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|The First Congregational Church of Litchfield after the|
restoration. Photo courtesy of the First Congregational
Church of Litchfield.
Church of Litchfield
The Treasure: The First Congregational Church of Litchfield is a quintessential old
New England church, beautifully expressing the character
of its time.
Accessibility: The exterior can be viewed anytime at
Torrington Road in Litchfield. The interior probably looks its
best at worship time on Sunday mornings at 10:30.
Background: Some say it’s the most photographed church building in
England. With its distinctive steeple, fluted columns, and perfect
symmetry, the First Congregational Church of Litchfield manages the neat trick
of appearing stoically formal and graciously welcoming at the same time. The unadorned interior offers a perfect complement to the promise of
the exterior—it’s refreshingly clean and balanced with no ostentatious frills.
|Pews and pulpit in the interior of the First Congregational Church|
of Litchfield. Photo courtesy of the First Congregational Church
Built in 1829, this building served as its congregation’s third meetinghouse. The first building had been constructed in 1723, just a few years after the first settlers arrived. When the congregation outgrew its first home, a larger one was built in 1761. And then they outgrew that one, too.
|Lyman Beecher in a photograph by|
Matthew Brady, between 1855 and 1865.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
But tastes change. In the post-Civil War era, the graceful old meetinghouse fell out of favor. It was in fact considered an eyesore, with Henry Ward Beecher (son of Lyman Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a skilled preacher in his own right) pronouncing, “There is not a single line or feature in the old building suggesting taste or beauty.” A fourth church building—this time in the newly-fashionable Victorian Gothic style—was built and the old church building was neglected for over 50 years. In 1930, with Colonial revival movements stirring around the country, the congregation tore down their Victorian Gothic building, returning to their 1829 building. Now renowned for its plain beauty, the First Congregational Church of Litchfield is home to an active United Church of Christ congregation and all are invited to worship every Sunday morning at 10:30.
|From a brochure for the restoration--showing the|
classic design of the church.
Image courtesy of the First Congregational Church
|Front facade of the First Congregational Church of|
Litchfield during restoration. Photo courtesy of the
First Congregational Church of Litchfield.
Notes from the Editor:
New England churches
built in the two hundred years between 1640 and 1840 often were designed to reflect the beliefs of the Protestant Nonconformists, better known in America as the Puritans. The dignified yet plain meetinghouse of the First
Congregational Church of Litchfield is typical of the Puritan style.
These Congregational churches were independent, sometimes nurturing social movements
such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and the temperance movement. It was
also typical to call their building a meetinghouse, disdaining the fancy airs
associated with the term “church.”
Cotton Mather, a famed American Puritan preacher and historian, had this to say in 1726: “We have modest and handsome Houses for the Worship of God, not set off with Gaudy, Pompous, Theatrical Fineries, but suited unto the Simplicity of Christian Worship.” Anything that smacked of the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church was unacceptable. There were no vestments, candles, or crucifixes at the Litchfield meetinghouse.
Other Recommended Sites: Litchfield is a historic town. Explore its history through the Litchfield Historical Society, which operates the
and two historic sites, the Tapping Reeve House and . the Litchfield Law
|Restored windows and shutters at the First Congregational Church of Litchfield.|
Photo courtesy of the First Congregational Church of Litchfield.
Guest author for this entry: Terry Price
Tour America's Treasures Itinerary
Thursday’s destination: Oral History of American Music Archive, Yale University
© 2012 Lee and Terry Price