Our History

History of Our Church Building

Our first church building was a meeting house which was “raised” amidst great festivity on June 30, 1762 at a cost of 71 pounds, 13 shillings and 4 pence. Before this time services had been held irregularly in private homes and at Abijah Moore’s Tavern. The main floor was laid in 1764 and in July of that year a number of residents who were members of churches in the vicinity met and agreed to organize a local church. They arranged for a meeting on August 18th of that year at which time 34 persons entered into a Covenant of Fellowship. At their request a council of the three churches of Rutland, Holden and Lancaster met in Princeton on August 30, 1764 and gave them official recognition as a “particular Visible Church of Christ.”

The first meeting house stood across the road from the old cemetery on Mountain Road, north of the present church. The circular window over our front door, bearing the date “1762” is a relic of that structure.

A replacement edifice was raised about 30 years later on the same site in 1796, and in 1815 the 874 pound steeple bell was purchased from Paul Revere and Sons and installed in that second meeting house.

The present church building – the third – was, in turn, built at the north end of the common and was first used for worship on March 6, 1838. The Revere bell was moved to the steeple of this church about this time. In 1884 the present church building was moved to its present location after the erection of the Goodnow Memorial Library crowded the original site.

From this site the Revere bell continues to call worshipers to service, making its service to the town almost two centuries in length.

In 1955 the Revere bell was judged to be in danger of breaking loose of the framework that had supported it for 140 years and two members of the church were appointed to construct a new bell frame and install the bell in it.

By the end of the year William Brooks and Earle Vickery had built and installed a new bell frame of native oak with a six foot bell wheel with flanges to keep the bell rope on the wheel at all times and new bearings on the bell’s beam timber. This is still in use in 2003, about 48 years later, and appears to be in excellent condition. After it was repaired it was dedicated to the memory of Maude Doolittle, a well beloved member of the church. If history is any indicator, our bell frame and bell should continue to call the congregation to services well into the 21st century.

Some Historical Dates

1759 Prince Town or Princeton was named after the pastor of Old South Church in Boston, the Rev. Thomas Prince, who had owned and actively promoted some of the present town land. Church meetings were attended in surrounding towns. Then a handful of people met “during the favorable months” in the tavern of Abijah Moore, finding their way through the woods by using marks on trees. The tavern still stands as a private home (the yellow house) on Merriam Road. In October the Princeton District was incorporated. The Rev. Timothy Harrington preached a sermon in the tavern on the Sunday prior to this town meeting, and a copy of this sermon may still survive.
1760 The district voted to build a meeting house on land donated by John and Caleb Mirick.
1761 Site of the meeting house was determined to be the highest part of the Mirick land, near three pine trees on the northerly side near a large flat rock. This location is up the hill from the present church, opposite the old cemetery on Mountain Road.
1762 The frame of the meeting house was completed and raised on June 30, 1762 by its 18 male members. The frame was roofed and enclosed the following fall.
1764 The main floor of the building was laid, window frames were built, and the first church services were held in the new building. The building was a plain structure with three porches, a door and a pulpit in the center on the north side. Town records for the next 20 years reflect efforts to complete the church, and it is unclear if the structure was ever totally completed. In August of this year the church covenant was signed by 34 people, making it a “visible church of Christ.” The church had no settled pastor at that time.
1767 The Rev. Timothy Fuller was installed as the first full-time pastor. He was later dismissed in 1776 because of alleged, but unsubstantiated Tory sympathies.
1768 The Honorable Moses Gill, son-in-law of Thomas Prince, presented the church with two tankards, one communion plate, two flagons, three chalices and a baptismal basin, all made of pewter. Many of these pieces are inscribed with the date and/or occasion.
1769 Moses Gill presented the church with a pulpit Bible and a letter to Rev. Fuller concerning the reading of the scriptures in public.
1796 Moses Gill presented the church with two silver chalices made by Paul Revere. At the present time these chalices are on loan to the Worcester Art Museum.
1796-7 The church building was deemed unserviceable due to decay, and the second meeting house was built at the same location, with a steeple added at a later date.
1810 A period of great religious revival added approximately 50 new members to the church.
1815 A silver toned 874-pound bell inscribed “Revere and Son, Boston 1815” was purchased for $470.48 and installed in the second meeting house.
1818 Dissention over the calling of Rev. Clarke caused a portion of the church membership to break off. This group adopted the Presbyterian Articles of Faith and Discipline.
1830 The Presbyterian Society was dissolved and its members formed the Evangelical Congregational Church, with the Rev. Phillips as its pastor.
1833 The Congregationalist Society was renamed the First Parish and became a distinct church body apart from the town and no longer supported by town monies. This separation allowed the church to call its own pastors and conduct its own affairs without consent of the town officers.
1836 The First Parish and Evangelical Congregational Churches were united as the Union Congregational Church under the pastoral care of the Rev. Elijah Demond.
1838 The present church building was erected on the northern end of the town common near where the Goodnow Library building stands today. The Revere bell was moved to the new structure. Cost of the building was $7,200. Services were first held in this building on March 6, 1838. Upon completion of the new building, Mr. John Lane Boylston presented the elegant crystal and brass chandelier, which still hangs in the current sanctuary. This chandelier is believed to have come from the Maverick Church in East Boston.
1839 Again, a period of religious revival added about 50 members to the congregation.
1870 The parsonage on Mountain Road was built and given to the church.
1884 The church building, including Paul Revere bell, was moved to its present site to allow space for both the Goodnow Library and Bagg Hall at the head of the common. A round window, dated 1762, from the first meeting house was installed in the west gable over the front doors. A basement was added to the church at this time, and an annex was constructed to house the organ.
1887 The Congregational Chapel in East Princeton was dedicated.
1899 First Congregational Church of Princeton voted to be incorporated, according to certificate number 7977, dated February 6, 1899. The parish was dissolved, and the church became in full charge of its own property and finances.
1904 The organ which is currently in use was built and installed by the Cole Organ Company of Boston. This organ cost $2,750, of which Edward Goodnow pledged $500.
1908 The church voted to purchase four communion trays with glasses and install holders for glasses in each pew. Also received in 1908 was the gift of an individual communion service, believed to be the gift of Josiah D. Gregory.
1914 The 150th anniversary of the organization of a Protestant church in Princeton was celebrated.
1925 A pewter communion set consisting of a tankard, two goblets and two bread dishes which had been used in the Methodist Church in Princeton from 1840-1892 were added to our collection through the generosity of Mrs. Warren Bryant.
1938 One hundred years of worship in the present building was celebrated at a Centennial Anniversary. Also celebrated was one hundred years of union between the two Princeton churches, First Parish and Evangelical Congregational.
1948 Lights illuminating the church steeple were given by the youth group in memory of three young men who died that year, William F. Mathieu, Ralph A. MacGeachy and Lester G. Williams.
1949 The church voted to merge with the Evangelical and Reformed Church “on the basis of interpretation.”
1955 The church bell was rededicated in memory of Miss Maude Doolittle. A new fellowship hall, kitchen and other rooms were also dedicated this year.
1956 Four brass offering plates were given as memorial gifts by the Board of Deacons and Deaconesses. These replaced the wooden offering boxes, one of which is in the display case in the narthex.
1958 The 125th Anniversary of the Congregational Society organizing as the First Parish was celebrated. Many gifts were also presented to the church, including Sudbury brass cross and candlesticks given by George Doolittle, Gertrude West and Grace Arey, and a colonial baptismal font given by Emily Skinner and her children in honor of Josiah David Skinner.
1960 East Princeton Chapel services were discontinued. Sunday School classes there had stopped in 1958.
1961 At a special congregational meeting in March the church voted to become affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
1964 The 200th anniversary of the signing of the original church covenant was celebrated on October 18.
1968 The altar presented by Mr. and Mrs. John Hitchcock was dedicated. Red velvet pew cushions given by the Couples Club were placed in the sanctuary.
1973 Memorial plaques for the Rev. Charles Matthews and Mr. James Roberts were installed on the altar and communion table.
1976 The church helped to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial by hosting a special ecumenical service.
1977 The Missionary Society gave two brass vases to the church in memory of Louise Stimson.
1978 The original parsonage on Mountain Road was sold. A church sign in memory of Judson M. Goodnow, Sr. was given by his family.
1979 A house at the corner of Ball Hill Road and Brooks Station Road was purchased as a church parsonage.
1988 A celebration of the 150th anniversary of the church building was held from March 6 – August 20. The building had been dedicated on March 6, 1838.
1989 The 225th anniversary of the establishment of a Protestant Congregational church was celebrated. The original covenant was signed in August, 1764. Also in 1989 the Beaman Christian Education Wing was added to the church in order to create more classrooms for Sunday School, which had previously met in Fellowship Hall. Office space for the pastor and church secretary, a parlor used for meetings and a new kitchen were also included in the new addition. Since the completion of the addition, the Princeton Preschool has met regularly in this space.
1998 The parsonage on Ball Hill Road was sold by vote of the congregation. This year also marked the beginning of a two-year campaign to restore all the large windows in the sanctuary and narthex, preserving the original glass of these windows.
2004 A ceremony was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the installation and dedication of the organ. An organ concert by Jeff Wood was was held in the evening. This event marked the beginning of a campaign to raise funds to fully restore the organ.
Historical Facts of the First Congregational Church of Princeton, Susan Hall, 1988
Princeton and The First Congregational Church, author unknown, 1964 (?)
The History of the First Congregational Church, author and date unknown

History of Our Pastors

This is a list of the settled ministers that have pastored our church. It does not include the interim ministers that have served during the transition between settled pastors.
Timothy Fuller 1767-1776
Thomas Crafts 1786-1791
Joseph Russell 1796-1801
James Murdock 1802-1815
Samuel Clarke 1817-1832
Alonzo Phillips 1820-1836
John P. Cowles 1833-1834
Elijah Demond 1836-1839
Willard M. Harding 1840-1844
Alfred Goldsmith 1845-1849
Henry Wickes 1852-1855
William T. Briggs 1856-1863
John S. Zelie 1864-1866
Roger M. Sargent 1869-1871
George M. Howe 1874-1884
Archibald L. Love 1884-1887
Charles A. White 1888-1905
Charles E. Reeves 1906-1917
Benjamin Swift 1919-1923
J. Seldon Strong 1924-1929
Frederic Donaldson 1929-1942
Bruce Roberts 1942-1947
George M. Raun 1948-1950
William J. Darby 1951-1953
Edmund B. Keller 1953-1960
Robert E. Carter 1961-1964
Howard A. Andrews 1964-1965
P. Yesu Rathnam 1966-1977
Stanley Keach 1978-1982
Harold Grove 1983-1988
Dennis Roth 1989-1996
Deborah Loomis Lafond 1998-2001
Linda Michel 2003-2017
Janet Sandquist-Skagerlind 2018-present
Source: Harry Pape, Church Historian, and Rick Gardner