Our History

Early Beginnings

One year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and in the midst of the turmoil of the American Revolution, twenty-one men living in the towns of Winchester and Barkhamsted petitioned the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut for the creation of a new Ecclesiastical Society. In February 1778, the Assembly granted their request to form the Ecclesiastical Society of Winsted, the name “Winsted” being created from the first syllable of Winchester and the last syllable of Barkhamsted.

The newly formed Ecclesiastical Society held its first meeting on March 17, 1778 at the dwelling house of John Balcom. At this, and subsequent meetings, the location of the meeting-house was to be established, by pitching a stake at the point in the middle of the societies of Winchester and Barkhamsted. In December, 1784 it was voted to build a meeting house 45 feet by 35 feet with suitable height for galleries. A tax of sixpence on the pound was laid for defraying expenses.

In the initial planning stages, the stake was pitched two more times, before the location was finally settled upon. The size of the building was also changed to 50 feet by 40 feet, two-stories tall with a tower or steeple. After much deliberation, the meeting house was erected in November 1793 on the south border of a grove near the east-west road between the residence of Harris Brown and the Old Country Road in the Wallens Hill section of the village. Thus was the beginning.

By 1799 the water power of the Still River and Mad River valleys caused a population shift from Wallens Hill to the flat areas along the river. Seven years later, they erected a new and larger place of worship on the East End Green. This white colonial church served the Society for one hundred years until it became inadequate for the needs of the growing congregation.

The Gilman House on Walnut Street was purchased to serve as parsonage. This house stood where “Greystone” now stands at 36 Walnut Street. The records show that in 1858, after the Rev. James Pearson was dismissed, the house was sold. In later years, this house was purchased by Lloyd and Ethel Whitney (both members of First Church) to be used as a rooming house. After the installation of the Rev. Thomas Miles in 1870, the church built a parsonage on the north corners of Holabird Avenue and North Main Street (now owned by D. Peter Scarpelli). This house was used until the new parsonage was built on 33 Walnut Street, across the street from it’s original location. This property was later sold, and the funds invested to help provide a housing allowance so that pastors could have the option of purchasing their own homes in the area, if they wished.

In May of 1892, the First Congregational Society purchased the Beecher property at the intersection of North Main Street and Holabird Avenue (its present location) with the intention of building a new meeting house. Early in May of 1900, a contract was awarded to the Cass Granite Company of Boston for $28,000. On August 10th of that year, the cornerstone was laid by Deacon David Strong. The foundations were of native stone from a quarry on Brook Street. The structure itself was build of Granite from Keene, New Hampshire. The new building was dedicated on September 19, 1901. On the preceding Sunday, at the last service held at the old meeting house, the Rev. George Judson succeeded in raising a fund of $8,000 in fifteen minutes, thus clearing the society of all indebtedness.

The congregation continued to look toward the future with hope, seeking ways to enlarge the scope of its ministry. In 1949, an invitation was extended by the First congregational Church to the First Baptist Church to unite the two congregations. After both churches voted affirmatively, the united congregation was called, The First Church (Baptist and Congregational). The life of the new congregation was enriched by both of these denominational traditions, holding affiliations with the Litchfield North Association, the Connecticut conference of the United Church of Christ, and the Hartford Association and the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut.

During the flood of 1955, both the First and Second Congregational Church congregations were burdened with the repairs to damaged basements. In November of 1956 a joint study group was formed to consider the possibility of forming a federation of the First Congregational Church, the First Baptist Church and the Second Congregational Church. A questionnaire was mailed to members on the proposal, and in April of 1957, the merger was effected and the newly formed federation was to be known as the Church of Christ (Baptist and Congregational).

Fearing the discontinuance of the First Church building as a church edifice, 119 members of the First Congregational Church petitioned the Church of Christ council for dissolution of the Federation, allowing them to return to their former status. This group members was allowed to use the First Church building for services at their own expense. On September 14, 1958 the first service was held. Eventually the name was changed to simply First Church of Winsted, maintaining the Baptist and Congregational affiliations.

Since July 1959, the building has undergone several renovations and redecorating inside and out, with new paint throughout, new carpeting, a new Bose public address system, refurbished stained glass windows, a new kitchen and dining hall, a new kitchenette, re-pointed stonework, refurbished wooden ceiling in the sanctuary and two new roofs. The congregation refurbished and installed two organs. The Wicks Organ was installed in 1977, and replaced in 1989 with a 1894 George Jardine organ, relocated from Bethel AME Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They maintain an active relationship with the Winsted Area Ministerial Association. First Church was also instrumental in helping to establish Northwestern Connecticut Community Technical College, through its Pastor, the Rev. Charles V. Rodrigues.

The congregation is committed to the service its community, creating and maintaining the Children’s Discovery Center nursery school in 1976 and more recently providing a home for Winsted’s Head Start program for area children. The celebration of the Boar’s Head Festival, beginning in 1991, has provided scholarships for area youth, and also makes annual donations to the Open Door Soup Kitchen. In addition, the church sponsors Laurel City Singers, a local community choir, and opens its doors to many community service organizations.

The First Church looks forward to a bright and promising future of spiritual growth and continued service to the community, as we continue that journey of faith humbly begun in 1778.

(Excerpts taken from the “History of Litchfield County, Connecticut” printed in 1881.)