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Church History

THE STORY OF THE FOUNDING OF “THE FIRST CHURCH OF CHRIST,” LATER CHARTERED AS “THE  FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF ST. ALBANS, VERMONT.”

According to Henry Adams’ A Centennial History of St. Albans, in the early beginnings of St. Albans, our town was a part of Irocroisia, but no evidence has been discovered of the territory known as St. Albans being the abiding place of the Indians for any length of time.  When an early settler did locate on Weeks farm, he noted that east of his place, there was a tribe of St. Francis Indians.  They were previously called the Abnenaquis – a branch of one of the six nations constituted the Great Confederacy, known as Irocroisia.  These tribes were constantly at war with each other.  This tribe continued to live in various parts of the state and county until about 1760, when the black measles so depleted their numbers, they fled to their capital, “The Village of St. Francis,” named after the founder of the Franciscans, missionaries who visited the region.

As early as 1535, Jacques Cartier claimed what comprises our part of the state and Canada for France, whose monarch appointed Jean Francois de la Roque as Viceroy.  In 1603, Henry the 4th made Samuel Champlain the Lieutenant-General of the area, from Philadelphia to Montreal.  He allied himself with the Hurons and explored the regions around the lake, whose name was then Lake Incroisia, later to be known as Mere des Iroquis, then Petonbonque, then Caniaderi Guarunti “the lake of the country,” and finally, Lake Champlain.

The areas that now constitute St. Albans, Swanton, Highgate and Georgia were formed, as in Canada, into French Seignories, St. Albans being known as LaDouville, which included the western part of Swanton and Georgia.  Continuing to quote Mr. Adams, until the English obtained “mastership,” our town was included in what was known as the New Hampshire grants, and was chartered in 1763, by Benning Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, into seventy shares.  No one took possession.  St. Albans, as a part of New Connecticut, alias, Vermont, declared her independence in 1777.  It is said that our state was either named by the Reverend Mr. Peters, the first clergyman who ever visited the Green Mountains, who derived the name, from the two words, “verd” and “mont,” meaning “green” and “mountain,” or that it was named by the Abbe de Vermont, reader to the Queen of France in the 16th Century.

After being claimed by the French and English, and later, by the states of New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Vermont was admitted into the Union in 1791, as her own state entity.

The first known settler was Jesse Welden, a half breed Indian, from Connecticut, to Sunderland, VT and then to Balle Isand, later known as Bald Island, in 1774.  Afterwards, he moved to our St. Albans Bay. Two other settlers came that same season.  At the beginning of the Revolution, Mr. Weldon moved back to Balle Island where he was captured and held prisoner by the British.  Appearing before “the Council of Safety” in Bennington, VT. He acquired permission to hunt in northern Vermont, and later, to return to his home at the Bay.

In 1786, Mr. Welden cleared about seventy acres and built a log house..  In 1787 he moved again, near the home of H. M. Stevens, in whose home, on July 28th, 1788, a meeting was held and the town was organized.  Mr. Welden continued to live there holding various town offices until he drowned in 1795, when returning from Plattsburg in a log canoe.  His body was found the following spring.  He was buried on Isle LaMotte, famous not only as the burial place of our first settler, but as the location of the ancient fort of St. Anne, predating all other settlements in Vermont, by 50 years.

The town was visited by Jesuit missionaries, who were encouraged to continue their travels.  The first to “hold public divine service,” according to the notes of the First Congregational Sesqui-Centennial Service Anniversary” bulletin, was Reverend Elijah Hedding, who only remained in town for a few months.  Lorenzo Dow also came for a short time.  The missionaries and preachers were not well received by the settlers, who were more concerned with their daily tasks of maintaining their existence.  In 1792, Reverend Ebenezer Hibbard, a Congregational Minister, came to work among the settlers as parson and school teacher for about two years.  In 1795, Reverend A. Ross, “a man of good intentions, but not overstocked with understanding,” came to town.  According to Henry Adams, when he came to town to hold a service, there more men and boys chasing squirrels around the stumps on the common, than were inside worshipping.

On September 6, 1796, at the town meeting, Jonnathan Hoit, Levi House and David Nicholls were appointed a committee to procure a minister for three months, who, after consulting with the Reverend, Aaron Collins, another meeting was called, when it was voted to raise eight dollars on the grand list.  At this meeting a committee was appointed to select a lot for a meeting house, but the town never voted to build a Congregational Meeting House on our grand list.  On March 7th, 1799, a town meeting was held, as stated by Edmund Steele, in “Gathered Sketches.”  It was voted at that meeting, “to support the gospel.”  A committee was appointed to hire a minister with a view of settling.  In May, 1801, it was again voted to hire a minister, and that a tax of two cents on the dollars be raised to pay a minister one year; he was to preach one-third of the time at the Bay and two-thirds in the village.

In 1802, thirty-five dollars was voted to pay Reverend Dickinson for his year’s services.   That year, Reverend Joel Foster came to town.  The town voted to pay him a salary of $500.00 a year, and requested that he deed to the town the minister’s lot.  He, however, was not the first settled minister, and his year was not completed.  It was through his influence and energies, that the church became “organized.”

The church was organized January 2nd, 1803, being known as “The First Church of Christ,” consisting of nine members (six men and three women).  Meetings were held, according to Mr. Steele, at irregular intervals, in the homes of Colonal Holoway Taylor, Samuel Smith, Silas Hathaway and others, and then at he new court house on the public square, that became known as Taylor Park.  The church depended upon visiting preachers and neighboring ministers, Reverend Benjamin Wooster or Fairfield, and Reverend Publius Virgilius Bogue of Georgia.   A list of the church’s Ministers and Interim Ministers can be found on this website.  This brief history, will make mention of a few.

About two years later, the Reverend Jonathan Nye, then twenty-two years of age, was ordained March 5, 1805.  His ordination was opposed by some of the stronger Calvinistic Congregationalist clergymen, who composed the council, but he was eloquent and talented and his unorthodox creed and style was overlooked, and the Congregational Church began with a Unitarian Pastor.

After the comings and goings of several pastors, it became necessary to dedicate energy toward “adopting rules of Christian behavior,” and finding a church building in which to worship. With Reverend Worthington Smith of Hadley, Massachusetts, the strength of youth and passion from the pulpit, that plan began.  Mr. Steele writes, “Next to the court house, on the public green, was a vacant lot owned by Isaiah Thomas of Worcester, Massachusetts, the famous printer and publisher.  On this lot was a large, square house, built in 1796 by Dr. Willian Coit, later occupied by Thomas’ daughter, Mary Ann and son-in-law, Dr. Levi Simmons.  The church bought it and Thomas recorded in his diary, ‘August 9, 1825.  Sold a small lot of land in St. Albans, Vt. whereon to build a church, for 300 dollars.’

First Church

On this lot was built a modest brick church having a spire and a fish weathervane.  It was built in 1826, and the following year the church voted ‘to provide seats in the meeting house for the poor members of the church who are not able to purchase or rent pews.’   Rev. Worthington rejected offers from UVM for the Presidency, but finally accepted in 1849, and left St. Albans.”

The church built a second building, located northeast of the Baptist Church on Congress Street, for “Sabbath School,” social gatherings, and meetings of the Bible Society.

With increased membership, it became evident that a larger place to worship was needed.

Second Church

The church, according to Mr. Steele, “extended its land north to Bank Street by purchasing the adjoining lot and moving the house that was on it, up Bank Street to where the current parsonage stands.  The new church building, of ‘more modern architecture,’ was constructed in the Civil War years 1862-63 at a cost of $26,000.  Frank Greene’s 1891 history says, ‘The ladies of the congregation contributed to its interior furnishings, and many recall today the hopes and prayers for the safety of loved ones at the war front, which were ever present in their work, and the tears which retarded the progress of the needle.’”  During the tenure of Reverend Jeremiah E. Rankin, the church became involved in the “Underground Railroad,” with the assistance of Ezra Byington, the Hoit family, the Honorable Senator Lawrence Brainerd and his family, including his daughter Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith and her husband, Governor John Gregory Smith, to assist those who were fleeing slavery.

The church continued to prosper and grow.  Money was raised and donations received to build a choir loft, pastor’s study, organ loft and classroom.  A significant donation was received from the Honorable Judge J. Gregory Smith, which enabled this work to be done.  As historian, Alfred Dutcher wrote, “Through the unmistakable hand of Providence, the Reverend D. Sage MacKay was brought to the pulpit of this church.”  Not yet ordained, and just off the boat from Glasgow, he was “full of youthful enthusiasm and fairly captivated the people.”  He was installed and church attendance boasted approximately 450 people Sunday morning and 375 to 400 each Sunday evening.

On November 26, 1891, tragedy struck the church building, when, on that windy night flying, burning embers from a disastrous fire on Main Street, settled on the church roof, igniting the building, reducing it to ashes.

the fire

Only a few items could be restored in the ashes, such as the existing marble baptismal font, the black oak table currently in the Narthex, and a charred key to the main door.  Religious services were then held in various places in the town.  Some church members thought that the membership would decline, but, in fact, the opposite resulted.  The congregation, united in setting its goal to build a bigger and better church building, free from debt, and this was accomplished.  The total cost was $60,000, including the organ and the furnishings.  The architect was R. H. Robertson of New York.  The contract was let to E.M. Prouty of Swanton, August 13, 1892 and work began about the middle of the following September.  The mason work was done by George Sweeny, the frescoing by C.J. Shumaker & Sons of Boston.  R.D. Ireland of Boston supplied the gas and electrical fixtures, S.C. Greene the plumbing and heating apparatus, the Manitowoc Seating Company the pews, and the bell came from the Kneely foundry at Troy, New York.

The building is brick, elaborately trimmed with terra cotta.  Similarities in the “Eclectic Romanesque” style of this church building, the Webb family mansion in Shelburne, and various railroad buildings such as the Central Vermont headquarters building on Lake Street in St. Albans are more than coincidental.  According to tradition, the angel heads adorning the beams in the Sanctuary were carved by a resident of St. Albans who was a railway employee.

 

It is also interesting that the building, when erected in 1894, had both electric and gas lamps, showing that St. Albans was right up with the times, but that electricity was not yet dependable enough to be the only source of power.

 

The Tiffany windows on the south side were memorials to Governor John Gregory Smith and his wife, Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith, given by the family.  The Lamb Studio windows on the north and east sides were also memorials.  Details on these windows can be found on this website.  The building became a place for many to place their marks.  The railroad man, skilled in carving, carved the angels into the ceiling beams, Margaretta Overbrook, from the Lamb Studio in New Hampshire used her fingertips to embellish the choir loft window, gifts were made, such as the hand carved altar table, and the Last Supper sculpture that came from Italy, and so the building stands, a product of many hands in work and love.

The renovations and additions through the years have taken place, always adhering to the historic character of the original architecture.  The Sanctuary was renovated in 1921 with the present center aisle, replacing two radiating side aisles to accommodate a wedding, for a Governor Smith daughter.  The beautiful center aisle arrangement plus a subsequent enlargement and brightening of the chancel area in 1962 has made the church a favorite  spot for weddings.

The church building is listed on both the State of Vermont and the Federal historic registries.

church 3

In the 1950s, work was begun, adding a Sunday School wing and refurbishing the church kitchen.

church 10

During the construction, it was discovered that the old Manse house was in serious structural deterioration.  It was determined that the house should be demolished.  The contractor/builder of the Sunday School project gave the Trustees a reasonable cost estimate for a new Manse and so, the two projects were completed.

church 9

In 1990, work was done on the drainage area around the church and the foundation, and a handicap, covered entrance was designed and built at the south west corner of the building.  Architect and project manager was Wade Smith, church member.

 

 

That building, “The First Congregational Church of St. Albans,” located at 27 Church Street in St. Albans, Vermont, erected in 1892, still stands and is active today, with a membership of over 100 people.  Much work has been done by many hands.  The tower clock has been repaired and restored.  A grand piano has been purchased by donations from almost every church member.  The building itself has benefitted from working hands and hearts.

 

The church services are recorded for airing over public access television, for the community’s involvement.  The church has been the place for art, music, fellowship and prayer.  All are welcome through the doors to visit, or to remain, as a part of a church family of over 200 years.  It is the site for numerous community gatherings:  community Action, Boy Scouts, various Community meetings, self help organizations, concerts, parenting and family groups.  it is  hoped that this church will continue to be a servant of the total community for another century or longer.

 

***  Information for this historical piece, was taken from the church bulletin notes of the “Sesqui-Centennial Celebration” service, October 4, 1953,  “Gathered sketches” prepared by Edmund Steele in approximately 1985, A Centennial History of St. Albans, by Henry K. Adams, in 1989, and other notes and church documents, compiled and submitted here, by Linda D. Smith, and Wade A. Smith, church Co-Historians.

 

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Roll Call of Ministers and Interims – 1st Congregational Church of St. Albans

(called and Installed –  * BOLD )

 

Rev. Benjamin Wooster (Interim)

 

Rev. Publicus Virgilius Bogue (Interim)

 

Rev Elijah Hedding (Interim) – 1794 – The first man to hold a “Public divine service_ in St. Albans. He came as a missionary, but remained only a few months.

 

Rev. Ebenezer Hibbard (Interim) p 1794 – 1796 – Organized and taught a school during the week and preached at the private houses on the Sabbath.

 

* Rev. Joel Foster – 1802 – Organized the church membership. He was called by the town and paid by the town.

 

* Rev. Jonathan Nye – January 20, 1805 – Resigned, May 21, 1809

 

* Rev. Mr. Hazen – Engaged to preach for 6 months but the society did not concur so his term ceased with the expiration of 6 months

 

(Rev. William Dunlap – A call was extended but he declined in March of 1811.)

 

Rev. Benjamin Wooster of Fairfield – (Interim), affectionately called “Father Wooster.”

 

* Rev. Willard Preston – January 7, 1812 – August 2, 1815 – offered his resignation due to poor health on June 9, 1815 which “was accomplished” on August 2nd, but he remained preaching until September.

 

* Rev. Henry P. Strong – January 22, 1817 – October 3, 1821 – Dismissed because “he was not true to the principles of Congregationalism and more in the keeping with Presbyterianism.

 

* Rev. Worthington Smith – June 4, 1823 – December 11, 1849 – ministry was marked as the most harmonious between pastorate and people, and the most lengthy ministry of the church of over a quarter of a century. He left to take a position as President of the University of Vermont.

 

= = Meeting House of the first church completed and dedicated on June 6, 1827.

 

* Rev. Ebenezer Cutler – March 6, 1850 – July 10, 1855 – dismissed to accept a call to a larger church in Worscester, MA.

 

* Rev. David Dobie – October 1, 1856 – died, February 18, 1857

 

* Rev. Jeremiah E. Rankin – Was the supply since the death of Reverend Dobie. He was given a call and accepted, beginning his duties on June 24, 1857. The membership increased significantly, during his ministry. Remembered for composing the hymn “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again.” – resigned in1889, leaving to receive a degree of Doctor of Divinity and accept the position of President of a college in Washington, D.C.

 

= = 1862 – Decision was made to destroy the first church building and build a larger church structure. Second building completed in 1863 and dedicated on March 7, 1869.

 

(Rev. G. B. Spaulding of Vergennes – was called, but declined.)

 

* Rev. Ezra Byington engaged as acting pastor on Aril 5, 1863 – October 1863

 

* Rev. J. Q. Bittenger of Yarmouth, ME – December 29, 1864 – August 18, 1867 – resigned due to ill health.

 

* Rev. H. C. Riggs – was visiting friends in St. Albans and consented to preach one Sunday. He was so well liked that he was asked to become acting pastor. He began his duties on February 25, 1869 – September 17, 1871 – resigned

 

* Rev. Charles Van Norden of Beverly, MA – June 25, 1873 – May 2, 1883 – resigned to accept call of North Congregational Church – Springfield, MA. His leave was said to be heartbreaking for the St. Albans church. He accepted the position of President of Elmira College at Elmira, New York.

 

(Rev. G. E. Hall of Vergennes – was called but declined)

 

* Rev. J. Augustus MacColl of Saylesville, R.I. – began ministry December 9, 1883, but was not installed until May 14, 1884. He saw the church through a great deal of repair and work. – December 4, 1889 – accepted a call of North Congregational Church of New Bedford, MA

 

* Rev. D. Sage Mackay newly here from Glasgow Scotland. It is noted that he appealed to young and old and attendance grew substantially. On one Sabbath, 51 were united with the church. Average attendance at mid-week service was 80. The Sabbath morning service averaged 450 and the evening meeting was from 375 to 400 in attendance. – February 26, 1890 – resigned on October 4, 1894, after everything possible was done, by the membership, to induce him to remain.

 

= = Church building destroyed by fire on November 26, 1891. Church rebuilt and completed in 1894 – first service held March 11, 1894 – dedicated June 20, 1894.

 

* Rev. Andrew Gillison – January 31, 1895 – Described as a good thinker, preaching acceptably, until “the ties of his fatherland proved stronger than his love for the new country.” November 24, 1896 – resigned and sailed back to Scotland.

 

* Rev. J. Romeyn Danforth of Mystic, CT – December 1897 – 1901 resigned.

 

* Rev. John L. Sewall of North Brookfield, Ma.– 1901 – Resigned 1904 – Because of his large family, the church purchased a house at 53 High Street for a Parsonage. The parsonage was later sold. One of his daughters, Caroline Sewall became a missionary, serving in China. The other daughter, Katherine Sewall Austin became one of the most active members of the church and Director of Religious Education.

 

* Rev. William Parkyn Jackson – 1904 – 1911 – Known for outstanding work with young people, both girls and boys. Mrs. Stewart Stranahan established a fund, enabling Rev. Jackson to organize and supervise the “Stranahan Club,” for young people, located on North Main Street. Also during his pastorate, music became an important part of worship, which featured a choir and musicians.

 

* Rev. Silas W. Anthony of Nova Scotia – 1912 – 1919 – accepted a call to serve his country, during his pastorate, during the Great World War. In his absence, the pulpit was filled from various places. Finally the Rev. Ferrin came for approximately 6 months. Rev. Anthony returned after his military service, remaining for a short time before he served his resignation, believing that he “could do greater work for his God elsewhere.”

 

 (Rev. Ferrin – 1918 – called but declined)

 

* Rev. Stanley Cummings – 1920 – 1925 – was a young and energetic worker who married a St. Albans girl, Miss Louise Greene, further endearing him to the congregation, who regretted to accept his resignation. During his pastorate, the church was reorganized.

 

= = First Congregational Church and Society became one entity in 1922, as “The First Congregational Church of St. Albans, Vermont, Incorporated.”

 

* Rev. Graydon Brown from Unadilla, NY – October 1925 – June 1930 – considered a friend to one and all, young and old, regardless of creed or social standing. Church attendance greatly increased, as did the budget. Benevolence giving increased and a double quartet of signers was engaged. An endowment fund was established in connection with it. He accepted a call from the larger, Grace Congregational Church, in Rutland.

 

* Rev. Duncan Livingston from Essex Junction, VT1930 – January 1952 – accepted a call from a church in Lake Park, Florida.   – A house was purchased at 14 Barlow Street for a parsonage for Rev. Livingston. His pastorate of 21 years, was the second longest in the history of the church. His tenure was considered as one of general good feeling and steady progress. The church building, fallen into disrepair during the depression was put into good condition. The pulpit platform was rearranged and a new memorial pulpit was funded by Messrs. Leo Wilson and Charles Fonda. The brass cross in memory or Mr. W. D. Chandler, who had been a trustee for 25 years was given by his daughter Miss Alice Chandler. A pair of Russian brass candlesticks was given by Deacon E.A. Hyatt. A group of men supplied the silk United States and Christian flags. The maroon drapes were also given. The house and land located adjacently, on Bank Street, were purchased, and the house was “finely refurbished” as a parsonage. The Barlow Street Parsonage was sold and the endowment fund was done away with, by a change in the by-laws. Due to ill health, Rev. Livingston was forced to retire from this church and minister in Florida.

 

Rev. John T. Theodore – (Interim) – Jan to Oct 1952 -during this time, five additional classrooms were completed in the basement.

 

* Rev. Robert J. Bills from Uxbridge, MA– 1952 – 1957 – Known and admired for his dedication to Bible studies and support of the congregations social Groups, or Women’s Fellowship. Homer Burnell Club, Fireside Club, Pilgrim Youth Fellowship and Sunday School.

 

Rev. John T. Theodore – (Interim) –  1957 – 1959

 

* Rev. Richard F. Beyor – 1959 – 1962 – Thought of as a benevolent Minister and a friend to everyone, encouraging Sunday School and youth Bible Study. Gave Bibles to all youth, upon joining the church. During his pastorate, the parsonage home was deconstructed. The new, and current, parsonage and church addition of Sunday School classrooms were built.

 

Rev. K. Y. Jacob – (Interim) – Sept to Dec 1963

 

* Rev. Gerald E. Yost – 1963 – dismissed 1975 – a difference of religious view between the Minister and many of the congregation, became evident during Rev. Yost’s tenure. Newer church members, desiring to link the church with the CCCC, drafted and sent a letter of resignation to the Champlain Association of UCC. The UCC tabled the letter and did not act upon it. The church became critically divided on the basic issues of religious beliefs and doctrine. In 1975, an opposition was organized and new officers elected and installed. Following a meeting and vote of the church members, the minister and followers withdrew to begin the Community Covenant Church in St. Albans.

 

Rev. Theodore B. Hadley – (Interim) – 1975 – 1976

 

Deacon and Lay Minister, Harris Leavitt – occasional services – 1975 – 1976

 

* Rev. R. Ward Wilson – June 1, 1976 to 1990.   Rev. Wilson was successful in rebuilding a broken church membership over his pastorate. The Sunday School grew from a handful to close to 100 youngsters. The membership seemed to increase with each church service. Rev. Wilson and his wife Jane Cotton Wilson were very energetic in the dedication to church stability and youth participation. Mrs. Wilson continued with her education to become an ordained Minister, preaching in a neighboring town. When Reverend Wilson retired and the family moved to Wells River, Vermont, Reverend Mrs. Wilson continued her work with Vermont, women’s affairs and with the Vermont Conference.

 

* Rev. Thomas Wesley Wright from Malone, New Work – 1991 – 1995 –  Bringing high energy to the pulpit and to the church, many repairs and projects were undertaken, during his tenure. Some of the members enjoyed the enthusiasm that Rev. Wright brought, and others thought it too much. Rev. and Mrs. Wright’s hearts remained with the Adirondack mountains. Adirondack retreats at the Wright home, for the congregation families, were refreshing and invigorating. Mrs. Wright eventually left St. Albans, returning to live in their mountain home, with Rev. Wright trying to commute between his home there and St. Albans, to fulfill his pastoral commitments. Rev. Wright submitted his resignation, returning to his family and to his prison pastorate.

  

Rev. Cindy Hafer-Robinson – (Interim)

 

* Rev. Linda Kay Stone – 1996 – 1999

 

Rev. Howard K. Stearns – (Interim) – 1999

 

Mary Beth Hutchinson – (Interim) – 1999 – 2000

 

* Rev. Mark Kennedy – 2000 – 2003

 

* Rev. Judith S. Kennedy – 2000 – July, 2014 – Rev. Kennedy ministered to the church, bringing a sense of youth and family to the church, as her two children grew and became active in youth activities and in teaching Sunday School. Reverend Kennedy was active, ministering at the Vermont National Guard and supporting the families of deployed soldiers. She resigned her ministry, June 30, 2014, to return to her home in Illinois, to care for her medically ailing parents.

 

Rev. Charles M. Purinton, Jr, – (Interim) – July 20, 2014 to August 28, 2016.

 

* Rev. Russell Duncan – September 1, 2016 to present.  Reverend Duncan’s bio can be found on this site, at “Church Staff.”

 

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This list was initially compiled, in 2011, by referencing “A Centennial History of St. Albans, Vermont” by Henry K. Adams, “Gathered Sketches,” by Edmund Steele, “First Congregational Church of St. Albans, Vermont, Sesqui-Centennial celebration service bulletin, “Memorial of the First Congregational Church,” by Frank L. Greene, excerpts from the St. Albans Messenger, by Clare Sheppard, and other various church documents, notes and minutes, compiled, updated, and submitted here, by Linda D. and Wade A. Smith, church Co-Historians.

 

 

 

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Historical Elements:

 

THE ORGAN:

Our Hook & Hastings, Hale & Alexander, Tracker Organ was installed in the church, when it was built in 1892.  It was shipped in pieces, from Boston and assembled in the church, in the space above the altar, that was designed to house it.  Andover Organ Company maintains it.

our organ

our organ

 

Quiet time, after the service.

Quiet time, at dusk.

 

Nan and Choir

Guest Organist Nan Arnstein and Choir

 

IMG_0585

Interim Organist, Diane Gates, playing, and daughter, Kathryn Gates looking on.

 

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THE CLOCK:

The clock in the bell tower of the church as been a focal point in the city of St. Albans, Vermont for over a century.  It was installed shortly after the completion of the present building, in 1894.

church 7

Image 1

The clock has four faces, giving time of the day in all four directions of the tower.  The bell has rung the hours steadily for over a century, with the exception of the years when work was being done.

The clock was owned by the city of St. Albans until the mid-1900’s, when ownership and responsibility was turned over to the church.  Also owned by the city for many years was a telegraph and chain fall bell ringing mechanism that caused the church bell to be rung oddly and incessantly for a number of minutes whenever a fire call came into the city firehouse on Kingman Street.  While no longer in use, since the advent of air raid and firehouse sirens, the telegraph and ringing machinery are still in p lace in the bell tower.  In 2010, the church made an honorarium of the alarm system back to the fire department, but it still remains in the tower.

There was a close call in the 1950’s when one of cables holding the tremendous clock weights powering the bell mechanism, broke, causing the huge, 1,000 pound weights to crash downward, through two floors, over 100′, to embed itself into the ground.  Repairs were soon made by Lawrence King and the clock was operational again, with plans in place to regularly check the cabling.

In 1993, the Mitchell family at St. Albans Foundry provided new parts which were installed, and the decision was made to electrify two of the faces, keeping the remaining two faces connected to the clock to be manually wound.   In 2003, the clock was completely dismantled, under the supervision Fred Ringer and David Welch, of the Green Mountain Timekeepers with Park Newton and sons, and Wade Smith assisting, and brought down the 88 tower steps, piece by piece, to the front yard, where members of the church hand cleaned each gear, cog, screw and part.  It was then reassembled, but it needed care and occasional work as the old clock “settled in” to its new adjustments.

Wade Smith and David  Douglas, with David Welch began work on the clock faces in 2000.  The St. Albans Fire Department helped in the beginning of the project by donating their hook and ladder truck and a few firefighters to remove two clock faces.  Then the discovery was made that the faces could be removed from inside the tower, so dismantling could continue in inclement weather.  The electrified faces were restored to the original manual wound connections and one face mechanism was cleaned and refurbished.  All the exterior faces were cleaned and Roman Numerals repainted.  The hands, earlier made by Herm Schuster, were repainted to their original white.  During the time of this work, the search was on for parts for the fourth face, as all the available parts had been used for the restoration of the three faces.  One part had to be made.  It was fabricated by a foundry, known by David Welch, who was friends with the owner.  We were able to secure the needed part for $40.00.

Wade learned from the owner of the Clock Shop in Essex, that there was a badly charred and bent, face mechanism, salvaged from a fire in the church tower of the Congregational Church of Jeffersonville.  Speaking with the Clock Shop owner about our story brought a donation of that mechanism, which David Douglas cleaned and straightened.  It was a mechanism for a wooden face, so the glass was removed and a wooden circle installed and painted to match the color of the glass faces. With that installation, the straightening of the fragile, leaded shafts, the clock was completely restored.

It was a five year project, completed for a total of $40.00.

The clock and chime still peal over Taylor Park.  It can be heard throughout the city.  A team of dedicated clock winders, climb the stair weekly and hand wind, continuing the task begun 111 years ago.  There is a device to assist in the  winding, but a few stalwart individuals opt to manually wind.

Image

Wade Smith, Clock Winder

Image 4

The main clock mechanism.

Image 2

Showing the tower extending up from the clock mechanism, connected to the shaft, leading to each face mechanism. The shafts are wound with tape to draw the winder’s awareness to the shafts to prevent head bumping and shaft damage.

Image 3

The Neely bell from Troy, New York

Image 5

The notice posted in the tower near the clock advising that our clock is entered into the historic registry of the Green Mountain Timekeepers and that they are available to assist with maintenance and repair.

 

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THE WINDOWS:

Those who tour our church remark about the artistic building itself and about the various aspects of the interior that make the church notable and memorable. The Centennial Celebration booklet shows and describes many of those points of interest.

 

An historical accounting of how our current church building came into existence can be found in:

  1. “Gathered Sketches,” prepared by Edmund Steele, Church Historian,
  2. “Memorial of the First Congregational Charter,” by Frank L. Greene,
  3. “History of the First Congregational Church of St. Albans, Vermont,” taken from an unknown source from Clare Sheppard,
  4. “The First Congregational Church of St. Albans, Vermont Centennial Celebration,” a booklet prepared by Ethan Newton, Organist, Clare Sheppard and Mr. and Mrs. Ed Steele, Church Historians, and Wade Smith, Architect.

 

In those detailed descriptions about our beginnings, one can follow the evolution of our Congregationalist heritage from the late 1700s to 1976 where “Sketches” ends. Our church membership continues to worship devoutly in the third and current building that was erected, following the fire that destroyed “First Church,” in the years of 1892 to 1894. The architect, R. H. Robertson of New York designed our present structure in what was described as “modern with the Roman predominating.”

 

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This report is directed toward the church windows:

 

Tiffany windows:

1.  John Gregory Smith (God shall wipe Away all Tears)

2.  Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith (“Peace” – And Now Abideth These Three…)

 

Lamb windows:

–  four windows in the lower Sanctuary:

1.  Norris (Lord is my Shepherd)

2.  Dickinson (Lift Mine Eyes Unto the Hills)

3.  Gorton (Samuel – Speak Lord, for Thy Servant Heareth)

4.  Carlisle (Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death)

– one choir loft window:

1.  Atwood / Dutcher (Come let us Sing to the Lord)

 

“yellow” windows:

Two large windows in the rear balcony have been removed and replaced with clear glass.  Other “yellow” windows are located throughout the Sanctuary, large and small.  Differing opinions regarding these yellow windows.  Note that the hughes vary in the different panes.  Some professionals believe that these were installed in the building and intended to be temporary, to be replaced at a later date, and so, the quality of glass in inferior.  Other professionals disagree, with opinions that the glass panes were each hand made and vary in color due to the process of glass production, adding that they were not inferior, but intended to last through time.

 

Clear, hand made, leaded small windows:

These are located at the rear of the Sanctuary and can also be seen in the “Anti-Room,” and “Fellowship Hall.”  These are indeed treasures, never to be duplicated again.  Each pane is different in its character, and each is surrounded with leaded separations and hand made Rosettes at each corner.

 

To better understand the church windows, their history, care, repair and upkeep, various professionals have been consulted from Massachusetts, Burlington and Derby, Vermont and Lyme, New Hampshire. Written information was also obtained from “Tiffany Windows: the indispensable book on Louis C. Tiffany’s masterworks,” by Alastair Duncan, in which one of the Tiffany windows of the 1st Congregational Church of St. Albans (Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith window), referred to as “Peace,” is featured.

Personal comments were obtained from Mr. Gregory Gorman, owner of The Studio, in Lyme, N.H., from his interview and from his report to our church, dated 12/7/99.

 

TIFFANY WINDOWS:

The Tiffany Project, in Greensboro, MD, an ongoing effort in search of existing Tiffany Windows, states that according to several authorities, only half of the windows originally made by Louis C. Tiffany remain in existence today. Our two Tiffany windows are described as “delightful treasures,” by Mr. Gorman, who continued by adding that they were notable and interesting by the many different techniques used in each one. It is thought that because of this, they are quite rare examples of this art.

 

Two leaders in research and experimentation emerged, in the late 1800s, at a time when glass art was its low point in demand and quality: John La Farge and Louis C. Tiffany. Both were accomplished painters. They, with others, began the movement known as the American School of Stained Glass, whose philosophy was simple: “a window’s definition should be contained as much as possible within the glass itself.” Tiffany’s talent, combined with the religious fervor of the 1870s lead to huge demand for church construction and decorative glass. Tiffany and La Farge were fierce rivals, but Tiffany gradually gained favor and success, despite the loss of two studios to fire.

 

Tiffany carefully guarded his secrets of mixes, formulas and temperatures. Even bubbles and blemishes of the finished product were noted and used in the pursuit of beauty. Finally, there was no color or texture that Tiffany could not produce. Mottled glass is the most characteristic and immediately identifiable as being “Tiffany,” as he was, and continues to be, renowned for the vast number of varieties he was able to create. It required the most rigid of temperature controls. Basically, the chemical, fluorine, was incorporated into a lead-based glass. Fluorine is a crystalline substance, which begins to collect in the glass in different patterns at different temperatures, creating “pulsating, two-color combinations.”   Our windows definitely show this technique. Some glass pieces have three or more different colors. The Tiffany Studio was, at its creative height, the one leading the rest in such new techniques, none being able to duplicate the quality and artistic level that Tiffany achieved. His techniques could be duplicated today and are being duplicated, however, the expense is prohibitive and the quality remains quite below Tiffany’s norm.

 

Other techniques that are readily evident in our windows are:

– Drapery glass: This was really Tiffany’s invention. Created to simulate the folds in clothing and vestments, it was his greatest challenge and greatest achievement. The glass, while still molten, was thrown onto an iron table and rolled into a disk, which was pulled and twisted into folds that created various degrees of translucency. This technique was used for lilies and flower pedals and fabric.

– Fractured glass: Known as “confetti” glass, this is a method of embedding bits of colored glass into sheets of clear glass. Irregular colored chips and fragments of glass were scattered onto an iron table, on which was poured the hot, clear glass. The combination was rolled flat. This was highly effective for backgrounds in landscape, providing a diffused impression of looking through variegated foliage.

– Glass jewels: Molten glass was pressed into molds to form ovals or faceted prisms which, when set into the window, would produce brilliant gem-like effects, changing shades of color and brilliance when the viewer changed position. These were used in crowns, crucifixes, flower centers and as accents in geometric borders.

– Etched glass: This consists of two or more layers of glass rolled together while still molten to form a single sheet. The application of acid and acid resistant wax to the surface eats away the exposed areas to create two or multi-colored designs. A highly realistic effect was achieved, as evident in our windows, by etching a flashed opaque white-on-orange glass to produce the horizontal cloud formations in the sunsets.

– Plating: This technique was used to give more depth of color. Layers of glass, placed on top of each other. In some of Tiffany’s windows, six layers of glass were known to be used. Tiffany plated on both the front and back of his windows; the former tending to diffuse and soften the light and the latter providing perspective to landscapes.

NOTE: A technical problem resulting from Tiffany’s extensive use of plating is the extensive weight of the accumulated layers of glass, predictably causing severe buckling and cracking typically occurs with Tiffany windows, as it has with ours.

 

All of these techniques are easily identifiable in our windows, as are combinations of these techniques, producing a truly artful product that is interesting from top to bottom and holds one’s interest easily.

 

Also typical for Tiffany is the incorporation of another, opaque, single sheet of glass, which was installed behind the window. This was to diffuse the light coming through the window so that sunlight would not create “hot spots,” and also to keep the elements away from the leading. Moisture of any kind is the enemy of leading, causing it to corrode and also causing the soft caulk, inside the leading, to harden.

 

Tiffany’s business spanned 50 years. During that time there were thousands of windows created that are now “tucked away” in quiet villages across the United States. Many have been lost to fire, disrepair, vandalism or dissolving of church communities, to date. Considering the enormous volume of windows produced, there are remarkably few duplicates. More often two windows might reflect one style of vine, or figure, but the backgrounds would differ. The Studio was proud of its claim that each commission was unique. In the one or two instances where it bent this dictum, “it covered its trail by placing these windows in churches of different denominations, thousands of miles apart.” A window of remarkable similarity to the John Smith window, called “Behold the Western Evening Light,” was located in the Congregational Church in Newton Massachusetts. The church and window were destroyed by fire in the 1950s.

 

Our two Tiffany windows were commissioned in 1905 as memorials of John Gregory Smith and Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith. Because they are memorial windows and have religious texts, they would decrease in value as art. But because the text and memorials are in the lower sections of the window and divided from the main portion, they increase in artistic value. Unfortunately, the John Smith window has been “embellished” by a name scratched in the glass, below the Tiffany Studios signature. That damage decreases the value of that window. The upper portions contain no religious figure or theme, and so the value is increased. Evident in both is the variation of color within the glass, giving a realistic impression of the marble in the pillars and the leaves and flowers. The various hues of the skies are remarkable. The various sizes and shapes of the jewels at the top bring one’s eye upward to enjoy the entire window. The use of plating definitely gives the impression of depth in both windows.

 

LAMB WINDOWS:

We have five wonderful examples of the Lamb Studio windows in our Sanctuary. These are painted glass windows and so, are of artistic merit, certainly. The Lamb Studio is small and still is producing windows today. It is the oldest working glass studio in the country, having a lineage back to colonial days. It was still under the control of the Lamb family descendants at the time our windows were made. Their technique of color and design is noteworthy, making their windows prized. Each is decidedly different and took different talents from Katherine Tate-Lamb, who, most likely was the major designer and glass-painter of the three in the lower Sanctuary. The embellishments of those three is similar. The circular flourishes and borders that decorate each do provide a conformity that brings them together, yet the individuality of each is interesting. Strongly evident are the different styles of the faces of the figures.

The technique of using the strong blue color is useful to give the windows a noticeable 3-dimentional aspect. Blue tends to “come forward,” while red tends to “recede,” so red is often used in sunsets and background curtains. On close inspection, one can easily see brush strokes and finger smudges as decoration in the paint.

The choir loft window is quite different from the downstairs three. It is quite contemporary and could easily be described artistic and flowing. The figures and garments seem to be in movement. Of note about this window, is the fact that one can appreciate it as two distinctly different windows. From the floor of the Sanctuary, one sees the large figures and the scripture. The general coloration of the small pieces seems fragments of coloration behind the figures. From another perspective, a few feet away, in the loft, one sees a different window, as the figures seem to be of lesser importance and the smaller painted portions can now be seen and appreciated. Each small piece of glass has its own picture or contribution to the theme. The viewer is encouraged to ponder the reasons for the small “art statements” that complete the message of the window. It is a window that one can spend a long time in front of and viewed differently each time it is seen. Mr. Gorman knows, because of the creative style of the piece, that it is the work of Margareta Overbeck. He described the loft window as “an exceptional and rare thing” with “flair and deeply felt emotion.” Her fingerprints and other personal techniques can be enjoyed in this window that demonstrates her skill and fanciful approach to her work.

 

THE  “YELLOW” SANCTUARY WINDOWS:

These windows, like most churches in New England, were typical of the first that were installed in newly built churches. They were intended to be temporary windows to be replaced by memorial windows after the costs of construction were paid. Our balcony windows have since been replaced with clear glass panels.

 

  1. Other yellow windows:

They were intended to be temporary as well. Because of the lesser weight and because they do not face due west and suffer from the extreme heat, they are in better condition.

 

  1. Clear leaded interior glass:

This glass is a treasure and has artistic merit in not only the unique quality of the glass itself, but also in the hand made, small corner circular pieces that join them, as well as the leading.

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Our windows are unique and are, most assuredly, part of our historically rich building.

 

Information compiled, by Linda Smith, church Co-Historian.

 

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THE PERSONAL ADDITIONS:

 

 

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