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The Founding & Early History of Rollstone Congregational Church
“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
Early in 1867, a group of people from the Calvinistic Congregational Church met at the home of David Boutelle, to consider the advisability of forming a new church. On December 15, 1867, the Reverend Alfred Emerson, pastor of the Calvinistic Church read the following notice: “There will be a meeting in the chapel tomorrow evening, December 16, for a free exchange of opinion as to the expediency of forming another Congregational Church and Society in Fitchburg. All persons interested are invited to attend. The meeting to commence at 7:30 P.M.”
The meeting was called to order by Mr. David Boutelle. John M. Harris was chosen chairman and Charles H. Rice the secretary. Prayer was offered by Reverend Emerson, pastor of the Calvinistic Church, after which the following resolution was adopted:
“Whereas; nearly one hundred dwelling houses have been erected in this town the past year and a large proportion of them have been located in the easterly and southerly portion of our village and the adult population has much increased, and whereas large numbers are desirous but unable to obtain sittings in the Calvinistic Church and in consequence they are deprived of the privilege of public worship in the manner and place of their choice; resolved, that in the opinion of this meeting it is not only expedient but a Christian duty to initiate measures to form a new Church and Society in the vicinity of the American House.”
The above words from the official minutes of the secretary mark the first steps taken in the founding of Rollstone Congregational Church.
It was voted at a second meeting to appoint a Provisional Board of Managers numbering twelve and this board voted to call the new Church, “The New Congregational Society,” until a permanent church was organized. The committee voted on March 16, 1868 to incorporate as “The Rollstone Congregational Society.”
The Reverend Leverett W. Spring was called from Middlebury, Vermont to supply the pulpit for one year, at a salary of $2000.
For a site for the church, David Boutelle and John B. Proctor were instructed to obtain the refusal of a lot of land owned by Charles Cushing, but other lots were discussed at a meeting on May 6, 1868. Finally on June 20, 1868 the committee on building lots reported in favor of two lots on Summer (now Main) and Snow Streets. These lots had been purchased from three owners and held for the church by David Boutelle, Samuel Burnap and Alfred Hitchcock, the cost being $9,000, after which the buildings on the lot were sold for $2,100.
At a meeting on July 6, 1868 it was voted to build a brick church, without a vestry, with granite or stone trimmings at an estimated cost, including the lot, of $35,000. Construction was to begin after $25,000 had been raised. The church was to seat 1,000, including the gallery. Mr. H. M. Francis was chosen as the architect and the type of the church was to be English Gothic. The building was to be set back from the street because Mr. Seth Twitchell, who lived next door, objected that if the church were moved up to the sidewalk it would cut off his view.
Since no one would take the contract for the entire building, most of the work was done by the day under special contract as to price. The brickwork was done by S. S. Lawrence and Sons, and the carpentry work under the direction of Henry G. Morse, a member of the church. Mr. Morse, at that time was only thirty years old, but he made a special trip to Europe to study the cathedrals there.
The cornerstone was laid on October 5, 1868 by Mr. Moses Wood who used these solemn words, “In name of God Jehovah, the Father, the Son and the Ghost, I now lay this cornerstone in the interest of the Holy Church Universal, one family in earth and Heaven.” In the cornerstone were placed a piece of olive wood from the Mount of Olives, a piece of rock from King Solomon’s temple and wheat deposited by various persons.
During the period of 1868-1870 the work of organization went on rapidly. It was now necessary to find a suitable meeting place while the church was being built. The first public service was on March 8, 1868 in the American House located at Depot Square. The hall would hold from 250 to 300 and was filled to capacity for the first service. As the hall had no seats, settees were brought down from the City Hall every Saturday and returned on Monday morning. Finally seats were purchased in Westminster.
At a meeting held in the American House on April 2, 1868, it was voted unanimously to organize Rollstone Congregational Church “on the principles and polity of the National Congregational Council of Boston in 1865.” Reverend Leverett W. Spring who had been called to serve the church was moderator and Charles L. Fairbanks, clerk.
At the time the church was organized it had 150 members – 78 coming from the Calvinistic Congregational Church and 72 coming from other churches. On this date an Ecclesiastical Council, consisting of the pastor and apparently a layman from the following churches met at the American House, Winchendon, Calvinistic Congregational Church, Eliot Church of Roxbury, Eliot Church of Newton Second Congregational Church of New London, Connecticut, and the First Congregational Church of Royalston, to install the pastor and organize the church. The council examined the letters of dismissal and reported that there were 150 persons, all of whom had agreed to the creed and covenant and so constituted the Charter Members of the Rollstone Congregational Church.
Following is a list of the major contributors to the building and furnishings of the church and chapel for the period 1868 to 1873. This was taken from the Manual of the Rollstone Church published in 1874. This Manual was found in the effects of the late Miss. Abbie Cutting and handed to the historian by her nephew, Henry Cutting.
David Boutelle ……………………….. $23,000
Samuel Burnap…………………………. $5,700
C. H. Brown………………………………. $2,650
H. F. Coggshall…………………………….. $500 (donor of Coggshall Park)
R. R. Conn ………………………………… $3,150
Alvah Crocker……………………………… $500 (Crocker, Burbank & Co.)
L. B. Farnsworth…………………………… $950
C. L & J. H. Fairbanks ………………….. $1,225
Alfred Hitchcock ……………………….. $3,400
Mrs. E. C. Heywood …………………….. $1,000
Samuel Hale……………………………….. $2,200
Ladies Benevolent Society…………….. $5,636
H. G. Morse…………………………………… $550
E. G. Rockwood…………………………… $1,000
Edwin Upton………………………………. $4,500
Rodney Wallace…………………………… $1,000 (Founder of Fitchburg Paper)
Moses Wood……………………………….. $7,000
S. C. Wright………………………………….. $1,600
The roof was substantially finished December 16, 1868, one year from the first meeting. Since Deacon Boutelle was the heaviest contributor, it was voted on April 12, 1869 that the Chapel be named after him, to which he replied with a letter of thanks Sept. 9, 1869.
Of this period, (1868-1870) Rev. Brooks later wrote,
“A year or more followed, in which there must have been weary months of waiting. Material and labor stood at a high figure. The liberality of the people was drawn upon for increased contributions toward the furnishings of the church. Both citizens and friends responded liberally. After heroic faith and valorous sacrifice, the building was dedicated, Feb. 24, 1870.”
The prayer of dedication was offered by the Reverend Alfred Emerson, pastor of the Calvinistic Congregational Church, and the dedication sermon was preached by the Reverend Leverett W. Spring, pastor of the church. At this service 1356 people crowded into the auditorium which was actually to hold 800. It must be noted at this time that the church was minus its spire, organ, clock and bell. After these had been installed the complete cost of the building was $88,088.76. In August 1870, the town voted to appropriate $800 for a clock and bell, provided there was a guarantee to the town for all rights and privileges required for municipal purposes. The mortgage of $20,000 was paid off on April 30, 1890 and to celebrate the event, a jubilee service was held on the evening of May 11, 1890.
At this early date the members of what we call the church were divided into two groups; the church which dealt with Ecclesiastical matters and the Society which had to do with mundane affairs. The Society was incorporated on April 3, 1868, and the Church on December 20, 1905. Every male member, twenty-one years or over should be a member of the Society. The Church and Society were brought together on February 12th, 1906.
After the dedication of the church, Reverend Spring remained as pastor until 1875, when his resignation was accepted by the church.
In the fall of the year, September 3, 1875, it was voted to call the Reverend Dr. G. R. W. Scott as pastor. He accepted the call on October 29, 1875. His ministry lasted until 1887 when he resigned because of ill health. During the period of December 1, 1885 to March 1, 1887, Reverend W. S. Alexander, and Reverend John Barstow and others served from time to time as temporary supplies.
Our next pastor was the Reverend Charles S. Brooks, who was installed on May 11, 1887. It was during his pastorate that the final debt on the church edifice was paid off. He resigned in 1896.
In 1897, Reverend William O. Conrad became the pastor. He lived at 71 Myrtle Ave. and in 1904 this parsonage was deeded to the church as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas R. Lawrence. During his ministry a number of Chinese came into our Sunday School. Their wish seemed to be to learn English. Perhaps it was not realized that foreign missions had come right to our own door. Reverend Conrad resigned on September 9, 1907.
There is little in the records up to this time to tell us about these first four ministers and what was accomplished during their ministries. Some of the organizations were formed during this time but they will be dealt with on future pages.
This brings us to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth and a new era in the life of Rollstone Church.
1900 – 1968
At a special meeting on December 2, 1907 it was voted to call the Reverend Arthur J. Covell as pastor of the church. In 1908, the 40th anniversary of the church was observed. There was preaching at two services by the Reverend Mr. Spring, the first pastor, in which the Reverend Brooks also took part. At this service our baptismal font was presented by Mrs. Sarah M. Leathe. At this time 25 charter members were living. During Reverend Covell’s pastorate, a pastor’s aid committee was added to the official staff. This committee was to act as a visiting committee. The parish was divided into 12 districts with appointed visitors for each district. Reverend Covell resigned on September 13, 1913 to become Secretary of the Congregational Board of Pastoral Supply.
Reverend Judson Cross became our pastor on February 18, 1914. It was during his pastorate that the Ladies’ Benevolent Society went out of existence and became the Women’s Federation. In September 1915, Miss Olive Green was commissioned from the church to go to the Near East as a missionary. On April 21, 1916, the first three-hour service on Good Friday was held at Rollstone. This service has continued to the present time. At a special meeting in January 1917, a member of the 50th anniversary committee made three recommendations:
1. Secure an assistant for the Pastor
2. Secure 100 new members
3. Raise $10,000 for a new parish house
On Easter March 31, 1918, the second recommendation was achieved when 123 people joined the church. The 50th anniversary was observed on Sunday, April 14, 1918. There were appropriate exercises and an historical exhibit in the church parlor. There were greetings from charter members and others, and a banquet was held on April 17th in the Chamber of Commerce Hall. In June 1918, the first recommendation was achieved with the appointment of Miss Lucia Hutchens as the church assistant. During this period World War 1 was in progress and Rollstone did its share of war work. In 1919 our pastor was given a year’s leave of absence to work for the Y.M.C.A. overseas. He sailed March 24, 1919. However, in September he returned and a reception was given him along with the soldiers returning from overseas.
During the next eight years, the church continued at an even pace with no special happenings. Mr. Cross resigned March 5, 1927.
In September 1927, the Reverend Robert L. Underwood became our pastor. A reception was held for him and his family on October 25, 1927.
At the annual meeting in 1928, the system of voting for church officers was changed. Whereas previously voting had been done by member ballot, the clerk now cast one ballot for the entire slate of officers. It was also voted in 1928 to discontinue the evening service.
At a special meeting in June 1933, it was voted to have the steeple repaired and painted and the clock and fire alarm removed.
At the annual meeting in 1935, a change was made in the presentation of the organization reports. They were consolidated and read by the clerk, Harry Hall. In 1951 the reports were mimeographed and given to those attending the meeting. Later it was decided to have the pastor read his report.
During the last two weeks of July 1936, a new carpet was laid in the sanctuary and the vestibule floors were covered with rubber tiling.
As far back as the annual meeting of December 10, 1916, the question of building a modern Parish House was brought up but the subject was laid on the table. In January 1927, Charles Woodbury, speaking for the 50th anniversary committee, mentioned as one of its three projects, the raising of $10,000 toward a new Parish House. This recommendation was apparently not carried out, as on January 10, 1923 another committee was asked to consider the possibility of such a building.
NEW PARISH HOUSE
Persistency finally won, as at a special meeting on January 27, 1937, as the result of a survey by Mr. Fred Lane, wholehearted support was given to the project. Previous to this meeting some money had been put aside over the years for such a project but had never been used. At a re-adjourned meeting, Mr. Lane reported that he had cash and pledges to the amount of $70,016.93. It was voted to go ahead with the construction and to use all available parish funds along with the many gifts.
The laying of the cornerstone (at right) took place on July 25, 1937.
As in the laying of the cornerstone in 1868, a number of items were placed in this cornerstone box:. A list of the members of the Church School, The Kandelite Program for 1936-1937. The Phi Alpha Program for 1936-1937.The Women;s Missionary Program for 1936-1937.The King;s Daughters Program for 1936-1937.List of the members of the Men’s Club Snapshots of Boutelle Chapel. A list of officers of the Christian Endeavor Society for 1937-1938 together with the report of the President for the year and a copy of the members pledges. During the building process, committee meetings and church society meetings were held in homes and other places. The church office was in Hastings Hall where a special telephone was installed for that purpose. The new Parish House was dedicated on February 20, 1938 with appropriate ceremonies.
It was named the Boutelle Parish in memory of Deacon David Boutelle. The Choate memorial was given in memory of Mrs. H. M. Choate. Other rooms named were “The Whitcomb in memory of deacon Francis F. Whitcomb and the Balcom in memory of Addie Balcom and the Hubbard in memory of the parents of Mr. Ralph Hubbard. Cookman Hall was in memory of Robert R. Cookman. Many other gifts were given to help furnish the parish house. Memorial see article on Memorials.)
In October 1939, the Torrey Memorial Windows were dedicated in the Choate Chapel.
At the annual meeting, December 1939, it was voted to appoint a committee to study the by-laws of the church and suggest any necessary amendments. At the 1940 meeting the suggestions presented were adopted by vote.
Because the budget at the 1940 meeting fell short by $1600, it was voted to hold union summer services as well as to practice other economies. As a result of the vote, union services were held with the Calvinistic and Methodist churches.
This was war time and because of the small allotment of fuel oil it was voted on January 6, 1943 to close the church for from six to eight weeks and accept the invitation of the First Methodist Church to worship with them. The church school met in the Methodist Church and at the YMCA. On March 14th the congregation returned to Rollstone. By this time a stoker had been installed in our furnace room, converting one of our heating units from oil to coal and ten tons of coal safely stored away.
In April 1943 we celebrated our 75th anniversary with appropriate ceremonies.
During the year 1945, a mimeographed news letter, sponsored by the church, was sent to our men and women in the armed services. This letter edited by Mr. and Mrs. Edwin R. Clark contained church news and excerpts from letters sent by the men and women themselves to their families and to the church. Thus they were able to keep up with the news of their friends and colleagues around the world.
In December 1946, the first Christmas Eve service was held in the Chapel. This was a midnight service. In 1947, because of the large numbers attending, it was held in the church and has continued until the present time.
Reverend Underwood resigned his pastorate in June 1948 after serving the church twenty-one years. After the resignation of Mr. Underwood, it was voted on November 8, 1948 to extend a call to the Reverend Paul J Bowman of the First Congregational Church of Oxford, Mass. He accepted the call and preached his first sermon on January 2, 1949.
For 55 years the parsonage had been at 71 Myrtle Ave. and now was reaching a point where considerable money would have to be spent to repair and modernize it, so it was voted in December 1948 to have the Standing Committee sell it and purchase a house at 24 Taft Street. This parsonage was dedicated on June 5, 1949. However, many difficulties arose because of its inaccessibility and in January 1952 this house was sold and one purchased at 6 Rogers Avenue. This was dedicated on June 22, 1952.
At the Annual meeting in January 1954, it was voted to authorize the Standing Committee to raise money for the redecoration of the auditorium and to change the lighting. The new cathedral lights were dedicated in October 1954.
At a special meeting in June 1954, further structural changes were proposed, such as the installation of baseboard heating, moving the organ console from the floor of the church to the choir loft and the extension of the pulpit platform. The baseboard heating was never done but the console was moved, the choir area was enlarged and the pulpit platform extended and re-carpeted. The date when this was completed does not seem to be recorded but it is presumed that it was done during the summer months. In March 1955, new seat cushions were placed in the pews.
At the Annual meeting in January 1956, the advisability of forming a Church Cabinet was discussed. This cabinet would coordinate the work of the various organizations and committees of the church. Sometime later this cabinet was formed, on a trial basis, and called together at the discretion of the Moderator, with the power to recommend but not to take action.
In May 1955, the Massachusetts Congregational State Conference was held at Rollstone. This was a highlight for the church and many hours of planning went into making it a success.
On March 25, 1956, Mr. Bowman read his resignation to take affect on May first. His period of service was seven years. He accepted a call to a church in Rockville, Connecticut.
In the fall of 1956, the church voted to call Reverend Milton F. Schadegg to the pastorate of Rollstone Church. He was, at the time, pastor of the Park Ave, Congregational Church in Arlington, Mass. Mr. Schadegg preached his first sermon in Rollstone in Janaury 1957. On May 5, 1957 an Installation service was held and he was duly installed as pastor of the church.
In the spring of 1957 a Dedication Service was held for Camp Wellville. This was property given to us for a church camp in the fall of 1956.
During the month of October 1957, a series of lectures were held on Sunday evenings. This was called the “University of Life” and was an excellent opportunity for religious growth in the church and community, and to hear outstanding Christian leaders.
On April 2, 1968, the first service of Tenebrae was celebrated in the church. The word Tenebrae means darkness and our modern adaptation preserves the drama, symbolism and message re-enacted on the night of the “Last Supper” when the betrayal of Christ took place. This is a most meaningful service and has continued to the present time.
In June 1958, the first Day Camp at Wellville was organized under the direction of Mrs. Trescoft Abele. This was held just prior to the opening of the regular season. The idea was to give an opportunity to under-privileged children to enjoy a bit of camp life. It has continued each summer and has become increasingly popular with young people of our church joining in.
A Communion Service was held on Sunday October 5, 1958 to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of the church.
On October 12, anniversary services were held with the Reverend Albert J. Penner, president of the Massachusetts Congregational Conference, as preacher. A fellowship program was held in the evening with appropriate music, greetings and remembrances. On display was part of the original Communion service, and from the Calvinistic Church, a service dated May 23, 1820. The membership at this time was 957 and in the church school 406. In 1872, the membership was 248 and in the Sabbath school 245.
For almost two years, committees had been searching for a suitable parsonage for the church. In June 1958, after much thought and study, and wishing to comply with the reaction of the members at a meeting in May, the committee recommended the building of a Colonial type house in the Pearl Hill area. After many planning sessions and meetings during the summer, ground-breaking ceremonies for the new parsonage were held at 12:15 P.M. on October 12, 1958. In November it was announced that the building of the new parsonage was progressing according to plans.
Parsonage on Pearl Hill Road
On April 19, 1959, the Parsonage Building Committee invited the congregation to inspect the new parsonage. About 250 members and friends came at this time.
During 1964, by vote of the church, we acquired a portion of the Matthews parking lot. At present it is used for church parking but perhaps later for building expansion. During this year, Mr. Schadegg celebrated the 20th year of his ordination.
In 1965, the first 8:45 AM. service of worship was held in the chapel on October 17th. This marked the first time we had two morning services each Sunday. This year also marked the first time that a Roman Catholic Monsignor ever preached from our pulpit, and Catholics met with us to plan city-wide meetings of friendship, prayer and discussion. The first city-wide workshop for deaconesses was held. A Board of scholarship was organized to give aid to our worthy students. For the first time we had a full-time youth minister. Another “first” was that one of our laymen was a delegate to the United Church General Synod, representing the Association.
The year 1966 was highlighted by the personal visit of our home missionary the Reverend Mrs. Harriet Kurtz, whose important research on war-control promises to be of great significance. The new By-laws, that had been worked on for several years, showed promise of being about ready to be submitted to the church for their consideration. The year passed with no significant happenings until November when Mr. Schadegg read his resignation to take affect on May 1, 1967. During the following months, Reverend Harold Curtis was the interim pastor.