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Windham County Connecticut
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"Windham’s Bi-Centennial 1692-1892; A Memorial Volume of the Bi-Centennial Celebration of the Town of Windham, Connecticut, containing the historical addresses, poems, and a description of events connected with the observance of the two hundreth anniversary of the incorporation of the town, as held in the year 1892." Published by the Committee, Hartford, CT, 1893

Windham’s Second Century ­ The Churches:

The opening of the second century finds Old Windham’s churches in the last stags of the Separatist or Sectarian agitation, and the old-time
united loyalty and obligation to a common church and creed were never to return. It was now settled that any person could worship according to the dictates of conscience, but it was still obligatory to worship somewhere, or at least to pay taxes for the support of some religious
institution. The venerable Reverends White at the Green, and Cogswell at Scotland, were sorely perplexed by these difficulties, and found it
impossible to preserve harmony. Mr. White died in 1793, and young Elijah Waterman came from Bozrah to succeed him. His youth attracted many to him for a time, but he began a vigorous crusade against the prevailing heresies. Finally a portion of the liberals “certificated” themselves away to form an Episcopal society, and they had the Rev. John Tyler of Norwich, for an occasional preacher. They thus escaped paying taxes to Mr. Waterman’s church, which was thereby sadly crippled, so that he resigned in 1805, and no settled pastor came again till 1808. Then the Rev. Mr. Andrews undertook the troublous task, but to no avail, and he requested dismissal, which was granted him in 1813. The next incumbent, Rev. Cornelius B. Everest, ordained in 1815, proved a man of superior tact, and the church became more united, and there were even accessions. He was much favored, of course, by the new era of religious liberty under the constitution of 1818, by which the old tax obligations to the church were abolished, and people were left free as now to sustain the church or not, as they chose. Mr. Everest remained until 1827, when he was succeeded by the Rev. R.F. Cleveland of Norwich, father of him who has since become famous as President Grover Cleveland. This was Mr. Cleveland’s first pastorate, and soon after he was ordained he went to Philadelphia and brought back a bonny bride to share his new responsibilities. There are remembered as very agreeable young people. Two of the children were born her, but not the future president. It is recalled that Mr. Cleveland was fond of horse-back riding. His ministry was quite successful, lasting three years. In 1828 Deacon Lee and a number of others withdrew to join the newly formed church at Willimantic. No settled pastor was again ordained until the Rev. J.E. Tyler came in 1837.
The other pastors since Mr. Tyler, who resigned in 1851, have been Revs. Geo. I. Stearns, Samuel Hopley, Hiram Day, A.F. Keith, Frank
Thompson, F.A. Holden, W.S. Kelsey, F.M. Wiswall, the last named having just resigned. Four buildings have served the church, the present
structure having been dedicated in 1887. The first church of Windham has sent out four strong churches from her loins, to Mansfield, Hampton, Scotland, Willimantic, besides other minor.
The first attempt to form an Episcopal Society in 1803, did not gain a foothold. In 1832, howver, a permanent society was formed, and in 1833
the present church was built. The first rector was Rev. L.H. Corson, who recently died in Michigan; then William A. Curtis, Charles Todd, John W. Woodward, Henry B. Sherman, Giles N. Deshon, Abel Nichols, A. Ogden Easter, Joseph Brewster, Harry Edwards, Sanford J. Horton (who started here a select school for boys and took them with him to Cheshire), John H. Anketell, Alfred H. Stubbs, Clayton Eddy, E.W. Saunders, and since the establishment of St. Paul’s mission at Willimantic, the rectors there have officiated at Windham, as will appear in my subsequent reference to the Willimantic mission. The present number of communicants in the Windham Episcopal parish is 23; connected with parish 61. One of the Separatist organizations in Old Windham was a Baptist society, which we find at the beginning of the second century in charge of Elder Benjamin Lathrop, who was chosen to the Legislature chiefly on that issue.
Over at North Windham, Joshua Abbe led another Baptist sect, called the Abbe-ites. Little other than missions have ever been maintained at
North or South Windham. Attempts at regular church organization have been feeble and short lived. After Elder Lathrop’s death, the Baptists
at the Green were weakened and scattered for a time, but soon rallied and held meetings in Andrew Robinson’s great kitchen, with various
preachers, including Lorenzo Dow and Roger Bingham, but after the constitution of 1818, and the abolition of the church tax, these meetings died out. There was another Baptist organization on the Green about 1846, but it was short lived and its members drifted to Willimantic and Mansfield. In 1850, this church was changed to Presbyterian, but soon disbanded. The old church was sold and removed to Bolton for a Baptist church, and was afterwards burned.
In Willimantic, the Congregational church was organized in 1827. Dennis Platt, a Yale theologue, was the first pastor. Its first church,
now made over into the Meloney Block, opposite the Hooker House, was built in 1828. Rev. Ralph S. Crampton of Madison was the next pastor,
then came Philo Judson of Woodbury, then the Rev. Andrew S. Sharpe, who served for nine years. November 8th, 1846, the Rev. Samuel G. Willard entered upon a long and successful ministry of nineteen years. Mr. Willard was a staunch friend of education, taking active interest in the public school, was acting visitor for many years, and his scholarly attainments won him a place among the Fellows of Yale College.
He was succeeded in 1869 by the Rev. Horace Winslow, who remained twelve years and was chiefly instrumental in getting the society to
build the new church at the corner of Walnut and Valley streets, dedicated in May, 1871. After Mr. Winslow, came two popular acting
pastors, but not ordained, Rev. S.R. Free and C.P. Crofts, and in December, 1890, the present pastor, Rev. C.A. Dinsmore, was ordained.
The church has 225 members.
The Baptist church was the first one organized in Willimantic, Oct. 20th, 1827. The Rev. Chester Tilden was first pastor. They first held
meetings in school houses, but hot prejudices barred them out. Their first structure was dedicated in 1829, on the site of the present one.
It was sold to the Catholics in 1857, and the present building, since much enlarged and improved, was then built.
The pastors since Mr. Tilden have been Alfred Gates, Alva Gregory, Benajah Cook, John B. Build, L.W. Wheeler, Thomas Dowling, Henry
Bromley, Cyrus Miner, Henry R. Knapp, Edward Bell, Jabez Swan, E.D. Bentley, E.S. Wheeler, G.R. Damon, P.S. Evans, W.A. Fenn, Geo. W.
Holman, M.G. Coker, J.B. Lemon.
The church has now about 400 members on its roll. The late Deacon A.H. Fuller was closely identified with it for many years, donating its
handsome pipe organ.
The Methodists organized in Willimantic about the same time. Some of them held class meetings as early as 1825. The Rev. Mr. Gardner came and preached in the west school house about 1826, and in September, 1829, the first M.E. church was built, on the present site of the Atwood Block. The Rev. Horace Moulton was the first pastor.
The present church was begun in 1850, but has since been thoroughly modernized in its interior. The parsonage on Prospect street was built in 1868, before that street was built, and was then thought to be almost in the wilderness. The numerous itinerant pastors have been since 1828: Daniel Fletcher, H. Ramsdell, P. Townsend, E. Beebe, George May, J.E. Raisley, Hebron Vincent, K. Ward, Moseley Dwight, Philetus Green, S. Leonard, H. Horbush, Reuben Ransom, Pasdon A.C. Wheat, F.W. Bill, Chas. Noble, John Cooper, Daniel Dorchester, A. Robinson, Jonathan Cady, N.P. Alderman, Geo. W. Rogers, Chas. Morse, Wm. Purington, John Livesey, Wm. Kellen, E.B. Bradford, Geo. W. Brewster, Edgar F.Clark, Geo. E. Reed, Chas. S. McReading, Shadrach Leader, Geo. W. Miller, S.J. Carroll, Wm. T. Worth, A.J. Church, S. McBurney, D.P. Leavitt, Eben Tirrell, C.W. Holden, A.P. Palmer, the present pastor.
In connection with the Methodist church, the Willimantic camp ground should be mentioned. Started in 1860, it at first grew in popular favor in a manner quite different from what its projectors intended, and the annual summer meetings became after a time, the rendezvous for thousands of pleasure seekers, and with the crowd there flocked to Willimantic and along the road to the grounds, a horde of hucksters or horse traders, to the equal annoyance of the association and the borough. “Right away to camp” became the annual shibboleth of a crowded, lively and sometimes boisterous week in Willimantic. But the association firmly pursued the even tenor of its way, developing the grounds as intended, and in later years the popular furore over camp-meeting has given place to gatherings in keeping with the place. There are today about 200 cottages and tents there, many families finding it a quiet, wholesome summer resort for weeks at a time, and the annual religious meetings in August are large attended. The crowds that used to flock to Willimantic have disappeared, and camp-meeting is orderly and circumspect. Many distinguished Methodist preachers are heard at the grounds.
The Rev. Father H. Brady, then resident priest at Middletown, opened the first Catholic mission in Willimantic, in Franklin Hall in 1848,
with about 300 in attendance. He purchased the land where the present church stands on Jackson street. The Rev. Bernard McCabe of
Danielsonville, had charge of Willimantic mission until 1857. In later years he purchased the Baptist building and removed it to the site of
the present church, christening it St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church. The Catholics, like the Baptists, but more severely, suffered
persecution in their early days here. One Sunday Father McCabe found Franklin Hall locked against him, and the key nowhere to be found.
Nothing daunted, he promptly led his flock to the then lately-purchased lot on Jackson street, and there under God’s free dome he erected a
rough altar, and offered up the adorable sacrifice. Another time he started to drive to Baltic, when suddenly a wheel came off and he was
thrown violently to the ground. Examination showed that some scoundrel had removed all the nuts.
Father McCabe died in 1860, and was succeeded by the Rev. Hugh J. O’Reilly, who became the first resident pastor. In 1861 he built the
present pastoral residence and also purchased the land for a Catholic cemetery, just beyond the Horse-shoe bridge.
The Rev. Daniel Mullen succeeded Father O’Reilly, and after four years was succeeded by the present incumbent, the Rev. Florimond
DeBruycker. Father DeBruycker had under his charge when he first came here missions at Stafford Springs, Bolton and Coventry.
In 1864 he purchased the new Catholic cemetery, and in 1883 the old wooden church, (bought of the Baptists) was removed to Valley street,
where it is now a part of the parochial school property, and on the site of the old church he erected the beautiful structure of brick and stone
at a cost of $80,000, including the high altar, which was brought from Munich. The corner stone was laid August 17, 1875, by the late Bishop
McFarland, his last official act. November 17, 1874, came the dedication led by the Rev. Bishop McQuade of Rochester. Our Catholic population is from 3500 to 4000 including about 1500 to 1800 French Canadians.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission at Willimantic was organized about thirty years ago and the late Dr. Hallam was placed in charge. Meetings
were long held in the upper hall of the Commercial block, afterwards in Dunham Hall. The present church was built in 1883, the parsonage in ’87. By the ’91 report 258 persons are registered parishioners and 84 communicants. The rectors since Dr. Hallam are Revs. R.K. Ashley, L.H. Wells, R.C. Searing, H.B. Jefferson, George Buck. All officiated at Windham also.
A Reform church was organized in 1881 in connection with the Willimantic Reform Society in Mission Hall, with Elder J.L. Barlow as
pastor, but did not gain permanent foot-hold, and was disbanded in 1885. The Reform Society, organized in 1878, has since held weekly meetings, with the temperance question the chief topic of discussion.
Universalism has never gained a permanent foothold in this town. About 1850, a flourishing Universalist society was organized in
Willimantic, a church was built on “Exchange Place,” and the old church building is still standing, as a tenement house with basement stores, the third building east of Jackson street on Main street, and owned by George W. Burnham. Elder Harry Brown, a seceder from the Baptists, was a leader in this movement, and Whiting Hayden was the financial backer. The society flourished for a time, and out of it grew the present Spiritualist Society. The latter society has been active in Willimantic for about thirty years, in 1868 completed its church on Bank street, has maintained regularly its “Progressive Lyceum” every Sunday, and the church desk has been occupied by different speakers. George W. Burnham has been the leading spirit in this society, and is now also president of the State Spiritualist Society.



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