History

 

Photo courtesy of Tripper Stiles and TLS     Visualsl.stiles@nebcvt.org

 

The Old First Church was gathered on December 3, 1762


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 finding land and opportunity in 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. Fillmore had earlier built churches in Connecticut (e.g., East Haddam Congregational Church, 1791) and would go on to build 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.

Today the church is again facing the need for significant structural and restoration work to keep the building in pristine condition.



For more on our church history see below:

 

 

Bennington's Old First Church and What It Symbolizes

 

By Joseph Parks and Tyler Resch

I. The New England Context - 2006
The Old First Church of Old Bennington, now marking its 200th anniversary, symbolizes the fact that those who lived in the late 1700s began to believe that the beautiful lines of a church praised God. Yet their pioneering ancestors, who came to settle here in the wilderness some forty years earlier, were "plain people" who believed that a beautiful church building distracted from worship and was therefore wrong.

When the first settlers came here in 1761, they found nothing but wilderness, practically unexplored, and it would take time to build cabins, remove trees to let the sunshine in, pull out stumps and rocks from the fields, and plant crops to feed people and domestic animals. They would do without such conveniences of life not produced here except for what they brought with them. Later, when they developed "money crops" such as maple sugar, they would travel to a large city (probably Albany), to purchase what small conveniences of life they did not produce.

They would do without a church for a few years. First they needed a minister among them. Rather than make a church of logs, they would wait until a sawmill was operating, to construct a plain-looking building of boards that would serve as church and meetinghouse until a proper church could be built, when they would also have a separate building for public meetings. As events unfolded, it took about three years to recruit an acceptable minister, and another year to build a combination church and meetinghouse.

What the first meetinghouse looked like is not clear, but it was almost certainly built in the somber style of Puritanism, influenced by the writings of John Calvin. The settlers' clothing, homes and manners also reflected Calvin's thought.

Bennington was first settled in 17 61, just after the capture of Quebec by the British ended the French and Indian wars. Before that time, French Canada repeatedly sent raiding parties of their Indian allies led by French officers through what is now Vermont to terrorize New England settlements in western Massachusetts such as Deerfield.

The French, mostly Roman Catholic, especially hated Massachusetts ("]es Bastonnais") as the symbol of Puritanism. It was not safe for English people to live in Vermont.




Balcony Pews



But after France was defeated, the Indians stopped raiding from Canada while New England settlers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island moved into the territory now known as Vermont with as much possessions as they could haul or carry, to build cabins, clear fields, and raise crops. These people were overwhelmingly tillers of the soil, and devoted to their religion.    More


 

 



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.

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.



 

 

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”).


Hours
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.

The church can also be seen by special appointment.
Please contact the Church Office for more information.


(802) 447-1223          office@oldfirst.comcastbiz.net


The Old First Church is located in historic Old Bennington, within a short walk of both the

Bennington Museum
with its
Grandma Moses Gallery

and
The Bennington Battle Monument


Paul

Above Photo courtesy of Mitchell Photography



Above Photo courtesy of Tripper Stiles and TLS Visuals l.stiles@nebcvt.org