Centennial Anniversary of the Dedication of
Many thanks to Pat Olson of Binghamton, NY
|Rev. Samuel MUNSON,||1770-1793||Rev. Samuel SHEPARD, D.D.,||1795-1846||Rev. Henry NEILL,||1846-1854||Rev. Edmund K. ALDEN,||1854-1859||Rev. Reuben S. KENDALL,||1860-1865||Rev. Samuel H. TOLMAN,||1872-1873||Rev. Charles H. PARKHURST,||1874-1880||Rev. R. DeWitt MALLARY,||1880-1889||Rev. Edward DAY,||1890-1898||Rev. Frederick LYNCH,||1899-1904||Rev. Clayton J. POTTER,||1904-1907|
The Meeting House of the Congregation Church of Lenox was erected during the season of 1805, and dedicated January first 1806. Therefore it is true that while we endeavored to cherish every sentiment that might contribute to the proper observance of the day, the letter was violated when the commemoration services were held on the twelfth of June. However, we felt that the day had been happily chosen. The weather was perfect: a bright cool June day in the Berkshires has yet to be improved upon.
Invitations had been sent to all the living members of the congregation so far as their location was known. Those who accepted were naturally the friends living in nearby towns and cities, though two men came from New Jersey and one from Indiana, to visit the church home of their boyhood.
From across the country in every direction came letters expressing regret at inability to be present, and tender words in appreciation of high ideals gained in the services of the old church. Doubtless there were many hearts that on the appointed day, joined with ours in love for this venerable place of worship.
Simple decorations of palms and flowers were arranged about the pulpit and platform with beautiful and dignified effect.
The choir was assisted by a number of those who had occupied the singers' gallery in recent years.
The organist, Mr. Harold THOMPSON, labored zealously for the occasion, and his efforts were rewarded by the excellent rendering of the hymns and anthems.
The afternoon services, at 2:30, began with an invocation by the Rev. George T. WASHBURN of Meriden, Conn., a son of the church who has recently completed thirty-nine years of service as a missionary under the American Board in India. The Scripture lesson which was read at the dedication of the church, from the first book of Kings the eighth chapter, was read by the Rev. Edward SEDGWICK of Lenox. Then followed the singing by the congregation of the hymn "O where are kings and empires now", in a way which showed that congregational singing is not altogether a lost art.
Addresses were delivered by the Minister, and by the Rev. R. DeWitt MALLARY, D. D., of Housatonic, pastor of the church from 1880 to 1889; the Rev. Edward DAY, of Nantucket, pastor from 1890 to 1898; and Deacon Henry SEDGWICK who has worshipped under ten of the eleven ministers who have served the church. Letters of greeting were read from the Rev. Charles H. PARKHURST, D.D., of New York, pastor of the church from 1874 to 1880; and the Rev. Albert J. LYMAN, D.D., of Brooklyn, who lived in Lenox in early life.
During the service a hymn, composed for the dedication, and sung then, was again used.
At the evening service, prayer was offered by the Rev. Charles H. WILLIAMS, of New London, Conn., who had once supplied the pulpit for some months.
Addresses followed, by the Hon. Francis W. ROCKWELL, of Pittsfield, a great-grandson of William WALKER, the chairman of the committee which contracted for and superintended the construction of the Meeting House; the Rev. Frederick LYNCH, of New York, pastor of the church from 1889 to 1904; and the Rev. Fritz W. BALDWIN, D.D. of East Orange, New Jersey, who attended the services of the church and learned to revere it, during some years spent teaching in the old Lenox Academy.
Between the services the invited guests and the people of the congregation to the number of one hundred eighty, enjoyed a bountiful supper in Sedgwick Hall, served under the able management of the Curtis Hotel. All who attended the services were asked to register their names for reference at future anniversaries.
It will be noticed in the following pages that the future of the church as well as the past received due attention. In spite of many changes in the community it was felt that the church had cause not only to be grateful for its past, but hopeful for the future.
Altogether, it was a day calculated to strengthen the ties, already strong, which bind the Old Church of the Hill to many grateful hearts.
We are gathered here to commemorate the dedication of this House of Worship, and to express our gratitude to Almighty God for its preservation to this congregation for one hundred years. We shall best prepare ourselves for entering into the spirit of the day by recalling some of the important events in the life of the church organization, which preceded the erection of this House.
One of the first concerns of the inhabitants of every New England town was to provide a Meeting House to accommodate their services of worship. It was the first public building to be erected or was preceded only by the school house. The location was at the crossing of two roads in the center of the little community, or on some near-by hill that commanded the neighboring country.
Early settlements in Lenox, which began in 1750, were very desultory and unstable. The people were fearful of Indian depredations, and in 1755 there was a general flight to places of safety, because of the approach of the savages. However in 1767 the town was incorporated, and in 1769 the Congregational Church was organized. The final site of the Meeting House was determined by a very interesting succession of events. Some time before the organization of the church, two sites had been designated by the town; for church and state were united until 1834, and all matters pertaining to church life were determined in the annual and special town meetings. One of the meeting had even adjourned to a site appointed, and drove a stake to mark it. Both locations were north of the present site, along the road to Pittsfield. But fortunately neither of these was to be the site of the Meeting House. Construction was delayed for various reasons.
The ultimate choice of the town was expressed in the action of the Proprietors in 1769, who "voted to build on the sport sequestered for that purpose by the heirs of Rev. Peter REYNOLDS, lying on the East end of the mountain". That was the phrase used to designate the eminence on which this House stands. The Rev. Peter REYNOLDS of Somers, Conn., was one of seven men who had purchased from an inhabitant of Stockbridge who was an undesirable citizen, certain lands in that town, in order the community might be relieved of his further residence there. To compensate these men, the government gave them 4000 acres of uncleared land lying north of Stockbridge. This tract covered all of what is now the present town of Lenox, and perhaps the township; and in the records of the time it was called the Ministers' Grant, in as much as five of these men were ministers. [The implication, made in a history of the town, that this tract of land belonged to any Minister of the town by virtue of his office and that the title to it was commuted later to his obvious loss, is misleading.]
To the Rev. Mr. REYNOLDS fell the tract including this hill. His heirs, in consideration of "the love, goodwill, and affection", they bore to the people and town of Lenox, executed the following deed of land. "Three acres of land lying and being in the Township of Lenox aforesaid for the use, benefit and improvement of siting a Meeting House thereon, a Burying Yard or Lot, etc., for the benefit and utility of the people and town of Lenox aforesaid forever, or so long as it shall be used and improved for the purposes aforesaid."
To the generosity of the descendants of this pioneer we are indebted for the surpassing beauty and fitness of the location of this House and the church yard about it.
In 1770 the first Meeting House was erected. It was not thoroughly completed until five years later. In size it was probably about forty-five feet by thirty-five feet, and was "a suitable height for that bigness"; these being the dimensions appointed for the first Meeting Houses in Richmond and Lenox before the division which resulted in the formation of the two present townships. This building stood a little southwest of the present House. Rev. Samuel MUNSON became in 1770 the first pastor of the Church and continued in that office until 1793. Two years later Samuel SHEPARD was called to minister to the Church, and remained its pastor until his death in 1846. The Meeting House was in such a state of disrepair and was so limited in seating capacity, that it was thought unwise to hold his ordination services in it, and a staging was erected outside for that purpose. Under his care the church life was greatly invigorated. When he came to the organization it had but a small membership. In 1806, when this House was dedicated, there were over a hundred members. The town also had increased in its number of citizens. In 1800, with a population of 1041 it was nearly half as large as Pittsfield.
Naturally the church felt worthy of a better House than the one in which it was worshipping in 1803.
At the annual Town Meeting held in that year on the fourteenth of March, the following item was submitted to the voters: "Art. 16. To see if the town will do anything about building a meeting-house." The phrasing of this article indicates the truth of the statement made as to the condition of the old meeting-house. The citizens realized the need of doing something in the way of erecting a new building, in order that they might worship in a comfortable house and one less liable to collapse over their heads or go to ruin between Sabbaths.
At this meeting it was "Voted, That Eldad LEWIS, Esq., William WALKER, Esq., Samuel COLLINS, Thomas STEEL, Elijah GATES, Elijah NORTHRUP, Josiah NEWELL, Oliver BELDEN, Junior, Caleb HYDE, Nathaniel MILLER and Joseph GOODWIN, Esq., be a committee to digest a plan relative to building a meeting-house in this town."
On April eighteenth a special meeting was called.
On the appointed day the meeting convened. Eldad LEWIS was named moderator. It was voted to proceed to building.
The location was determined as "on the meeting-house lot, on or near the place where present meeting-house stands."
The building was to erected "within two years from the first of October next," which would make the expiration of the time limit fall in October of 1805.
It was voted to defray the expenses of construction by the Public vendueing of the pews:
If such a sum proved to be deficient, to tax the pews bid off proportionate to their value as bid.
William WALKER, Joseph GOODWIN and David BOSWORTH were named a committee to make and report another plan for said meeting-house and to view other meeting-houses for the purpose of perfecting their plans.
The meeting then adjourned.
On May 2 the voters again came together for further action.
It was voted that the "Body of the meeting-house be sixty-four feet long and fifty feet wide, and a projection for a tower of eight feet by twenty-six."
William WALKER, Caleb HYDE, Oliver BEDLEN, Jr., Joseph GOODWIN, Josiah NEWELL, Nathaniel MILLER, and Ebenezer WILLIAMS were named a committee to contract for performing the work of said meeting-house and to collect material and superintend the business in general.
It was voted that the work be done "by the job or jobs and not by the day."
This vote reveals the fact that at this period there were used the two methods of the present, in the employment of labor. But the method of construction followed was different from that of to-day. The modern builder of a frame structure such as this, goes to the lumber yard and procures his timbers already sawed for his uses.
One hundred years ago, men went into the forest of standing timber. They selected the trees that were straightest and most sound. These they cut down and carefully hewed to the desired dimensions. The big beams and great timbers were then laid by to season and dry in the sun and wind. Consequently the timbers put into the structure of a century ago, whether it was a dwelling house, or a meeting-house, were thoroughly seasoned. They did not heave, and check or split, when once they took their place in the building. Then too, men labored not so much to do a "day's work" as to perform some definite task. They could do a piece of work by the job and at the same time be faithful and painstaking.
The plan of the committee for square pews, which had been submitted to the meeting, was accepted. It was also decided that the building should "set with steeple fronting the South." The bidding was to be for choice of pews: the highest bidders having first choice. Joseph GOODWIN was appointed vendue master. Each buyer was also to have the privilege of paying a proportionable share of the price of the building. At a meeting held the fifth of May it was "voted that a bell be included in expense of said house," and that "the three pews in the tower be sold like the others." These pews filled the space now occupied by the organ and the seats for the choir.
The plan of arrangement of the pews as accepted by the town, was in general, like the present arrangement. There was a center aisle or "alley," as it was often named in the old times, of six feet in width. On either side of this space there were two rows of pews seven in each row, these being the only pews in the house that approached the square in their dimensions. They were seven feet by five feet. Outside these pews were the two side aisles each three feet and ten inches wide; and between these and the wall were long narrow pews. These were four feet wide and varied in length from nine feet to eleven feet; those at the north end being longest. There were five of these pews on each side of the meeting-house.
The pulpit was small in all dimensions but height. The sides of the old box pews were carried much higher up than are the pews to-day. Indeed no worshipper when seated could see any one in the house except those who sat in his own pew, and the occupant of the pulpit. The gallery front was also quite high, affording a serviceable screen for the boys and young men who sat behind it. It was necessary, then, that the pulpit should be elevated, in order that the minister might see all his congregation, both on the floor of the House and in the galleries. It was circular in form, and rested on a fluted post, with a flight of stairs approaching it on each side. In front of the pulpit and beneath it was the Deacon's seat. On each side of the pulpit were four pews, extending their length, eight feet, into the body of the house and even with the front of the Deacon's seat. The two pews immediately at the right and left of the pulpit, separated from it by a narrow aisle, were a trifle wider than the others, numbered one and two, and were marked in the plan, "Reserved". There were forty-six pews in all: numbered according to the choice made at the vendue. The numbers were painted on the pew doors. The alley in front of the body pews was three feet ten inches wide; the one at the rear was four feet, four and three-fourths inches wide.
This is the plan of arrangement of Pews adopted, and the house was built accordingly.
The entire amount provided for the erection of the building by the public vendueing of the pews was $6,811.00. The contracting committee "in case they judged it expedient, were authorized to contract for a part payment for said building in neat cattle or any other produce at such prices as shall be fixed by indifferent persons mutually chosen by said Committee and the person contracting."
The town records contain a detailed estimate of the materials to be used in the construction of the House, and of the cost of the larger timers. Five hundred bushels of lime and fifty tons of sand were required. The contracting committee was given power to make such variations from this estimate as they should judge beneficial to the building. They were also given power to appoint places on the Meeting House green where horse sheds might be built by those who applied for such permission.
The Town continued to hold its business meetings in the "Old Meeting House" until May 1806, when it was sold at public vendue. The total amount realized from the sale was $205.51. So passed out of existence the first House of Worship erected in this township. Some of the timbers rendered further service in barns and dwelling houses in the town.
The builder of the House was Benjamin D. GOODRICH who was paid for building the Meeting House and furnishing materials about $5,000.00 out of a total cost of $6,619.00.
Hydes' "History of Lee" is incorrect in stating that it was build by John HULETT who had charge of erecting Meeting Houses in Lee and Richmond.
GOODRICH was a carpenter of whom we know only that he was living in Richmond from 1805-1811.
Meeting Houses in Richmond, Lee, and Lenox, were erected within a period of ten years; the Richmond Meeting House in 1795, that in Lee in 1800, and our own completed in 1805. It is quite probable that among the Houses "viewed" by the committee appointed to draw plans for this structure, these two were included. The Lee Meeting House was sixty-four by fifty which was one foot shorter than that in Richmond; and as there are the dimensions of this structure, it is clear that all three were much alike in general plan.
The Richmond Meeting House was destroyed by fire in 1882; that of Lee in 1857. Hence it is not without special cause for thanksgiving that we gather to-day permitted by a gracious Providence to worship as a church in this House, for one hundred years. The House of God that is set on a hill cannot be hid, not is it so liable to be destroyed by a conflagration as one that is surrounded by other buildings.
As for the architecture; the building is competent to speak for itself. There is a well proportioned symmetry about it that bears evidence of no insignificant architectural genius exercised in its construction. The "high-shouldered" effect, so often seen in churches of this type, has been fortunately avoided. These is not spire to pierce the clouds that sweep over the Hill day after day; or to give the appearance of something added for effect. Instead there is a steeple which is an integral part of the meeting House, and with its crown of gold speaks of other crowns that are for those who faithfully worship beneath it.
Graceful without effort; solid and substantial, without stolidity or dullness; it fulfills the beauty of holiness and the dignity of worship.
Having followed the steps leading to the erection of the building, we are prepared to learn something of the dedication. The Pittsfield Sun of Monday, December 30, 1805, has this note: "The dedication of the new Meeting House in Lenox is to take place on Wednesday next, and the exercises of the day are to commence at half past eleven o'clock." It is very singular that no later mention is made of these dedicatory services. But we are not without some authentic information of them. A letter written by a woman in Stockbridge to her huaband, then absent, contains this account; "Stockbridge, January 2nd, 1806. Agreeable to the intimation in my last, we opened the year by attending the dedication of the temple at Lenox, though necessitated to go upon wheels. The audience was numerous, the building spacious as it is, was not only filled, but crowded. The day was favorable -- had it been sleighing the assembly would doubtless have been much more numerous. Mr. SHEPARD opened the exercises by reading the dedication of Solomons' temple. Music succeeded. Mr. PERRY [Rev. David PERRY of Richmond] made the introductory prayer. Mr. SHEPARD preached from Ezra 6-16 "And the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy." To do justice to the sermon is beyond the power of my feeble pen. You well know the animated, impressive manner of our respected friend. This was an occasion peculiarly adapted to call forth the energy of his genius. To me, and indeed to others, it appeared one of the finest specimens of pulpit eloquence. I expect it will be published tho' I doubt whether it will in perusal shine with equal lustre. Much of its brilliancy, I suspect, was derived from the appropriate manner of the speaker. A prayer by Mr. HYDE [Rev. Alvan HYDE of Lee] and a hymn composed by Doctor LEWIS, but sung in a very ordinary tune, closed the solemnities of the day." To this eye-witness we are indebted for this account of the services held here one hundred years ago last January.
So far as it known the sermon was never published. That the preachers' ordinarily impressive pulpit manner was intensified by the significance of the occasion, is not remarkable. He had come to the church ten years before and found in extremely needy in everything that pertained to vigorous church life. The membership was small and the spiritual interest was not greater. The congregation was worshipping in a dilapidated building. The town in common with the whole country was but beginning to recover from the war of the Revolution; while there was further local disaffection and distrust arising from difficulties connected with that movement known as "Shay's Rebellion." The young minister, only twenty-two years old, took hold of his problems with all the strength of his energetic nature; the people supported him loyally, and now he was reaping the harvest of his faithful labors. In those days, $6,000.00 was no small sum to take from a community of a thousand souls, when a man received for the labor of his team but seventy-five cents for the longest day in summer, and less when the days were shorter. And while some may have paid the price of their pew in cattle or the produce of the land, they would still have been paying in a coin that was of highest value.
This material prosperity did not check the spiritual development which had begun a few years before. In 1808, fifty-six persons were received into the church. The diary of Dr. SHEPARD, under date of March 5, 1815, has this entry. "This is a time of remarkable outpouring of God's spirit upon this church and people. Many are still inquiring what they shall do to be saved. May God still continue the blessed work and enlarge his church." As a result of this movement one hundred and sixty-one persons were received into the church.
In the summer of 1840 the first alterations in the floor plan of the Meeting House were made. The box pews were now a construction of the past. The seats were to be made modern in every way, and the so-called "slips" were substituted for them. The broad "alley" was abolished by the Committee on alterations, of which John HOTCHKIN was a member. Two solid rows of slips occupied the center of the Meeting House: then on either side were two narrow aisles, and between these and the walls a row of slips set a trifle obliquely to the length of the House. This change in the position of the slips would have brought the gallery supports into the two aisles; and to avoid this inconvenience, and arch was built with supports at the sides of the aisle. The owners of the original pews were assigned slips as nearly equal in value to their former holdings as the committee found it possible to arrange them. For it must be remembered that each pew owner held a deed of his property, and as carefully guarded his rights in this as in other matters. The committee had been empowered to "lower the old pulpit or make a new one", and as their report reads, "when they came to examine the old Pulpit and view not only its uncouth appearance but its want of proportion to the rest of the House, they could not hesitate in determining what would, in their opinion, be most agreeable to the taste, as well as the wished of the Society." A new and lower pulpit was accordingly constructed.
The high front of the gallery was made lower, that those seated there might be able to see the preached in the re-modeled pulpit. The north end of the House was of course a straight line, the present projection being built much later. A semi-circle was taken out of the vestibule at the center of the House in the rear of the body pews, and brought inside the House proper; this was done to give space for the placing of the stoves. In 1866 the floor plan was changed to the present arrangement and in 1875 the pulpit was again lowered and refitted.
The projection which is occupied by the present platform and pulpit was constructed in 1880by a society of young women of the church. The vestibule was renovated and partitioned in 1883; this work being done as a direct gift to the church.
In 1838 a second bell which still calls us to worship, was hung in the steeple. Stoves were used sometime before 1836, for in December of that year a special meeting of the society was called to decide upon a change in their location. The winter was coming on and doubtless the congregation felt the need of getting better results from the ten dollars or less that was spent annually for fuel. In 1850 the seats in the gallery in the porch were appropriated "for the use of those who assisted in singing".
The recognition of the singers as such, by the church, evidently stirred their ambitions; and three years later a committee was named and given power to "investigate the subject of procuring such an instrument of music as they thought proper". This led the to the purchase for the sum of $142.00 of a "Seraphim".
We may infer that this was not a special importation of one or more of the Angelic host for the direction of the music, but a prosaic instrument of the melodeon type. In 1868 the society voted to allow an organ to be placed in the church as a permanent accessory of worship. Evidently the "Seraphim" had won the hearts of the congregation.
During the existence of this House of Worship many friends of the church have testified to their love for it by various gifts. We have spoken of the gift of the site in the early days of the town. In 1832, Mr. D. WILLIAMS, gave a strip of land in front of the church that was to be forever kept open. His object was to preserve the outlook from the church door; but the planting of trees on other land, in later years, defeated the object of this gift. It is a loss to us that we have not the privilege of the view that met the eyes of the fathers when they came to worship, and which many of you to-day recall. In 1849 the society voted to "permit a public clock to be placed upon the Belfry of the Meeting House. This clock was the gift of Fanny KEMBLE to the town. Not long after the placing of the clock, we find an investigation of the damage done to the Belfry by its situation there, and later the Prudential Committee was requested to petition the Selectmen "to protect the Congregational Meeting House from damage from the falling of weights of the town clock". This clock did not have an enviable reputation for telling the truth about the time of day; it is said that the hands invariably pointed to the same hour, which the people of Lenox affirmed to be in the early morning, in denial of the insinuations made by the inhabitants of other towns who held that the clock always indicated the evening hour. The clock which to-day performs its duties so faithfully and whose massive dials serve to adorn the steeple, was paced there as a gift to the church, by Mr. Morris K. JESUP in 1899.
The first Bible of which we find records was given by William WALKER in 1818. The Bible which is in use at present was given to the society by the Hon. William P. WALKER in 1852. The baptismal font, and tablets at the rear of the pulpit, were put in place in 1882, in memory of Sarah EGLESTON and Thomas EGLESTON. The two pulpit lamps were given by Mrs. Robert E. HILL in the name of her husband Robert E. HILL, in memory of his grandfather, Dr. Robert WORTHINGTON.
In 1896, Mrs. Mary Hill BARRETT presented to the church the present pulpit in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jane Worthington HILL, "for many years a faithful member of this church". The tablet in memory of Dr. SHEPARD was given by Miss Eliza WILLIAMS.
In 1864 permission was given for the erection of an iron fence with stone posts on the east and south sides of the church lot. This fence was built by Mr. Ammi ROBBINS, a resident of the town. To carry out his wishes, his heirs two years later gave to the society the sum of $1,000.00 the income of which was to be used for the maintenance of the fence, and after that for repairs of the church and grounds. Mention has been made only of the gifts that are peculiarly related to the Meeting House itself. There is one item found upon the records of the annual meeting of the society, and earlier upon the records of the annual town meeting, that we must note; each year it was voted that a certain named person should act as sexton for the ensuing year; "to ring the bell, sweep the Meeting House and keep the keys". I wish that we the names of all who have served in that office. While many references may be made to-day to those who have officiated in this end of the church or to those who have worshipped here, let us not forget the unthanked by faithful sexton.
We recall at this service some of the noted men who have spoken within these walls and the important services that have been held here. In 1838 at an Independence Day celebration the statesman Robert RANTOUL delivered an oration in this place.
It was here in the summer of 1842 that William Ellery CHANNING made his last formal public address. Broken in health he came to the Berkshires to stay his failing strength. His natural love of freedom was intensified by the scenery upon which he dwelt with great delight. The heights have always been the homes of freemen, and his great passion was fed by these strong hills. Chadwick in this life of Channing writes thus of what he terms the Sermon on the Mount: "He spoke uninvited, finding the Berkshire people forgetful of the salve and resolved to stir up their pure minds. There could be no lovelier spot than that where stands the Meeting House in which he spoke." Mrs. Charles SEDGWICK wrote of this occasion: "Almost every one looked eager and animated. I shall never forget Dr. CHANNING's appearance in the pulpit that day. His countenance was full of spiritual beauty, and when he uttered that beautiful invocation towards the close of his address which would not have been more characteristic or fitting had he known that he should never speak again in public, -- he looked like one inspired." He began with the impetuous introduction: "Men of Berkshire, whose nerves and souls the mountain air has braced, . . . I feel as if this public voice which now addresses you must find an echo amidst these forest crowned heights." And when he had spoken for an hour and a quarter and had not strength to read all that he had written he ended with that prayer which has been called his swan song: "Oh come, come thou kingdom of heaven, for which, we daily pray! come friend and saviour of the race, who didst shed thy blood on the cross to reconcile man to man and earth to heaven! Come Father Almighty and crown with thine omnipotence the humble strivings of thy children to subvert oppression and wrong, to spread light and freedom and peace and joy, the truth and spirit of thy Son through the whole earth."
Dr. Samuel SHEPARD, in 1845, here delivered a sermon on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the work of the gospel ministry. His theme was "All things earthly, changing, and transitory," a subject which might appear incongruous with his long continued relation to the church. Dr. TODD of Pittsfield added a congratulatory word from neighboring churches and their pastors. It would be interesting to know how many similar occasions there have been in the history of our own denomination, or even of the church at large in this country. There have not been many pastorates of half a century in duration. But in less that a year another service was held here which was one of sadness to the church. The faithful minister had received a call to a larger service, and one that he could not refuse, as he had others, during his life. Dr. TODD preached the funeral sermon.
The personality of Dr. SHEPARD was especially strong. He was a man with a great, frank, generous heart. Decided in his opinions, his beliefs were convictions. He was one of the very foremost ministers of the county. No public gathering was complete without his presence and participation. He was often called upon to pray, an exercise in which he was gifted. On how many Sabbaths have these walls re-echoed the fervent petitions that fell from his lips! Possessing a voice that was almost incomparable in compass and power, his sudden flights of eloquence in the delivery of a sermon, which the magnetism of his person, made a mighty appeal to the hears of his congregation. For years after his death the stamp of his individuality was upon the church; and it may be no exaggeration to say that traces of it still abide with us. Tenderly did he care for his flock and in death he was not taken from them. His body lies but a step from the door, the only minister of the church to rest with his people.
Here Henry Ward BEECHER and Richard Saltor STORRS occasionally preached to appreciative congregations. The former had a summer house in Lenox. He so enjoyed the beauty of the landscape as it could be seen from the door of the Meeting House, that he felt that to be a door-keeper in this House of God was a happy occupation.
The Centennial Anniversary of the organization of the church was observed here in 1869, with appropriate exercises. A year later these services were held in commemoration of the installation of the first pastor one hundred years before. On that occasion trees were planted on the site originally selected for the first Meeting House and also on the place actually occupied by that House in the church yard. The planting was done under the direction of Mr. Eldad POST who at ninety years of age, was the oldest member of the Church. It is said that Mr. POST gave to each member of the committee in charge of the services, a but of wood from the first meeting House.
Exercises in honor of the Centennial Celebration of American Independence were held in the town in 1876. The formal orations and address were pronounced in the old Church on the Hill. In 1896, at a meeting of the Berkshire South Conference of Churches, an address was delivered by Dr. C. H. DANIELS, a memorial to Dr. E. K. ALDEN, fourth pastor of the church.
One after another these occasions and others stand out against the background of the past; meetings oft he old Berkshire Sunday School Union; Church Conferences; then the solemn gatherings of the members of the church when they tarried after worship for attention to some matter of discipline, or came together for "prayer and supplication"; the services held over the loved ones who were soon to be borne yonder to their last rest; the baptism of the child into the covenant with the fathers; a welcome given to souls new born in the kingdom. There have been marriage vows here taken; men ordained to the work of God's church, and established in the service of this particular household. There is no memory coming to you out of the past that is not more holy and dear because it is thus associated with the House of God. And the House itself is hallowed by its relation to that beautiful and sacred field of the departed. It keeps silent watch over the city of the dead. At these services we company with their spirits. No one has been asked to speak to you on this occasion but those who are bound by ties of love and reverence to this church. May the fellowship of these services increase our devotion and gratitude to the Old Church on the Hill.
Here is another minute this time taken from the town records of Lenox: "1810, Maj. Gordon HOLLISTER bid off care of meeting-house, ringing bell, etc., $15.00 for 1 yr. 1812 Maj. Gordon HOLLISTER bid off care of meeting-house ringing bell, etc. $11.75 for 1 yr. .......
Here are three similar minutes from the church record.
"1808, June 5: Deacon ISBELL set apart to office of deacon by public service."
"1815, Dec. 1: Stephen WELLS solemnly consecrated to office of deacon."
"1816, Mar. 1: Capt. Charles MATTOON set apart to office of deacon by prayer and laying on of hands."
The services of the house on the Sabbath consisted of a preaching service held in the morning, with an intermission of one hour in the winter, from twelve o'clock to one, and in the summer of one hour and a half; the Sunday School session being held as now after the morning service, from the first of May until the first of November. There was no Sunday School held during the winter months. There was frequently a half hour prayer meeting held during the winter before the afternoon service, which was a preaching service.
The people who came from the outside districts usually remained between the services and brought their lunch with them. Those less religiously inclined ate their lunch sitting in their wagons under the horse sheds, and discussed the various topics of the day, Sunday papers not being available in those days.
I remember well when the effort was made to discontinue the second service, there being a strong opposition to the change on the part of the older members of the congregation.
The order of service was much the same as it is to-day with the exception of the omission of the call to worship, and the responsive reading. The people stood during the long prayer; and during the singing of the hymns, facing the choir. Later, the custom of standing during the prayer was changed for the sitting posture; but some of the congregation, not approving of the change, continued to stand as before.
This church has always been noted for having a good volunteer choir. I remember well those faithful leaders, Major S. WILSON, Charles BANGS, James THOMPSON, and Geo. O. PECK who gave their time and talent to sustain the singing in the Sanctuary. And I must not fail to make mention of the Orchestra composed of one bass-viol, one double bass-viol, two or more flutes, and sometimes a violin. Later a cornet was introduced and a Melodian was added. Finally the present Pipe Organ was installed: although objections were raised on the part of some of the older members to its being put in.
To-day we worship in the sanctuary of our Fathers. "We sit ourselves down in the old places where their shadows pass before us."
They sleep just beyond the portal! Here they were tempered with the divine spirit. The spirit of our Fathers loved above all others this temple of God. Here in the very temple the Master walked among them. To be ever with those whom he loves---'tis God's habit. 'Tis said, when slow winks the sun to sleep behind yon western hills, the Master and Night stand faithful watch over their loved sepulchral dead and the sanctuary where the beacon fire of the Almighty ever burns, 'till the golden king awakens -- then the Master, and Day!
To go back to the old town before 1806, to enter into the thought, feeling and spirit of our ancestors, is an interesting but difficult undertaking. The history of this church and congregation is a splendid record. Distinguished men have been among its pastors. Upon the roll of membership are the names of many who with honor served the town and state. Their service has been worthy, enduring. The Fathers have left this church a goodly heritage.
In 1806 Dr. SHEPARD's congregation was composed in part of men and women who thirty years before had experienced the struggle to establish in this country a free republic. During the Revolution and the trying times that followed, they had wrestled with the questions arising under a new form of government and had taken part in the varied controversies which naturally arose ere public affairs had settled upon an accepted basis. These bitter contests had left our forefathers with certain fixed and determined opinions, with minds which had become alert by reason of the crises passed through. They were of the stern Puritan stock and their religion, as their opinion in public matters, was pronounced.
Men's List, admitted to the Lenox Church previous to 1806, as shown by the catalogue.
1769. Amos STANLEY, Jonathan HINSDALE, Ex., Thomas STEEL, Jacob BACON, Thomas TRACEY.
Before 1771. Enoch HASKINS, David ALLEN, Deacon Elisha COAN, Timothy TREAT, Samuel GOODRICH, Edward MARTINDALE.
1771. James RICHARDS, Jacob COAN, James GUTHRIE, Ex., John GRAY, Noah ISBELL.
1772. Nathan FOOT, William ANDRUS, Thomas LANDERS.
1772. John IVES.
1773. Jacob COAN, Abijah TOMLIN, Allen GOODRICH, Elisha PERKINS, Amos BENTON, Isaac SMITH, Abraham NORTHRUP, Thomas BENEDICT.
1774. William LUSK, Gurdon HOLLISTER, Joseph MURWINE.
1775-1795. Lemuel COLLINS.
1779. Deacon John STOUGHTON.
1780. Moses WAY, Isaac HAMLIN.
1784. Daniel KEELER, David J. CHAPIN, Josiah OSBORN, Joseph BAKER, Job NORTHRUP, Ex., Daniel FELLOWS.
1785. Josiah LEE.
1786. Deacon Charles MATTOON, Uriah JUDD, Peter B. MESSENGER, Olin LANDERS, Stephen WELLS.
1789. Eldad LEWIS.
Before 1793. William HANDY.
1794. Thomas YALE, Joseph DENHAM, David BOSWORTH, Jr., Thomas ROCKWELL.
Before 1795. Rev. Samuel SHEPARD, William WALKER, Enos STONE.
1796. Andrew LOOMIS.
1797. Zadock HUBBARD.
1798. Jonathan TAYLOR, Elisha BANGS.
1799. Jabez ELLIS, Jonathan SMITH, Jonathan FOSTER, Oliver COLLINS, Deacon Nathan ISBELL, Deacon G. HOLLISTER, Isaac SEARS, Ex., Ichabod FORD, Jr., Edward DEWEY, Allen METCALF, Deacon James WADSWORTH.
1799. Deacon Stephen WELLS, Jr. Rev. Jeremiah OSBORN, Rev. Elisha YALE, D.D., Josiah NEWELL, Jr., Daniel WEST, Josiah NEWELL, Samuel FOSTER, David OSBORN.
1802. Joseph ROGERS, Thomas S. CURTIS.
1803. Jonathan SMITH, Eldad POST, Josiah CURTIS.
1804. John ROBINSON.
1805. Zepheniah DAVIS, Zepheniah DAVIS, Jr.
Lenox was incorporated in 1767. While there had been previous services held, Dr. SHEPARD states the church was organized in 1769 by Rev. Samuel HOPKINS of Great Barrington. Later researches do not fix the exact date. The Proprietors of Lenox on August 3, 1768, voted money and appointed a committee looking to the settlement of a minister. From 1770 for about twenty-two years, Rev. Samuel MUNSON, a graduate of Yale in 1763, was the settled pastor.
The historical sketch, prepared by the late Henry W. TAFT, Esq., in 1863, published with "The Confession of Faith, Covenant and Catalogue of Members", gives an outline history of the church.
[Note -- There is still another Jonathan SMITH in 1803. The church record marks both as dismissed in 1811. The Jonathan SMITH of 1799 and his wife Rebecca were admitted by letter from Ashfield. They are marked as dismissed in 1811 to join certain members of the church at Lee who were about to remove to Ohio.]
Several of the early members of the church lived in the territory adjoining Lenox, viz.:-- in Stockbridge, Lee and Richmond.
What an interesting and delightful chapter might be written on the lives and character of those connected with this old church during the last hundred years. There are some here whose parents' lives and their own span the full century. We have spoken only of the fathers, of those who joined the church previous to the time when the present "church of the hill" was built. Who will speak of the mothers in Israel? For us what a wealth of memories cluster around those who have worshipped the Lord in this our tabernacle! One cannot look upon the edifice itself without rejoicing that it has withstood the summer's heat and winter's storm for a full century, without thankfulness for the influence of those sweet, christian lives that here have found perchance their highest inspiration, and without an increasing reverence and respect for the faith they cherished.
That was indeed a beautiful hymn written by Mrs. SIGOURNEY, for Dr. SHEPARD's Fiftieth Anniversary of service here.
Where are the father? Tell us where?
At wintry fireside sparkling clear, --
At hall, and board, and house of prayer,
We seek them, but they are not here.
Where are the fathers? Gone to rest!
Yon hallowed church-year, sadly fair,
The swelling mounds on earth's green breast,
The silent tomb-stones teach us where.
Where are the fathers? Risen to God!
It here they labored for the skies,
Still may we keep the path they trod,
And join in Heaven earth's broken ties.
October 8, 1999
Transcription © Pat Olson
Web Format by Laurel O'Donnell
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