricultural fraternity that is based on rituals that represent lessons in life and agriculture. Each Grange has a community service chairman, who is responsible for evaluating the needs and the resources of the local area for the purpose of implementing community projects and services. Applicants must be at least 14 years of age and have a desire to help in the advancements in the interest of agriculture and improving community life and the well being of all citizens. This April, the Wolcott Grange will celebrate 100 years in our town.
(Much of the information for this article was taken from the The Meeting House Atop of Ben's Hill by John Washburne, Wolcott, Connecticut 175th Anniversary booklet 1796-1971 by John Washburne, and The 1986 Historic Resources Inventory by J.P. Loether.)
Attention Gardeners: The Wolcott Historical Society will be hosting a Garden Tour on July 11 and are looking for gardens. If you would like to participate we would love to show your garden. Please contact Flo Goodman 879-9818.
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.