Tidbits of Church History for April
April 1711 ~ Schools were set for children ages 6 through 10 to attend school for 4 months in the summer and 2 months in the winter. George Stocken, Ebenezer Smith, John Sleid, and Ephraim Wilcock were chosen as “consults to order the schools.”*
April 3, 1732 ~ Our second minister, Rev. Moses Bartlett, “entered upon ye work of the ministry in East Middletown.” On June 6th 1733 he was “ordained to ye pastoral office” being unanimously called by both the church and society.
April 21, 1768 ~ Mr. Ebenezer White was “chosen to ye office of a Deacon.” Ebenezer was the son of original member Deacon Joseph White and Abigail Butler. He was a prominent citizen of East Middletown and then Chatham serving as a representative and associate judge of the county court.
April 18, 1775 ~ The Lexington Alarm saw the service of about 40 Chatham soldiers as they answered the call and left their houses to join Captain Silas Dunham’s Company and march for the relief of Boston.*
April 19, 1861 ~ When the Civil War began several Portland church members were called to serve the Union in the 20th Connecticut Volunteers. In the spring of 1863 Rev. Andrew Dennison went to the front to be with church member, Herman Demay, who had been wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. In 1865 Rev. Dennison had invested in equipment for a sorghum mill in Portland but an early frost in 1868 destroyed the crop and was the demise of the business. He left this church in early 1868 to become a professor of Theology at the Biddle Memorial Institute for freedmen (presently Johnson C. Smith University) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He returned to Connecticut one year later and accepted the ministerial position at the Middlefield Congregational Church.
April 2, 1922 ~ 17th minister, Rev. Arthur Varley, began his ministry. A year later, April 3, 1923 ~ At a Council meeting “ it was voted that the minister also act as clerk for the rest of the year.” Rev. Varley was also the Moderator for the Council at that time.
April 25, 1938 ~ Rev. Forrest Musser became the 18th minister among us.
April 1997 ~ Rev. Rosemary Turner culminated her 10 year ministry here in Portland. She began as Director of Christian Education in 1986 and served as our first woman minister having been ordained and installed as Associate Minister of Christian Education in May 1990. She was the Interim Minister for our 275th anniversary throughout 1996 until April 1997.
April 15, 2018 ~ The Open and Affirming Welcoming Statement was formally adopted at a Special Church Meeting. Following the meeting interested members gathered to begin the planning for the 300th Anniversary of the church on October 25, 2021.
April 28, 2019 ~ “God’s Work – Our Hands,” a Board of Missions project, was instituted as a way to assist local residents needing projects accomplished in or around their homes. Instead of having a church service on that Sunday, 70+ members went out into the community to work on a variety of projects and then returned to church for fellowship and lunch.
* For more information visit portlandhistsoc.com/Portland-history.htm = History of Middlesex County 1685-1885 by William H. Buell
Tidbits of Church History for February/March 2021
February 3, 1746 ~ At a meeting of the Society on the east side of ye Great River, 36 inhabitants of the society voted that it was necessary to build a larger meeting house and 7 voted in the negative. This second meeting house was built near the present Prospect Street and Bartlett Street which was later called Meeting House Hill. The building was completed by 1751.
February 22, 1800 ~ As directed by President John Adams, a day of remembrance on the birthday of George Washington (who died December 14, 1799) was recommended throughout the country. Our minister at that time was the Rev. Cyprian Strong who then gave a “funeral sermon” in honor of the first President.
February 15, 1869 ~ The Society relinquished interest in the Old Quarry Burying Ground near the present day Commerce Street. Later the headstones were moved to the Trinity Church Cemetery in the northern section near Spring Street.
February 5, 1956 ~ A “Day of Dedication” was celebrated upon the completion of the project which renovated the sanctuary and added Fellowship Hall and a kitchen facility to the back of the church. The parking lot was yet to be realized.
February 7, 1998 ~ The first Annual Mid-Winter Chocolate Festival was held in Fellowship Hall and has continued each year until 2021 when the event was cancelled due to the global pandemic. Hopefully the event will return in 2022.
February 1, 2006 ~ The Rev. Jane Hawken began her ministry at the First Congregational Church UCC of Portland, CT.
Tidbits of Church History for March
March 20, 1722 ~ William Cornwall Sr. and Jonathan Judd were chosen as “tithing men” responsible for looking after the disorderly during the Sabbath and during the exercises between the meetings.
March 1, 1861 ~ As the Civil War was just beginning the church voted to invite the Rev. Andrew C. Dennison to be “the colleague Pastor to take pastoral care and charge of the Church.” Rev. Dennison served the church until February 1868 when he resigned to become a missionary among the freed men and aid in the instruction of teachers and preachers at the Biddle Institute for Freed Men in Charlotte, North Carolina. His wife died in August of that year and Rev. Dennison then returned to Connecticut to become the pastor at Middlefield Congregational Church where he remained until 1884.
March 1, 1869 ~ The Committee to build a parsonage stated that a lot opposite the church had been purchased from Erastus Strong and it was voted to proceed with the plan to build the house. On March 15th it was voted to proceed with the building contract for E.B. Taylor (Sue Larson’s great-great grandfather) to construct the new parsonage.
March 1964 ~ A renovation of the Vestry below the sanctuary was accomplished to create a Church Office, Minister’s Office and classrooms.
March 10, 1970 ~ The 250th Anniversary Committee elected officers for the 1971 celebration.
March 25, 1973 ~ The Reverend Edward T. Clapp and his wife Ruth were honored for their 32 years of dedicated service to the church.
March 1981 ~ “The Sound of Music” was performed and became the first of 8 musicals to be performed in the next 16 years. Proceeds from the performances were to be used for Portland youth programs and projects in the future.
March 1986 ~ The church approved an addition to the rear of Fellowship Hall to create new office spaces, a kitchenette and meeting rooms.
March 2020 ~ The Church was closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and virtual services were instituted to continue throughout the year and into 2021. Church meetings and Board and Committee meetings were held by Zoom Video Conferencing. The church voted to install the necessary equipment for live streaming the church services beginning in 2021.
Tidbits of Church History for January 2021
First Congregational Church, Portland, CT
January 13, 1712/13 ~ The Church voted one acre of land adjoining the land of James Stancliff for use as a burying ground on the east side of the great river. This burial ground was first used for the interment of Samuel Hall, the 15 year old son of original member Deacon Samuel Hall and his first wife, Sarah Hinsdale. The young Samuel Hall died in February 1712/13 and was “the first person laid in this yard” called Old Quarry Burial Ground. As the local quarrying industry increased in the 19th century the cemetery was situated on the banks of the river over prime brownstone. The cemetery was then moved and the remains of those interred were given to family members for placement in family plots. Those who were not claimed were interred in the Trinity Cemetery in the northeast corner abutting Spring Street. The headstones of Samuel Hall and his mother Sarah are next to each other in the present Trinity Cemetery. Deacon Samuel Hall is considered to be in an adjacent plot but there is no headstone. There are 11 original members with headstones in this cemetery.
January 14, 1722 ~ “Ruth Newell (wife of the first minister) was joined to the church in East Middletown.”
January 17, 1725 ~ From the notes of church meetings it states; “Samuel Hall, that was formerly chosen a Deacon in the church and had been approved by the church, was ordained a Deacon of the church.” January 22nd Joseph White was chosen a Deacon by a major vote.
January 1, 1727 ~ Daniel Newell was baptized. Daniel was the third child and only son of our first minister, Rev. Daniel Newell, and his wife Ruth Porter Newell. Daniel was born on December 26, 1726. When his father died suddenly in September 1731 Daniel was adopted by his Uncle John Newell. Daniel graduated from Yale in 1750 having studied theology but later changing to medicine. He married Susanna Porter (a distant relative of his mother’s) in 1751 but died in Berlin on September 8, 1755 presumably from wounds he received in battle in the French and Indian War.
January 19, 1851 ~ “ at a church meeting 33 members requested to be dismissed from this church for the purpose of forming, in connection with others, a new church.” These members were dissatisfied with the Main Street location of the new (present) 1850 building and chose to establish the Center Congregational Church closer to their homes in the eastern part of the society near Bartlett and Strickland Streets.
January 27, 1961 ~ “voted to merge with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to become affiliated with the United Church of Christ.”
January 24, 1971 ~ A Renovation Canvas Committee was commissioned to raise $55,000 for the 250th Anniversary Year.
January 1, 1996 ~ Rev. Rosemary Turner became Interim Minister
December in our History
Tidbits for December 2020
Diane Burgess ~ 300th Historian
Beginning this month and throughout the 300th Anniversary Year, items of historical interest will be included in newsletters and our website. We hope you enjoy reading about the church’s history.
December I, 1720 the church voted to call the 20-year-old Rev. Daniel Newell as our first minister. Rev. Newell had graduated Yale in 1718 and was ordained on October 25, 1721. He married Ruth Porter one week later and they had 4 children before his untimely death in 1731.
December 27, 1766 Rev. Moses Bartlett died at age 58. He served for 33 years as our second minister and was the first physician for the East Middletown settlement then known as the Third Church of Christ of Middletown. A new larger meeting house was constructed during his ministry.
December 18, 1850 the new (present) church building was dedicated. It is the third edifice for our congregation and took just one year to build. The gothic design was created by New Haven architect Henry Austin and is similar in design to the First Church of Kent, CT built in 1849. This year marks the 170th year that worship has occurred in this building!
December 19, 1865 Rev. Hervey Talcott died at age 74 having served for 45 years as our fifth minister and was the longest serving pastor in our history and the first to preach in our present sanctuary.
December 1973 the first Jumbo Christmas Card was signed by members, perhaps the design of Ruth Campbell who used Garfield the Cat as a frequent artistic choice. This was a way for members of the congregation to send greetings to all other members and the savings of stamps and card expenses were then donated to a special mission. Various artists have designed a large card for most years since and a special “mission” has been chosen yearly. Approaching almost 50 years of donations, this year we hope to continue this tradition even if we are not meeting for worship in person.
In 1989 Christmas Eve Services were initiated and in 2011 a Service of Christmas Calm became a part of the Advent traditions.
Giving and Missions have always been a part of our Christmas. But in more recent decades the focus has changed with the times. “White Gifts” was a tradition from the 1950’s through the 1980’s when members brought gifts wrapped in white tissue paper and children presented them at the Christmas Pageant. Later they were distributed at the Cromwell Children’s Home. Recently our decorated “Giving Tree” near the pulpit bore gift tags for local families’ needs which were then fulfilled by our willing congregation and returned with the attached tag for dispersal to the assigned local families. In 2020 the method of getting a tag will be accomplished online in case we cannot be present in the sanctuary, but the spirit of the project will remain the same and local families will continue to enjoy your generous donations!