Tidbits of Church History for September

September 25, 1686 ~  William Stanclift was born in Lyme, CT son of James Stanclift and the widow Mary Tinker Waller. By 1690 the James Stanclift family was living in East Middletown as the first residents, and perhaps the neighbors of John Gill.  In 1710 William had married Olive Stanborough Wright, widow of Jonas Wright (and later William’s second wife was Esther Adams who he married in 1721.) A son, James Stanclift, was born on September 20, 1712. William’s father, James, had died October 2, 1712 and William and his brother James assumed their father’s business. Our earliest records indicate William was admitted to full Communion on July 15, 1722. The Stanclifts are noted as being the original quarrying family on this side of the Connecticut River. There were other stone cutters in the area including the Thomas Johnson family of the Upper Houses (present day Cromwell.)  William’s son, James, also learned the stone carving trade and later moved to Southbury, CT.  William’s brother, James (admitted August 5, 1722,) had married in 1714 Abigail Bevin, sister of original 1721 member, Mercy Bevin Miller.  Abigail Bevin Stanclift is recorded as being admitted on June 24, 1722.    

September 14, 1731 ~ Rev. Daniel Newell passed away at the age of 31.  He had four small children at the time and his wife Ruth Porter Newell removed to Worthington Society, a part of Farmington (and present day Berlin.) She is buried in Maple Cemetery in Berlin but the grave of Rev. Daniel is unknown.

September 24, 1812 ~ Rev. Eber L. Clark was installed as the fourth minister following Rev. Cyprian Strong who had died in November 1811.  Clark was minister until November 1815 when he was dismissed and became the minister in Granby, CT.  He later served parishes in Winchendon, MA and Richmond, MA. 

September 4, 1876 ~ At a meeting it was voted that a Committee be appointed to solicit subscriptions for a new organ.  Edwin Bell, S.C. Hinckley and Demas Cornwall were appointed to the Committee.  It was voted to place the organ in the northwest corner of the church and “Horace B. Wilcox, Lyman  Payne, and Demas Cornwall were authorized to purchase the pipe organ for a sum not to exceed $1,600 as soon as the soliciting committee shall have raised $500.”  The  Hook and Hastings double bank organ from Boston, MA eventually cost $1870 with H.B. Wilcox and Lyman Payne donating the excess $270.  After 65 years of use this initial instrument was replaced in 1941 by a second organ from Austin Company of Hartford at a cost of $3,649. This purchase was made possible by a bequest of Miss Jennie Payne.  In 1996 a third Schlicker organ was installed for approximately $100,000 which was made possible by generous donations from members of the congregation.  Some of the original pipes from the first organ were utilized in the second and third instruments.   

September 5, 1915 ~ Rev. Mehran K. Thompson began his ministry on September 5, 1915 and served for seven years before assuming a pastorate in Virginia and later became a Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. 

September 1, 1973 ~ Rev. Dwight Juliani began his ministry as our 20th pastor who served for 17 years.  He resigned on September 30, 1990 to assume the Senior Pastor position in Madison, CT.  We look forward to seeing Dwight and Linda at our October 24th, 2021 300th Anniversary Celebration!

Tidbits of Church History for August

August 2, 1725  ~ The church voted to “seat “ the Meeting House. Original members William Cornwall SR, Joseph Warner, Joseph white, John Gaines, and Samuel Hall were chosen to arrange the congregation within the square box pews according to their rank, family relations, and social position.    

Summer 1823 ~ During a religious revival under the tutelage of 4th minister Rev. Hervey Talcott over 60 persons were admitted to the church from the spring to the fall of that year.

August 1, 1923 ~ At a meeting of the Church Council at the parsonage it was voted that the church be closed the last three Sundays in August and the first Sunday of September.  Attest: Rev. Arthur Varley, clerk and moderator. Our 17th minister Rev. Varley  served for sixteen years 1922-1938.  He was a man “with many hats” as he led the congregation through the roaring twenties and the era of the great depression. 

August 1956 ~ The church started a food booth at the Portland Agricultural Fair. This continued for many years and in 1978 members had a dress-up photograph booth with “1890’s style” costumes.  The proceeds were used towards the support of the Laotian children mentioned in the June Tidbits. 

August 1976 ~ During the summer an anonymous gift of 3 octaves of hand bells was received as a memorial to deceased member Jim Barnes.  Several bell choirs were later organized by music director, Dr. Edwin “Ned” Garner. 

Summer 1998 ~ Rev. Ivan Fowler from Bristol, England visited with his family for a summer pulpit exchange and, as an accomplished musician, he delighted the congregation with an organ recital. 

Summer 2000 ~ The kitchen was renovated and equipment upgraded to the present configuration. The church appreciated the generous donation of Douglas Hale for the renovation project. 

August 1, 2002 ~ Rev. E. Evelyn Eddy became the first woman Senior Minister of the church.

Summer 2009 ~ Following almost $500,000 in fundraising in 2007 the renovation projects were initiated.  These projects over the next few summers included restoration of the steeple, new siding on the Church and Fellowship Hall, painting and new carpeting in the sanctuary and repaving of the driveways and parking lot.

August 19, 1767 ~ Rev. Cyprian Strong was ordained as pastor and began his ministry as our third pastor following the 1766 death of Rev. Moses Bartlett.  Born on May 26th 1743, Cyprian was the seventh child and youngest son of Captain Asahel Strong, a lawyer in Farmington, and the grandson of Asahel and Margaret (Hart) Strong.  He studied theology and was licensed to preach on October 7, 1766.  Mr. Strong was then recommended in 1767 to the Chatham parish by the Hartford South Association of Ministers when the vacancy arose.  During his ministry of over 44 years about 200 persons were added to the church.  He was highly esteemed by his people and respected in the community.  The honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by Yale in 1803. He died in office on November 17, 1811.    

August 16th 1869 ~ It was voted that the Supply Committee be instructed to invite Mr. Isaac Curtis Meserve to become pastor at a salary of $1,200 plus the use of the parsonage.  He would have been the first pastor to inhabit the new parsonage across the street from the church. He resigned in July 1871 for a new post. Three years later he was the pastor at Davenport Congregational Church in New Haven where he served for 23 years from 1874 until 1897 when he accepted a position in Craven Hill Congregational Church at Bayswater, London, England.  He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of Isaac Hall Meserve. He married Ann E. Brigham and had 6 children. He died in March 1931.

August 1996 ~ A new Schlicker organ was installed in the sanctuary utilizing some of the pipes from the original 1876 organ.  The church had voted in 1995 to install the new organ at an approximate cost of $99,500.  Organist Steven Sigler oversaw the project and it was ready for use by the fall and for the October services celebrating our 275th anniversary that year.  

On  August 28,1843 at a church meeting it was voted "expedient to build a new meeting house and a committee appointed."  Due to indecision on the location of the new church, it was finally decided on November 6, 1849 to build on the present Main Street location. It had taken seven years before the Gothic revival building was finally finished and dedicated on December 18, 1850. Shortly afterwards, 32 members requested to be dismissed from the church and they then formed the Center Church l built in 1851 and located near the present Center Cemetery / Portland Burying Ground on Fairway Drive.  That church remained active for 37 years until 1888 when it was closed and many members then returned to the First Congregational Church on Main Street.   

Tidbits of Church History for July

July 4th 1798  ~  “This day the people made a great fuz about Independence and burnt much powder.” Composed by Ebenezer White  in his extensive journals beginning in 1755;  Ebenezer(1727-1817) was the son of original 1721 church member Joseph White and  his second wife Abigail Butler.  Ebenezer is noted a church Deacon, representative of the Third Society of Middletown 1769-1791 and County Court associate judge.  It was his daughter Abigail White who was the second wife of the Rev. Cyprian Strong in 1786.  

Summer 1816 ~  was “the year without a summer!”  This rare occurrence was noted around the globe and was the result of the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia.  The ash in the upper atmosphere  dimmed the sun and caused global cold temperatures, famine and hardship. In Connecticut there was a significant frost, ice storm, or snowfall in each month that year causing killing of fruit tree blossoms and corn crop failures and firewood shortages. Crops in general were very sparse and small in size and local cattle would then have also suffered or been slaughtered.

July 1867  ~  A tower clock was generously donated to the church by Sylvester Gildersleeve (baptized May 10th 1795)  who was raised in the church by his parents Philip Gildersleeve (son of Obadiah and Mary Dinge) and Temperance  Gibbs (baptized April 11, 1756 daughter of James Gibbs.)  Temperance’s  mother  (Temperence Tryon) is listed in the church records as joining the church on July 12, 1752 being recommended from  Wethersfield. Philip and Temperence were joined in marriage on May 4th, 1780 by Rev. Cyprian Strong.  The Gildersleeve family was prominent in the ship building business in Chatham  (and 1841 the town of Portland) where numerous ships for war and industry were built and numerous men were employed.   The Gildersleeve and Overton families arrived in Chatham in 1776 when many families fled Sag Harbor, New York upon invasion of Long Island by British ships during the Revolution.                                                                                                                                                                 
More information can be found at connecticuthistory.org/the-gildersleeve-shipbuilding-legacy-in-portland   The Gildersleeve Family Plot will be highlighted at the 300th Anniversary Center Cemetery Tour on September 18, 2021.         

July 9, 1876  ~  For the centennial of the Declaration of Independence Rev. John S. Bayne delivered a lengthy sermon of the history of the local church.  Our tenth pastor Rev. Bayne began his ministry on May 18th 1876 and would have had only had a brief time to research all the information included in this very interesting sermon. He was our minister for eleven years until November 29, 1887 when he resigned for a new post in Hadley, MA.  

July 10, 1905  ~  Rev. Carleton Hazen became the 14th Minister and served the church for five years before accepting a call to the Congregational Church in Worthington.   Carleton Hazen was the nephew of Rev. Azel Hazen who was a prominent minister at First Church in Middletown during their 250th anniversary in 1918. Carlton and his wife went on to minister in Worthington, CT, a section of present day Berlin. 

July 1968 ~  Rev. Edward Clapp exchanged pulpits with the Rev. Arthur Lister-Hetherington of Exmouth, England.  Rev. Clapp and his wife, Ruth retired to Newington, CT in 1973 having served the church for 32 years.


Tidbits of Church History for June 

June 3, 1714  ~  At the first meeting of the Society it was voted that Samuel Hall serve as  clerk. It was also voted that a 40 X 26 foot meeting house be erected and it was to be located at the northeast corner of Samuel Hall’s lot near the present day corner of High and William Streets. A brownstone monument with bronze plaque marks the location.


June I, 1732  ~  It was voted to call Mr. Moses Bartlett as the second minister and a year later on June 3, 1733 Moses Bartlett was ordained. Rev. Bartlett served the church until his death in 1766.


June 4, 1750  ~  “David Sage treated a lawful deed with the Native Americans for land for a second meeting house” on the corner of  present day Bartlett and Prospect Streets.  The church had outgrown its first meeting house and a larger one was planned utilizing some of the materials from the first.


June 17, 1812  ~  Rev. Eber Lescomb Clark was called to be the 4th minister among us.  He was later installed on September 24th and served the church for three years.  He had succeeded Rev. Cyprian Strong who passed away in November 1811. Several church members were enlisted in the war of 1812.


June 21, 1841  ~  The first meeting of the newly named Town of Portland was held in the second meeting house. The previous name of Chatham was changed to Middlesex, then to Conway and finally on Jun 4th the state Senate adopted the name of Portland and it was approved by the House on June 7th.  It is derived from the name of the Isle of Portland in England which also was a quarrying locale.


 June 1, 1941  ~  Rev. Edward T. Clapp began his ministry which was to last for 32 years until June 1973. The town celebrated its centennial this year and the church entered a festive “Going to Church” float in the 100th parade.


June 28, 1978  ~  It was voted to support three Laotian children to oversee their general welfare.  The family  moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1979.  Later in 1982 the church voted to join with area churches to support four to six Cambodian families.


June 1, 1986  ~ A “Celebration Sunday” was held as members pledged toward the “Building on Faith” $205,000 renovation and expansion project for the church building to add offices and meeting rooms beyond the Fellowship Hall.  The 20th anniversary of Rev. Dwight Juliani’s Seminary Graduation and Ordination was celebrated and Rev. Rosemary Turner was called to be the Director of Education.


June 4, 2006  ~  Rev. Jane Hawken was installed as the 24th “called minister.” In June 2014 we celebrated the 30th anniversary of her ordination.


Tidbits of Church History for May

May 13th, 1714 ~ Parish privileges were granted by the Connecticut General Assembly for the Middletown inhabitants residing on the east side of the river to be a society unto themselves.

May 25, 1721 ~ Voted to address the General Assembly for liberty to gather a church and settle a minister.

May 26, 1845 ~ The town voted to accept the old Episcopal Church as a Town Meeting House. Located on the corner of present day Bartlett and High streets the site is marked by a Brownstone monument and plaque.

May 5, 1872 ~ It was voted to withdraw from the Hartford South Conference to unite with the Middlesex County Conference of Churches.

May 1869 ~ Agreed to the sale of the Old Quarry Burying Ground to Middlesex Quarry Companies. It was agreed that they would remove the graves and monuments to the rear of the Trinity Church north section of the cemetery presently bordering Spring Street. $6,000 was to be paid to the church.

May 18, 1876 ~ Rev. John Strawn Bayne was installed as the 10th minister. He is noted for his historical sermon commemorating the Centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and for other historical documents.

May 1955 ~ Voted to renovate the interior of the church and to expand at the back of the sanctuary to create the Fellowship Hall, kitchen, bathrooms and boiler room.

May 17, 1960 Voted to support a mission house settlement in Naples, Italy with Hulda Stettler serving as the “Casa Mia” missionary worker.

May 26, 2020 ~ The first Church Meeting held online via Zoom approved the expenditure for a new roof for Fellowship Hall.

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, Heman 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!