History of the Church
Click here for a recent, more extensive history of the church and Old Bennington by local historians Joseph Parks and Tyler Resch.
The Old First Church was “gathered” on December 3, 1762, the first Protestant congregation in the New Hampshire Grants. The organizers were “Separatists,” influenced by the Great Awakening, from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, and were proprietors of the new town of Bennington. The first meetinghouse was a plain pine structure built in the center of the village, the green in front of the present structure, and served for general public meetings, as a school, and for worship.
The present sanctuary, completed in 1805, is the first church built in Vermont that reflects the separation of church and state. That is, the state would have no role in the maintenance of the church’s building or ministry; and the church would be free to support and direct its own work. The townspeople hired the noted church architect, Lavius Fillmore, as builder. He was a nephew of an early church member here and cousin of the nation’s 13th President. Fillmore had built other churches in Connecticut (e.g., East Haddam Congregational Church, 1791) and later in Middlebury, Vermont.
The columns are hand-planed from the whole trunk of pine trees and extend from the basement footers to the rafters. Notice in the ceiling the cross embracing the world. The exterior corner decorations are wood blocks, meant to resemble the stone of European churches. The cost of the building was $7,793.20, raised almost completely from the sale of the first floor pews. The upper pews were called the Free Gallery, and provided seating for visitors and young people.
The box pews and the high pulpit were restored in 1937. The pew and wall plaques honor Vermonters who contributed significantly to society (not necessarily church members), including Robert Frost who spoke at the rededication (and whose gravesite is just down the hill).
In 1994-99, the congregation undertook major building renovations, from the basement beams to the bell tower, from the marble steps to the roof; and the interior was plastered, and painted in the present historical white and grey.
In 1998 the Barn was refurbished for church and community use.
We invite you to become a part of this historical witness to the Gospel here in this special place where we like to think that not only Vermont, but God’s grace, begins! Call us or sign a pew card to receive our monthly newsletter. Consider joining us by profession of faith or by transfer. Or let us know your ideas about how we might better serve the cause of Jesus Christ together.
Bicentennial Discourse and Sermon
On August 13, 2006, Battle Day Weekend, we had our 200th anniversary of the church building. Click here for the historical discourse and sermon.
Robert Frost’s remains are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church. Although he was not a member of the church, he read his poem, The Black Cottage, at the rededication of our building in 1937, after its restoration to the original interior design. At that time, the state legislature designated the church as “Vermont’s Colonial Shrine” and the cemetery, “Vermont’s Sacred Acre.” Frost bought two lots in 1940 for a family burial place. For more information on Robert Frost and the house where he lived in Shaftsbury, just outside of Bennington, see the Robert Frost Stone House Museum.
Open Church Program
In addition to Sunday morning worship, the church welcomes individuals and tour groups to visit during our “Open Church” season. We are open for such visits on weekends from Memorial Day weekend to July 1, and daily from July 1 to mid-October (the end of “leaf season”).
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sundays: 1 – 4 p.m.
Volunteers will answer questions and sometimes make presentations. Postcards, note cards and other mementoes are available. Located in historic Old Bennington, we are within a short walk of both the Bennington Museum with its Grandma Moses Gallery and the Bennington Battle Monument.