Let’s See —
Where’s a Good
Place for a Church?
A meetinghouse was a necessity to
the religiously fervent settlers of New England, and it is
generally believed that, when a town was large enough to support a
congregation, no time was wasted in building a church. Well,
that may be so, but Colebrook certainly wasted a great deal of
time in building its church. The decision to build a church was
reached in 1780, with the first task being to decide on a proper
place. This proved to be more easily said than done: the
question was not fully resolved until 1794, fourteen years later.
Bickering over the
location of churches was a common enough pastime in those days. There
was ‘red tape’ back then as well as now. A special committee was sent
from the County Court in order to decide the location of the church,
and, after the committee had visited Colebrook, it designated some
land on the hill north of Mill Brook (now Center Brook), as the future
site. Now it was up to a vote at a town meeting. The town clerk’s
record of the meeting reads: “Voted, that the town agree to the doings
of the committee in setting a stake for a meeting house in said town
by a majority of about two votes.”
Such precision. At any rate, the people on the south
side of the brook were so dissatisfied with the location that nearly a
year and five months after the first decision was reached, “It was
voted at a town meeting to apply to the General assembly to set aside
the doings of the honorable County Court…. and ask for the appointment
of another committee to set a stake for the meetinghouse.”
step was necessary because the site of the church had already been
established legally. Seeing that the southern faction was about to
press the matter, the northern people, to make peace with the town,
joined the southerners. The second committee decided to set the stake
north of the brook, about thirty rods south of the former site. On
December 23, 1782, the town “Voted, that this town proceed to do
something towards building a meetinghouse.”
It looked good for a
while. No disagreement. Even before this last meeting,
consideration was given to other affairs of the church, such as
finding a preacher, and it was decided to levy a tax of one pence on
the pound for the purpose of hiring a singing master—“ in order to
instruct the inhabitants of the town in the art of singing.”
Then, at the October meeting in 1784, it was voted to
“make application to the General Assembly…for a new committee to set a
stake for building a meetinghouse in said town.” That’s the third
request to the assembly for a committee. It’s my belief that the
General Assembly must have groaned a little whenever they received a
correspondence from Colebrook during this period.
This request came
twelve years before the issue was finally decided. A manuscript of
Reuben Rockwell explains the problem.
The southern people
were dissatisfied for two reasons, first because it (the site) was set
north of the brook; second, because the ground was very unsuitable for
a meeting house, several declaring they had much rather go 30 rods
farther north to the place where the first stake was set than build on
a place so unfavorable. The northern people, though not pleased with
the ground, made no objection to the place, and a committee was
appointed and preparations made for building the house.
proceeded to prepare the foundation and frame the house, when an
opposition on the part of the southern people was manifested, a
meeting called, and after much altercation, it was voted to postpone
raising the house. The timber was piled and secured from injury.
The prospects at this
time were gloomy; every appearance seemed to indicate a people ruled
The Center’s problems
continued. With the lumber piled and waiting, the congregation
waited, too. And as they waited, they grew tired of the controversy.
Some bright person proposed that a good site on each side of the brook
be determined, and then the two sides would each draw lots to pick
which one was to be the home of the church. This plan was accepted.
The southern side won
this game of chance. So, on the south side of the brook, the church
was raised, covered and lighted, and the floors were laid.
According to Reuben
Rockwell, “the northern people refused to join in procuring preaching,
or in any measure build up the society, and though there was a meeting
house, nearly one-half of the people would not enter the doors.”
The southern people
asked the northern dissidents what was wrong. They replied, like
babies, that they wanted to discount the deciding game of chance; that
they had inadvertently agreed to the plan simply to be good sports.
Nothing would satisfy them except moving the now-built church. All of
a sudden, southern people began saying that, they, too, wished the
church were on the other side of the brook. The southern leaders, at
a loss, seemed to withdraw. A plan to move the church was accepted.
Reuben Rockwell relates the rather
absurd end to this tale:
The plan adopted was
to remove the house, (to the north side of the brook) during the
winter season with oxen. Preparations were made to accomplish this
Quixotic enterprise, and in the month of February, 1794, the attempt
was made. About 150 pair of oxen was collected and (the church) began
to move majestically forward: but, there being a small descent soon to
pass, it was found that it would move forward rapidly without being
drawn and, it was judged utterly impracticable to proceed, and after
two days’ labor, the house having been moved about 30 rods (about 495
feet), the project was for the present abandoned. In the autumn
following, another attempt was made to remove the house with pulleys
and ropes—but after a trial this plan was also found (to not work).
Tired, worn out and
frustrated with these fruitless projects, the actors in this business
seemed disposed to sit down and count the cost. The delusions of party
feeling and obstinacy seemed in a measure to vanish.
The dispute had run its course, and the
church was given a secure foundation a short distance from where the
building itself seemed to put its foot down.
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