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Congregational Church celebrates 200 years

On Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, members of the Congregational Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the church by raising a banner proclaiming its founding date in 1821. Church member Pat Jennings wrote in an email that a second banner will be raised in March, the actual month in which the new church was first organized, and both banners will remain up throughout the year.

Pat Jennings and Phil Knoettner unfurl a new banner to celebrate the Harvard Congregational Church's 200th anniversary. (Photo by Tim Clark)

Two parishioners, Robin and Rebecca Miller, juniors at the Bromfield School, plan to write monthly history articles in which they describe significant changes in the church and events in its history. Their first report, citing Henry Nourse, author of “Harvard History 1732 to 1893,” reads in part: “Built in 1821 for a sum of $2500, the building measured only 44 x 50 feet. In 1827, a belfry and bell were added, followed by a pulpit in 1836. The Evangelical Congregational Church of Harvard, as it was then called, was begun as ‘a new religious society.’”

The Harvard Congregational Church in the 1800s. (Courtesy photo)

Additional information from Nourse states that in the early part of the 19th century, other religions had arisen in Harvard, challenging the sole authority of the First Church. Dissension had been growing within the church as well, with division between the conservative Congregationalists and those attracted to the newer Unitarian faith. Things came to a head in 1821 when the two factions were unable to agree on a new minister.

A court order granted the continued use of the meetinghouse at the top of the Common to the Unitarians, who were in the majority and whose church would be called First Parish Unitarian. To the members of the original church, now the Calvinist Congregational Society, the town granted a parcel of land at the foot of the Common for a church building. As the town pound (for escaped livestock) and hearse house were already established on this site, the pound was moved to the west, and the hearse house was moved across the burying ground to the eastern edge. Later, when church members built horse or carriage sheds, the pound was moved once again, but there is no record of a pound until a new one was built at the top of the Common in 1871. During construction of the late-Federal style church, services were held in the 1785 school next door to the east.

George Fisher became the first pastor of the Evangelical Congregational Church. Fisher lived in one of the two houses at the south end of the Common, across the street to the east of the store at 1 Still River Road. Both houses were destroyed by fire in 1917.

A committee led by Jennings is planning several events to take place throughout this anniversary year.

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