The year was 1690 when James Stancliff, an English Stonecutter, became the first pioneering soul to cross the river from Middletown and establish a home site upon the rocks on “ye east side of ye great river” as it was called for many years before and after that date.
By 1710, nine additional families joined him and a Church Society was formed. On May 25, 1721 there was an appeal to the General Assembly for liberty to gather a church and settle a minister. On October 25, 1721 the Rev. Daniel Newell was ordained and our church was formed. On that day, known as our “Ecclesiastical Embodying” the church consisted of 29 members (13 males, 16 females). The new church became the Third Church of Middletown in the newly formed Society of East Middletown
The first meetinghouse of this society was located at the corner of High and William Street, presently designated so by a plaque mounted on a large piece of brownstone at that site. Due to the ever-increasing numbers of people joining the church, they outgrew their building and a second meetinghouse was built in 1751. This was built during the ministry of the Rev. Moses Bartlett, our second minister who was also the town’s first physician. A three-acre piece of land was bought from the Wangunk tribe at the corner of what is now Prospect and Bartlett Street. This chosen site for the second meetinghouse was known as “Meeting House Hill.”
In 1767 the town name of East Middletown, was changed to Chatham, which included what is now known as East Hampton and Middle Haddam. When these three districts gained distinct characters of their own, separation again occurred and on June 21, 1841 Portland was born and the first town meeting was held in that Congregational Meeting House on “Meeting House Hill.” Town meetings were held in our church until 1845.
Our present church building was built on its Main Street site in 1850. It was originally a Gothic structure, 70 feet long by 39 feet wide. It was designed by Henry Austin, a prominent and prolific American architect based in New Haven, CT. The building cost $6,200, with the bell, furnishings and other accommodations adding another $1,450, for a total cost of $7,650. It was dedicated on December 18, 1850.
The building has seen many changes through the years as the steeples were altered by hurricane damage in 1944, Fellowship Hall and a kitchen were added in 1955, and in 1988 an office and meeting rooms addition was created. A Memorial Garden was established in 2018 providing the members with a beautiful memorial and meditative space overlooking the Connecticut River Valley.
On January 27, 1961 the church became affiliated with the United Church of Christ. In 2013 our congregation voted to become an Open and Affirming Church, welcoming everyone to participate in the life, sacraments, missions, and work of our community of faith. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
The church has had 24 settled ministers over the years with the present minister, the Rev. Jane Hawken, serving since 2006. The year 2021 is the 300th Anniversary of the founding of our church when the current members will reflect on the past, enjoy the celebratory festivities, and look with hope to the future.