The Andover Ecclesiastical Society
In the Spring of 1743, residents living on the outer fringes of Hebron, Lebanon and Coventry petitioned to create a new Ecclesiastical Society representing what is now the town of Andover. The laws at the time, regarding mandatory attendance at worship services and town meetings, meant these folks on the outskirts of town had a difficult time making the trip each Sunday. It was time for a new church.
In this pre-revolution era of Connecticut, an area looking to establish a new church needed the permission of the Connecticut General Assembly. If granted, a new Ecclesiastical society would be formed. Basically, the Ecclesiastical society managed the business aspect of organizing a new church - raising funding, finding a place to worship and arranging for a minister to lead worship. Though initially denied, the ongoing petition was eventually granted in May of 1747, forming the Andover Ecclesiastical Society - a precursor to the Andover Church.
The Reverend Samuel Lockwood
The Reverend Samuel Lockwood was born in Norwalk in 1721. He graduated Yale in 1745, having studied theology with his brother, the Reverend James Lockwood of Wethersfield. He was licensed to preach by the Hartford South Association of Ministers in the Summer of 1747 and went to briefly preach in the parish of Marlborough.
In March of 1748, the new Andover Ecclesiastical Society voted to hire him to "preach the gospel for a space of nine Sabbaths". After this period, there was a unanimous vote to hire him as a probationer, "to settle among us with the leave and advice of the association." The Congregation appears to have warmed quickly to Reverend Lockwood as two months later, a vote was cast to settle him permanently. He was given a £1200 "settlement" as well as a salary of £60 and 30 cords of firewood per year.
The Meeting House
In September of 1747, the Society voted to build Andover's first meeting house - a central location where the townspeople could congregate for everything from worship to town business. Until its partial completion at least, the town would meet at various homes throughout the area such as the Phelps' barn.
The meeting house was a work in progress for the next 10 years and beyond, though it was clearly used before work was finished - the first recorded use of the meeting house was October 5th, 1748 for an Ecclesiastical Society meeting.
Mrs. James A. King, a descendent of Deacon Stephen Bingham, wrote in 1922 in THE FOOT AND BINGHAM FAMILY, in which she describes the first meeting house as a square, "A perfect cube." Her written account was taken from letters and transcripts passed down through the Foot and Bingham families -
A gallery was on three sides. Opposite the door was the pulpit, on a platform with a railing around it. Below the pulpit was the deacons' seat, a large square pew. Over the pulpit, a sounding board painted green, on which was inscribed, "Holiness to the Lord"; on its top was painted a gilt torch. The pulpit cushions were green velvet.
The American Revolution
It is known that George Washington used the Hartford-Norwich Road to travel between Hartford and Newport, RI. General Rochambeau of the French army stopped in Andover to dine at White's Tavern on Hutchinson Rd, and again, during the process of marching his army to aid General Washington. Though church and Ecclesiastical Society records do not specifically mention the war, town records show a significant number of young men from Andover were involved in the effort.
Entering the 19th Century
Reverend Lockwood passed in 1791. The society of Andover was continuing to petition to become a township, for which they had been denied on multiple occasions. Township would eventually be granted in 1848. During this time, worship was led by a small handful of ministers - Reverend Royal Tyler (1792), Reverend Augustus Baldwin Collins (1818) & Reverend Alpha Miller (1829). The Andover Church School began in 1820. In 1832, the Ecclesiastical Society agreed that it was time for a new "meeting house" specifically for public worship.
The New "Meeting House" - Our Current Church
Building the second church was a much quicker affair than the original meeting house. Only 6 months passed between ground-breaking and its dedication. Except for an extension on the north side of the building and the small addition to the east, the exterior of the new church in 1833 was essentially the same as it is today. Edward Eaton managed the construction at a cost of $2103. Interestingly, the word "church" was not generally used until the 1860's (at least in written records), "meeting house" still being the common term.
In 1846, the location of the cemetery was proposed and Charles Jones, who died October 19th, 1847, is the first to be buried there.
In August of 1884, the Andover Church received its steeple bell. The bell had been cast in Baltimore, Maryland by Henry McShane & Co. and was inscribed, "Presented to the First Ecclesiastical Society of Andover by The Helping Hands - August 1884". It's not hard to imagine a significant number of parishioners waiting for its arrival by train, where it would be taken by horse or oxen for delivery to the church to be hoisted by ropes to its spot in the belfry.
Additional Ministers of the 1800's:
Reverend John R. Freeman (1855)
Reverend V. Ezekiel Dow (1867)
Reverend Samuel Ingraham (1868)
Reverend S.G.W. Ranking (1871)
Reverend A. Sharp (1874)
Reverend Simeon Miller (1882)
Reverend Elbridge W. Merritt (1888)
Reverend Gilbert A Curtis (1893)
Reverend Oliver Brown (1896)
Music in the Church
Tracing the development of music in the Andover church's worship service provides interesting as well as amusing insights into the problems that at times, threatened to disrupt, rather than unify the membership in pursuit of their devotions.
During the first 100 years, there were no hymnals, nor were there any instrument to carry the congregational singing. "Choristers", men of strong voice and familiar with the tunes, were appointed to "line" and "set" the psalms (hymns). "Lining" was presenting both the tune and words line-by-line; the congregation repeating until the tune was learned. At that point, "setting" was simply setting the pitch.
In February, 1841, a meeting of the Ecclesiastical Society was taken up exclusively for the purpose of "improving the singing". An excerpt from a formal, written resolution from that meeting:
Whereas difficulties are existing in the Choir of Singers belonging to the First Ecclesiastical Society in Andover, whereby the peace and harmony of the Choir is much disturbed, and their usefulness much impaired and whereas after several ineffectual attempt of the Choir to reconcile the conflicting feelings, there appears to be no prospect of a harmonious settlement by the singers. We, the Subscribers Committee of the aforesaid Society, with a view and desire of reconciling the existing difficulties, and doing justice to all parties concerned -
Do advise and direct that Maj. Francis A. Porter shall at all times when present in the Choir, take the lead in singing -- and when Maj. Porter is not present, Mr. Charles H. Loomis may take the lead, and in the case of the absence of both Maj. Porter and Mr. Loomis, Mr. Samuel Henry Daggett may take the lead.
Maj. Porter shall have the privilege of using his flute at this option and if any Bass Viol is used, it shall be the Society's, and shall be played by Samuel Henry Daggett, and if any Violin is used it shall be played by Erastus M. Loomis, and no other person shall play on these foregoing named instruments or any other instruments while in the Choir without the direction of the Society's Committee. Furthermore, the aforesaid instruments tune those instruments to conform to Maj. Porter's Flute, and shall play according to the best skill of the performers.
The purchase of a melodeon in 1856 presumably laid this matter to rest. The melodeon was later replaced by a reed organ in 1867.
In 1931, an electric powered reed organ was installed to great fanfare and in 1952, a beautiful Baldwin organ was purchased and installed. In 1983, the church purchased a rebuilt pipe organ, an E. and G.G. Hook and Hastings Opus 675 - originally built in 1872. The refurbishing and installation were completed in 1984. A beautiful "Novabell" carillon was gifted to the church in 1993 which can be heard at noon and 7pm each day and is used for Christmas carols around the holidays.
The Last 100 Years
As the New England Congregational Churches entered the twentieth century, they probably had little idea of the drastic changes and challenges which faced them. The church in Andover was typical of most southern New England Congregational Churches in its growth, theological development and social change within the community. The pastors who served the church in Andover, whether for a short time or long term, as students or full time pastors, added some vital part to the making of the history of our church and community.
In 1902, the original parsonage, built by the Reverend Samuel Lockett, was purchased by the Ecclesiastical Society. Repairs and renovations, including adding steam heat, were added in the late 1950's, yet the original colonial design was kept.
The Great Hurricane of 1938 wrecked the steeple and caused other significant damage to the church building. Repairs were completed in 1940.
The early 40's saw the hardships of the "war years", perhaps interesting that in 1944, the Ration Board denied the use of gas for church use, deeming it to be "pleasure driving" - a stark contrast to earlier periods of our history where the church would never have been labeled as such.
In the 50's, major additions were made to the back side of the church to create additional class and meeting rooms, as well as renovations to our basement facility including a new kitchen. The 1950's also saw the transfer of the church, all property and trusts from the Ecclesiastical Society to the church itself, effectively ending over 200 years of service to the town of Andover by the Society. Moving forward, church life and all affairs would be handled by the church itself, governed by a drafted constitution and managed by the church board.
The 1970's & 80's saw the bicentennial of our country and continued a period where The First Congregational Church in Andover would be a resource for our surrounding communities - a continued a tradition of giving. The church played a vital role in bringing elderly housing to Andover where groundbreaking on the Hop River Homes took place in March of 1980. Significant contributions were made to the Vacation Bible School, UNICEF programs, the Andover Seniors newsletter and both financial and volunteer contributions to the Covenant Soup Kitchen. We also saw the beginnings of The Hop River Chamber Music Series.
In the 1990's, our church joined the Covenant to Care Adpot a Social Worker Program, an interfaith ministry which links a religious congregation with a professional social worker in order
to support that worker and to meet the unmet needs of children who are abused, neglected or living in severe poverty. Andover's first food pantry was established in 1994, a program
that has grown tremendously in the last 20 years.
Our faith is 2000 years old. Our church is going on 300. Our thinking is not.
The First Congregation Church has continued to operate on a mission to serve the spiritual needs of our congregation and to serve the community around us. The Andover Food Pantry continues to be a resounding success, helping twice a week to provide for those who can use it.
We have an active and lively congregation who eagerly welcome new guests and who will unconciously become part of our churches great history.
To call this the cliff-notes of the history of the First Congregation Church would be an injustice. Much of the brief information here was taken from A History of The Ecclesiastical Society and The First Congregational Church - A book created in preparation for the church's 250th anniversary in 1972. Leaning on incredibly old church records and personal, family letters lent to the church for this purpose, a gentleman named Roscoe Talbot spent countless hours drafting notebook after notebook on this history. When Roscoe passed away, his wife took up the project and finished the final written copy of the book from Roscoe's notes.
Keep in mind, the first volume of the official church records have never been recovered - the assumption is lost to fire in the original "Meeting House". Roscoe's work to dig through the details, struggling through the reading the old English, deciphering the thoughts found in these "handed-down-through-the-family" letters and finally comparing to available records from the Town of Andover, is nothing short of amazing. If you're interested in learning more, a copy of this book should be available through the church.