PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD RECIPIENTS
Connecticut Treasures, formerly a part of the People’s Choice program, features the wealth and diversity of buildings from each of the eight Connecticut counties. The public is invited every year to vote for a favorite building for this state-wide award.
The First Methodist Society in Bridgeport was organized in 1817 and the first church building was opened in 1823. After this wood structure burned down in 1849 it was replaced by a brick one in 1850. After it was deemed unfit for continuing occupancy in the 1920s, a new edifice was built on Golden Hill, overlooking downtown Bridgeport. The new First Methodist Church and Parish House (333-47 Golden Hill Street/210 Elm Street) was constructed as a single structure in 1928-1929 (the church in the Gothic Revival style and the parish house in the Tudor Revival style) to plans by the architectural consortium of Southey, Allen, and Collens. In 1970, several other Methodist Churches merged with First Methodist Church and the church’s name was changed to Golden Hill United Methodist Church.
Built in 1807, Center Church on Main St. is the fourth meetinghouse building of the First Congregational Society. The Society was founded in Cambridge, Mass. in 1632 and was led to the west bank of the Connecticut River by its first minister, Rev. Thomas Hooker, in 1636. The first small meetinghouse was located near the current site of the Old State House, and it was there, in 1638, that representatives from the three original river towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield drew up the world’s first written constitution to create a government, the Fundamental Orders, adopted in 1639.
The second meeting house replaced the original log structure in 1641. For the third meeting house, in 1741, construction was moved down the street to the current location at Gold Street, on a corner of the Ancient Burying Ground. The fourth and final building was completed in 1807.Center, or First, Church has a distinctive “wedding cake” style steeple, said to have been designed by Daniel Wadsworth, founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum. The steeple shows the elaborate ornamentation favored in America in the early decades of the nineteenth centry (called the Federal style). Wadsworth’s design, which is heavy with columns, displays this style to the extreme. Such steeples show the Baroque influence of architect James Gibbs, whose books influenced the designs of countless New England Churches. Wadsworth was said to be strongly inspired by Gibbs’s famous St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
Today, Hartford’s Center Church features such later additions as five stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The restoration and preservation of this historic structure has been a concern lately, as shown in a recent editorial in the Hartford Courant.
The earliest Episcopal/Anglican worship in western Connecticut began in the town of Kent in 1763, served by itinerant missionary priests ordained in England. They worshipped in a now lost St. Thomas’s Church built on Kent Plain sometime between 1768 and 1772. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Parish was first organized as St John’s Parish in 1806. In 1819, Reverend George B. Andrews took charge of the Episcopal congregations in both Kent and nearby Marbledale (in New Preston). He was soon serving congregations in Caanan and Salisbury as well. His wealthy wife contributed greatly to funding the erection of churches in these parishes. The current church building in Kent, located at the corner of modern Routes 7 and 341, was constructed in 1826 of fieldstone in the Gothic Revival style. In gratitude to Rev. and Mrs. Andrews, the parish was renamed from St. John’s to St. Andrew’s.
In the 1870s the chancel and sacristy were added to the west side of the building and the bell tower’s original crenelated top was replaced with a pointed steeple. In 2014, the church underwent major renovations while maintaining the original building. The stained glass windows were removed and cleaned, the interior walls replastered and painted, the floors refinished, the pews removed and refurbished, and new pew cushions and carpeting added…good for many years for future parishioners.
In the early twentieth century, many Italian immigrants were settling in Middletown, with large numbers coming from the Sicilian town of Melilli. Seeking to build their own church in Middletown, they launched a massive fund raising effort. Local companies donated materials for the building of St. Sebastian Church and many parishioners contributed their labor for its construction. The church was designed by architect Raymond C. Gorrani, who was heavily influenced by the design of the Basilica of St. Sebastian in Melilli. The first Mass was celebrated in the church in December, 1931.
The first Roman Catholic church in Waterbury was St. Peter’s Chapel, purchased in 1847 from Episcopalians, who were at the time moving to a larger building. The Chapel was moved to the site on East Main Street where St. Patrick’s Hall would later be built. In 1857, across the street from the Chapel, the first church in Waterbury specifically built to be a Catholic Church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was dedicated. In 1925 to 1928, a new Immaculate Conception Church was built on Waterbury Green, on the site where the William B. Merriman House once stood. Designed by the firm of McGinnis and Walsh, the church was modeled on the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the four major Catholic basilicas. A Vatican decree in 2008 conferred on Immaculate Conception Church the status of a minor basilica.
The Greek Revival-style Huntington Street Baptist Church in New London was built in 1843 and was originally a Universalist church. It was designed and built by John Bishop, a member of the church, who was inspired the book, The Beauties of Modern Architecture (1835), by Minard LaFever, a prominent architect of churches in the early nineteenth century. Financial difficulties led the Universalists to sell the church in 1849 to a Baptist congregation.
Four church buildings have served the Ellington Congregational Church since it was established in 1733. The first two churches, built in 1738 or 1739 and 1805-1806 respectively, stood in the town park. The first faced South (now Main) Street and the second, designed and constructed by builder Samuel Belcher, faced the site of the current church. When a new church was completed, the second building was sold and moved to Rockville, where it served as an opera house. It burned down in 1941. The third building, designed by Augustus Truesdale of Rockville, was constructed in 1867-1868 on the site of the current church. The building was completely destroyed by fire on the night of October 3, 1914. At that time, the church bell was usually rung to sound the alarm that there was a fire in town, but with the church itself on fire, no one could climb the steeple to toll the bell and the church burned down. Work on the current church building commenced in 1915 and it was dedicated on August 17, 1916.
Christ Church in Pomfret, consecrated in 1882, was designed in a rural Victorian Gothic style by architect Howard Hoppin. It was constructed through a memorial gift of the Vinton family in honor of the Rev. Dr. Alexander H. Vinton and his wife, Eleanor Stockbridge Thompson Vinton. Their friend, Rev. Phillips Brooks of Boston, who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” preached at the laying of the church’s cornerstone. The building is architecturally distinctive, with an interesting use of rubble stone and brick and an exaggerated roof line. It replaced an earlier church building, built the 1820s, that once stood to the north of the church’s current location. The church has six Tiffany stained glass windows.