Ashfield — Churches

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      The religious history of the town is coeval with its first, settlement. In 1751 a sum of money was appropriated to supply preaching. The first minister employed was Rev. Mr. Dickinson, a Congregationalist of Hadley, who was followed by Rev. Mr. Streeter, of the same denomination. Religious services were first held in the house of Deacon Ebenezer Belding, which stood on the site of the dwelling now occupied by Joshua Hall.

The Baptists.

      The first denomination to establish. themselves in the town were the Baptists. A church was formed in July, 1761, consisting of 9 members. The first minister of the church was Rev. Ebenezer Smith, son of Chileab Smith, whose ministry continued thirty-seven years. He was dismissed in 1798, and removed into the western part of the State of New York. He was succeeded as pastor of the church, on Jan. 14, 1798, by his brother, Rev. Enos Smith, who served faithfully in that capacity for forty years.
      In 1814 a second Baptist Church was constituted, the place of worship being in South Ashfield. For several years Elder Loomis, a resident of the town, served the society the work of the ministry. Removing to the State of New York, he was succeeded by Rev. Orra Martin, of Bristol, Conn., who labored with the society for several years.
      The present Baptist society was organized Jan. 13, 1867, and was comprised of members of the different Baptist Churches in the neighborhood, and of the original Baptist Church. The first preacher for the society was Rev. David Peace, Who was succeeded, on May 2, 1868, by Rev. E. N. Jenks. Mr. Jenks remained until May 5, 1870, when Mr. Peace officiated again, together with Elder Frary and others. On Feb. 1, 1871, Rev. T. H. Goodwin was ordained pastor. Rev. George A. Willard; the present pastor, commenced his labors Feb. 1, 1874. The present membership of the church is 68; of Sabbath-school, about 50; number of volumes in the library, about 200; superintendent of Sabbath-school, J. L. Howes.
      The first Baptist house of worship stood about 40 rods north of the present residence of Deacon Ziba Smith, ad the second house stood a half-mile farther to the southeast. The present one was erected in 1809, and is at Ashfield Plains.


      This church was constituted Feb. 22, 1763, with a membership of 15. On the following day Rev. Jacob Sherwin was ordained its pastor by the same council that constituted the church. Among its original members were Jacob Sherwin, Thomas Phillips, Nathan Waite, Ebenezer Belding, Timothy Lewis, and Joseph Mitchell.
      The first Congregational meeting-house was raised in 1766. It was originally placed on "the northerly end of house-lot No. 13, first division," which was near the top of the hill northeasterly of "Mill Hill," called Bellows' Hill. This frame was removed in 1767 to "lot No. 18, first division, which site is now occupied by the cemetery, about 50 rods north of the "Plain." It was used as a place of worship until 1814. The foundations of a new house of worship were laid in 1812 on "the Hill," about half a mile southwest of the "Plain." It was long in building, the contractor committing suicide during its erection. It was occupied temporarily in the winter of 1813-14, while yet in an unfinished state. It was completed during the following season, and permanently occupied as a place of worship about Thanksgiving time of the year 1814. This, with such repairs and modifications as it has since undergone, constitutes the present townhall. The present house of worship was erected in 1856.
      Rev. Jacob Sherwin, of Hebron, Conn., the first pastor of the church, was ordained Feb. 23, 1763. He was born April 11, 1738; graduated at Yale College in 1759; was dismissed from his pastoral relation in Ashfield, May 17, 1774, but resided for several years afterward in the town, officiating as representative in General Court, town clerk, selectman, and justice of the peace. He was installed pastor of a Congregational Church in Sunderland, Vt., March 18, 1790, and died there Jan. 7, 1803, aged sixty-five.
      Rev. Nehemiah Porter, the second pastor, was installed over the church Dec. 21, 1774. He was born in Ipswich, Mass., March 22, 1720; was graduated at Yale College in 1745; was ordained in Ipswich, Chebacco Parish, Jan. 3, 1750, and was dismissed from his charge in that place in June, 1766. He afterward preached for several years to emigrants at Cape Canso, Nova Scotia. He lived to have two pastors successively settled as colleagues with him in Ashfield. He was in his one hundredth year at the time of the settlement of the last, and exhorted his people to live in peace among themselves from the pulpit on that day. He died at Ashfield, Feb. 29, 1820, aged one hundred years, lacking twenty-two days. The following epitaph is inscribed on his tombstone:
      "Mr. Porter was a faithful minister of Christ. With long life he was satisfied. He fell asleep in Jesus, in hope of a joyful resurrection and a blessed immortality.
      "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance."
      Rev. Alvan. Sanderson, the third pastor, was installed over the church June 22, 1808. He was born in Whately, Dec. 13, 1780; was graduated at Williams College in 1802; studied theology with Rev. Alvan Hyde, D.D., of Lee, and for a short time with Rev. Joseph Lyman, D. D., of Hatfield. He was licensed by the Berkshire Association, Oct. 17, 1804, and was ordained as an evangelist at Westhampton, Feb. 4, 1807. In 1814 he was attacked with hemorrhage of the lungs, and was obliged to suspend his pastoral labors. His feeble health led to his dismission Jan. 3, 1816. He died June 22, 1817, on the anniversary of his installation, aged thirty-six.
      Rev. Thomas Shepard was the fourth pastor, and was ordained over the church June 16, 1819. He was born in Norton in 1792; was graduated at Brown University in 1813, and finished his theological course at Andover in 1816. He was dismissed May 8, 1833, from his pastoral charge in Ashfield, and was for several years employed as an agent for the American Bible Society in New England. He afterward filled the pastoral relation at Bristol, R. I., where he now resides.
      Rev. Mason Grosvenor, the fifth pastor, was settled over the church May 9, 1832. He was born in Craftsbury, Vt., in 1800; was graduated at Yale College in 1827. He was dismissed from his pastoral charge in Ashfield, July 16, 1835.
      Rev. Burr Baldwin, the sixth pastor, was installed over the church April 20, 1836. He was born in Weston, Conn., in 1789; was graduated at Yale College in 1809. Previous to his settlement in Ashfield he was settled as pastor in Montrose, Pa., and was installed as pastor in New Hartford, Conn., Feb. 17, 1830, and dismissed from his pastoral charge in Ashfield in September, 1838.
      Rev. Sereno D. Clark, the seventh pastor, was ordained over the church June 11, 1840. He was born in Southampton in 1809; was graduated at Amherst, College in 1835, and pursued his theological studies in part at Andover. He was dismissed from his Ashfield charge April 22, 1851.
      Rev. William H. Gilbert, the eighth pastor, was installed over the church Dec. 3, 1851. He was born in Weston, Conn., in 1817, graduated at Yale College in 1841, studied theology at Andover and New Haven, and previous to his settlement in Ashfield had been pastor of a church in Westminster, Vt. He was dismissed from the Ashfield Church in 1855.
      During that year a division occurred in the church, and a new Congregational Society was formed, which erected a house of worship in 1856,--the same now occupied by the Congregational Church. The other Congregational meeting-house has become the town-hall. The second church had several pastors, but the two bodies were finally reunited.
      The Rev. Mr. Gilbert, was succeeded as pastor in 1856 by Rev. Willard Brigham, who was followed by Rev. Edward C. Ewing, now pastor of the church at Enfield, Mass.
      Rev. Webster Woodbury became the first pastor of the reunited church, Sept. 9, 1868, and was dismissed Aug. 1870. Rev. James Dingwell was installed pastor Aug. 28, 872, and dismissed Nov. 30, 1877. Rev. J. Wadhams, the present pastor, was installed Nov. 6, 1878.
      The present membership of the church is about 190; of Sabbath-school, 150; volumes in the library, several hundred; superintendent of Sabbath-school, Fred. H. Smith. Some of the deacons of the church have been Ebenezer Belding, Joshua Sherwin, John Bement, Jonathan Taylor, John Porter, Enos Smith, Elijah Paine, Samuel Bement, Daniel Williams, Jared Bement, Asa Sanderson, Alvan Perry, Daniel Howes, Joseph Vincent, Jr.

Protestant Episcopal.

      This society was organized in the town in 1820, and in 1829 a neat and commodious house of worship was erected, and consecrated by the bishop as St. John's Church. This has since undergone changes and repairs, and is still used by the society.
      Rev. Silas Blaisdell, the first regular pastor of the church, began to officiate Sept. 26, 1830. Rev. Jacob Pearson assumed charge July 10, 1836. Rev. Joseph A. Storrs became the pastor Aug. 29, 1847. He was admitted by Bishop Eastburn, at Roxbury, Mass., June 26, 1848. He resigned Aug. 1, 1849.
      The parish was in charge of Rev. William Withington during 1850, and for some time following. In 1853, Rev. Charles Cleveland became the pastor, and continued until about 1858 or 1859, when the parish was supplied for several months by Rev. John Reynolds. Rev. Charles H. Gardiner commenced to officiate Nov. 20, 1859, and resigned Oct. 28, 1861. Rev. Brinton Flower entered upon the discharge of pastoral duties June 13, 1862, and died suddenly June 23, 1863. On May 29, 1864, O. H. Dutton, a deacon of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the diocese of New York, began to officiate as temporary supply. Rev. Lewis Green, the present pastor of the church, commenced his duties in October, 1864. The parish is small, comprising a membership of about 30.

The Methodists.

      The Methodists erected a house of worship and held services in the southeast corner of the town about 1830, and the Universalists organized a society about the year 1831, which was in existence for several years, and worshiped in the house at South Ashfield, formerly used by the second Baptist Society.

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