First Congregational Church of Stamford has been a congregation and community blessed with a proud history, and we continue to build on that history by supporting people locally, nationally, and globally with a range of programs and services to reach the community. Located in the heart of the city, FCC Stamford has been a lifeline, a source of strength, and an abundant source of support through times of challenge and difficulty for our community. We are delighted to share with you a history of our church and, in doing so, share with you some of the proud history of Stamford. This is FCC Stamford In History and Making History.
On July 30, 1630, about 40 Puritans who had recently migrated from England, under leadership of Sir Richard Saltonstall, established a church in Watertown, Massachusetts. They chose Rev. George Phillips from Norfolk County, England, as their first pastor. This Watertown Colony was the first congregation to choose, ordain, and install its own pastor, thus making it the first Congregational Church in this country.
Five years later, in 1635, seven of the Watertown Puritans “removed” to the Connecticut River Valley and gathered as a church in Wethersfield, Connecticut. With this move, the Wethersfield congregation became the second church organized and located in Connecticut (the first being in Windsor, also in 1635), and one of the earliest Congregational churches to be formed in what became the United States of America 141 years later.
The Wethersfield congregation grew, as did the dissension among the members, and after six years, only seven members remained. As a result, four of the seven united with other local planters who were not voting members of the church. Together, these four churchmen, 24 other men (non-Congregationalists), and their families sought a new place to worship and live. The New Haven Colony, at the suggestion of Rev. John Davenport, offered land to these 28 families within the New Haven Colony territory at Rippowams, now Stamford. In the summer of 1641, these families laid the foundations of the First Congregational Church of Stamford. Because the four voting members who separated from Wethersfield constituted the majority of the voting members, they gained the right to take the church records of organization, and thus, the First Congregational Church of Stamford was officially organized six years before the actual founding of Stamford.
Since its initial gathering, FCC Stamford has been led by 25 pastors, beginning with Rev. John Sherman, who served as the first pastor in Wethersfield from 1635 to 1641.
Rev. Richard Denton, originally from Halifax, England, who had come with the church members from Wethersfield, served as the first pastor of the church in Stamford, from 1641 to 1644.
Rev. John Bishop, a young preacher, was called from Boston. He served for over 50 years, from 1644 to 1694.
Rev. John Davenport, 1694-1731
Rev. Ebenezer Wright, 1732-1746
Rev. Noah Welles, 1746-1776
Rev. John Avery, 1782-1791
Rev. Daniel Smith, 1793-1846 (served 53 years, the longest pastorate)
Rev. John Alvord, 1842-1846
Rev. Isaac Jennings, 1847-1853
Rev. Henry B. Elliott, 1855-1858
Rev. Joseph Anderson, 1860-1861
Rev. Leonard Bacon, 1861-1864
Rev. Richard Thurston, 1865-1875
Rev. G. Buckingham Wilcox, 1875-1879
Rev. Samuel Scoville, 1879-1899
Rev. William J. Long, 1899-1903
Rev. Louis Berry, 1903-1916
Rev. Alfred Grant Walton, 1917-1931
Rev. Stanley High, 1932-1936
Rev. Allen Hackett, 1936-1944
Rev. Dr. Russell McGown, 1945-1965
Rev. Raymond L. Shoup, 1965-1970
Rev. Gabe Campbell, 1971-1980
Rev. Gary P. Brown, 1980-2007
Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, 2009-2011
Meeting Houses in Stamford
First Meeting House 1641-1670
The first wooden meetinghouse stood near the present Stamford Town Hall. It was surrounded by fortress walls and further protected by a sentry on guard and four muskets at-the-ready. The call to worship was the roll of a drum from the meetinghouse rooftop. Church attendance was compulsory for all members.
Second Meeting House 1670-1705
By 1669, the growing number of attendees made a new meetinghouse necessary. After a protracted period of debate regarding whether to build a new church made of wood or stone, in 1670, the congregation decided, by “casting lots,” to build a new larger church made of wood. Galleries were added in the second edifice in 1700. This building was used as the meetinghouse until 1705 and was later used as the town arsenal.
Third Meeting House 1705-1790
In 1705, the third meetinghouse was built. The pews and pulpit from the previous meetinghouse were brought to the new worship space. The floor from the old church was used to make repairs to the mill dam. In 1723, extra galleries were added, and in 1735 the first church bell was installed.
Fourth Meeting House 1790-1858
In 1790, the fourth edifice, on Main Street, was built by the Ecclesiastical Society. In the choir, men and women were separated. There were no cushions for comfort. In the early years, the church was heated by a large brick oven that had to be fed for days in order to heat the church for the Sabbath. In later years, wood burning iron stoves, the forerunner of hot air furnaces, heated the church. This meetinghouse was last used for worship September 19, 1858. It was then sold and removed to Gay Street and used for commercial purposes.
The Fifth Meeting House 1858-1911
On August 2, 1856, the Ecclesiastical Society voted to build a new edifice, costing about $20,000. The cornerstone was laid on June 29, 1857, at the corner of Atlantic and Bank Streets. The lot cost $3,500, and the total cost of the building was $15,630. It was completed in 1858 and served as the meetinghouse for 53 years, located in the center of the city, where all preceding meetinghouses had stood.
As the years progressed, there were three factors that made the church building less effective in meeting the demands of the congregation in the early 20th century. Many of the church members and city residents were moving northward, as was the trend of residential growth. The cost of building repairs was escalating. The building lacked the physical equipment for the numerous activities in which the modern church needed to engage. Further, the property in the center of the city was becoming valuable for business purposes.
In the spring of 1910, a beautiful new site facing Bedford Park was purchased for $31,500. The open space, the vista of beautiful trees, the ease of approach, and the slight elevation endowed it with a charm suitable for a House of God. For the property it purchased in 1856 at $3,500, the church received $115,000 for the site alone in 1911. The last service held at Atlantic and Bank Streets was on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1911. The pews were given to members or sold, and the bell and some other movables were reserved for the new building.
The Sixth Meeting House 1913-present
For two years, the congregation was without its own meetinghouse. During this period, church services were held in the Casino on Suburban Avenue and in the Burlington Arcade over the old Post Office. The church members handled the many inconveniences in good spirit, although church attendance diminished. The church was constructed using granite quarried from the church site. The church cornerstone was laid on June 9, 1912. The first services in the new church were held on Sunday, January 19, 1913, in the lecture room, which was the first part of the building completed. The first service in the sanctuary was held on April 6, 1913, led by Rev. Berry, who spoke earnestly of the culmination of our hopes.
While we do not have actual documents regarding the church bell, we can draw some conclusions from the inscription cast on it. It was first used in 1735, and then recast and enlarged. It has been in continuous use ever since. It is now installed in the present building. The inscription is as follows:
First Church of Christ in Stamford, Conn. Founded 1641 A. D.
First Bell 1735
Recast 1801 to 700 lbs.
Recast 1879 to 1000 lbs.
This historical overview was adapted from The Historical Sketch and Manual No. 4, published by the First Congregational Church, Stamford, in October 1915 and written by the Manual Committee (H. C. Quintard, Louis F. Berry, Chas. A. Berry, E. B. Holt, and Mrs. Holly Scofield).