OF THE BERNARDSTON UNITARIAN
by Caryl Dyer, Church Clerk
Bernardston was begun as a result of a grant of land given to the veterans of the Falls Fight at Turner's Falls in May 1676. The troops were under the command of Captains Turner and Holyoke. It was not until over 50 years after the fight that a petition was sent to the General Court asking for a plot of land for a town as a reward. It was granted in 1734.
The land granted was above Deerfield, of which Greenfield was a part at the time. The extent was 6 square miles, to which more land was added soon after. The land included Leyden and part of what is now Colrain, They were to settle 60 families in 4 years, build houses at least 18 feet square, bring 5 acres to English grass or break it by plowing.
They were to build a meetinghouse and engage a learned Orthodox minister. In 1739 the meeting house was built and finished off roughly inside. At the same time four forts were built also. The new settlers came from 21 Massachusetts towns and 13 towns in Connecticut.
In 1741 the first minister John Norton was hired. By 1743 there were 17 families in town. By 1744 war broke out between Enlgand against France and Spain which spread to America. Most people were forced to leave town and either stay in the forts or go to safer towns. John Norton was dismissed and became chaplain to the soldiers at forts across Massachusetts.including Fort Shirley in Heath and Fort Massachusetts in North Adams. Here he was captured and taken to Canada where he was forced to stay for a year.
In 1749 people were able to return to the town. The church being in bad repair, it was voted to nail up the windows, put on boards that had fallen off, and make the lower parts of the windows so as to slip up.
in 1755 the FRench and Indian War broke out and again people had to leave or live in the forts. Some 52 people lived in Burk Fort for 5 years.
In 1760 life was able to resume normally again. The Rev Job Wright was called to become the second minister.For the installation ceremony 3000 feet of board were installed so that "people might sit with more conveniency".
In 1761 Fallstown petitioned to become a town. In 1762 it was granted and called then Bernardstown for the then Royal Governor Francis Bernard.
There had been a desire among the settlers for the church to be moved to a more convenient place. No local decision coutd be agreed upon, so an outside committee was called and decided the church shold be moved south 1 mile farther down the mountain. This was done in December with capstans and rollers and manpower alone. The interior was more nearly finished.
In 1784 the western settlers of the town decided to withdraw because of the difficulty of attending the meeting house at such a distance, and petitioned to become the district of Leyden. Part of the land now in Colrain had already withdrawn.
In 1791 it was again decided to move the meeting house so it was taken apart and moved down to the Fall River valley and erected at the confluence of three roads. It was erected in the same size and shape as before, 40 ft by 50 ft. 150 Pounds was raised for the project which might be paid in beef, rye, Indian corn, flour, wood, neat cattle & sheep at current prices. Rev Amasa Cook deeded one acre of his land for a common around the church. More of the interior was finished.
In 1794 it was voted that the church should be "colored yellow".
In 1805 the Rev Amasa Cook was dismissed. Rev Timothy Rogers was 1909. 1817 the affairs of church and state were separated. Rev Timothy Rogers preached the Orthodox creed for 12 years, but then became a Unitarian. Many members left the church for the Baptist, or Methodist Societies or formed their own Orthodox Society. In straitened circumstances the church was able to pay Rev Rogers for only half time, so he was employed by the Massachusetts Evangelical Society and the Society for propagating the Gospel among the Indians.
In 1825 the Meeting House was moved again to the center of population, its present location. Again it was taken apart and raised again in the same size and shape. A gallery was built around three sides for the choir and the children, girls on one side and boys on the other.
A high pulpit was built with a sounding board above it. It was furnished with 30 square pews. The steeple was added at this time in a style favor& by the well-known architect Isaac Damon. A bell from Boston was purchase but in a few years cracked, so it was exchanged for another from Hartford.
In 1850 the church was again altered. The gallery and high pulpit with sounding board were removed and the meeting house was divided into two floors. The old pews were sold and new slip pews were installed. The upper floor was the auditorium and the lower one left plain to be made later into a vestry. A stove had been added in 1832. $17.75 was raised for the project. A stove was donated and $14.47 expended for pipe and fixtures. One cord of wood was purchased a year to run it.
In 1847 money was raised b y the Ladies Fair for repairs. $175.00 was allotted to put on window blinds, paint the house, repair the bell deck and roof and any other needed repair.
By the time the church was rededicated in 1851, the east and west doors hid been removed and the open piazza with columns in the front had been closed in. For this dedication Mr & Mrs Henry Perkins gave a Bible made by them. Mrs Perkins was a daughter of Aretas Ferry, a prominent citizen of Bernardston. Edward Epps Powers of Columbus Georgia, who had grown up in Bernardston donated a communion set.
The old one was given to the Methodist Society. Thanks was given to the Universalist Society for allowing the Unitarians to use their church during the renovation period. And thanks was given to the ladies of the church for their laborious and untiring exertion in furnishing perfectly and comfortably of carpets, cushions and ornaments.
In 1852 a reed organ was purchased.
In 1854 there was talk of having a parsonage and having horse sheds built.
The requirements for membership in the church was $2.00 a year.
In 1860 it was voted to raise by subscription $40.00 for singing and playing the organ. 1861 No boys were allowed in the vestry while church services were being held above.
1863 Henry W Cushman died and left his home for a parsonage. 1870 Thanks to Joseph Priestly Hale of New York City who grew up in Bernardston and attended the church for $100.00 toward the purchase of an organ. (He also donated $1000.00 for a Union Sunday School Picnic Fund and left the church $10,000 which it was not able to collect for several years).
1871 An addition was put on the rear of the church to accommodate the new organ and a choir loft.
1879 The vestry floor was lowered three feet and fitted with a Sunday School room, a Ladies' Parlor and a kitchen.
1880 For the first time ladies were mentioned in the church report.
1892 Wives of paying members shall be considered members without separate payment. Hereafter the ladies are invited to take part in all society meetings. 1892 Annual meetings were called for 10:00 A M followed by a dinner and social time at noon.
1893 First mention of a Young People's Fraternity.
1896 Voted to choose trustees in case the Bale legacy is obtained. D G & F G Wild are to try to obtain it.
1897 Two more trustees are named to manage Hale legacy.
1897 Instruct the Parish Committee to expend no more than $3.00 on burial lot of Rev Rogers.
1905 Informal vote to close the church until April 1. 1907 Voted to allow the Ladies Social Circle and the Young People's Fraternity to put acetylene gas light in the church and parsonage.
The Parish Committee resigned at this time. No action was taken.
1913 The Senior Club was organized for seniors of the town.
1915 The treasurer reported that the bank balance was $288.87, and expenses were $1025.34.
Collector contacted members. 52 people responded and $343.20 was collected.
The Ladies Social Circle donated $136.15. 60 new hymn books were purchased.
1915 Voted to authorize the Parish Committee to install electric lights and to use the money the late Judge Allen gave for that purpose.
Thanks to Mr Isaac Snow for assistance installing electric lights and getting others to contribute, Thanks to Greenfield Light and Power Company for a generous discount.
1916 Voted to install steam heatng in parsonage, not to cost more than $365.00..
Voted to install electric light in parsonage.
1918 Use a contribution box for contributions from the 16 owners of the horse sheds. It was voted to keep them though some thought they should be removed and rebuilt near the cemetery. Voted repairs should be made.
1919 The $1000.00 given by Maria Sanderson should be called the Maria Sanderson Fund
1923 Voted to install modern plumbing in the parsonage for $250.
1925 First mention of Layman's League
1927 The Society is bequeathed $1000.00 from E Herbert Sanderson.
1927 Voted to sell parsonage. No action taken Put in new ceiling in kitchen
1928 Voted to sell parsonage for $6000.00. Traded it for another house.
1929 HENRY Lee gave piano for vestry. Miss Nellie Birks gave organ for Sunday School
1931 Horse sheds removed. Thanks to Harry Perry for cost of cleaning, filling and grading grounds.
Wayside Pulpit Installed.
July 9, 1939 200th Anniversary of. church observed. Goodale United Church, Baptist, Methodist Church of Leyden invited to participate. Morning Worship held as in old days. No music or flowers.
Noon picnic on lawn
Afternoon service included talk by Mrs Lucy Cutler Kellogg and sermon by Rev Frederick Elliot of Boston, President of Unitarian Association Observance ended with trip to original site of church on Huckle Hill.