Conway — Churches

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

      As can be best ascertained, a Mr. Strong was the first preacher who ministered to the people of Conway, his ministrations being conducted in 1767. In 1768 a Mr. Judson preached early in the year at the house of Mr. Whitney, and in July of that year a Congregational Church was organized, with a membership composed of 16 men and 16 women. A meeting-house was built in 1769 at Pumpkin Hollow, on the site of the school-house now at that place.
      The matter of building a house of worship was attended with much controversy and much uncertainty, chiefly because of trouble in selecting a site satisfactory to all. At the town-meeting of September, 1767, it was decided to build at the centre of the town, and a committee was appointed to find the centre. Their report was rejected, as was the report of a committee called from adjoining towns to settle the vexed question. It was afterward decided to build a small house "near Jonathan Whitney's," but this resolve was rescinded, and early in 1769 it was settled that "ye Nole, about fifteen or twenty rods north of the southeast corner of ye Center lot, where is a large stump, with a stake Spoted, standing within ye same, be established for a spot to build the meeting-house upon;" and upon that spot the house was erected.
      Rev. John Emerson began to preach in April, 1769, and delivered his first sermon in Josiah Boyden's barn, "which," Mr. Emerson wrote, "was surrounded with thick-growing wood, except a small adjacent spot cleared, which admitted ye light of heaven,—a place different, indeed, from those costly and splendid edifices erected and dedicated to the worship of ye Most High since that day, and very dissimilar from that in ye ancient church in Brattle Street, Boston, where I had been called only ye Lord's day before to preach."
      The people were so well pleased with his preaching that he was given a call to settle, and in December, 1769, was ordained, with "an encouragement" of a salary of £50 annually, to advance £3 yearly until it should reach £80, and £150 as a settlement.
      The meeting-house was not finished for several years after it was begun, and it is said that a carpenter's bench did duty as a pulpit on the occasion of the preaching of the first sermon. The house was not furnished with a stove until 1819, and in the winter season Mr. Emerson frequently preached arrayed in overcoat and mittens.
      Near the church was a small structure called the "Little House," or the "Sabbath House," where a roaring fire was kept on Sundays, and where the people gathered to get warm before attending service.
      Benches sufficed for pews up to 1772, but in that year a prolonged agitation upon the subject of seating the church and providing it with pews resulted in a determination to dispose of the privileges to the highest bidders, and Dec. 31, 1772, the pew-ground in the meeting-house was sold at public vendue to the following persons: Elias Dickinson, James Davis, Wm. Galloway, Isaac Amsden, Robert Hamilton, George Stearns, Lucius Allis, Consider Arms, David Field, Jabez Newhall, Samuel Newhall, Jonathan Whitney, Moses Hayden, Benjamin Pulsipher, Israel Rice, Timothy Rice, Ebenezer Hart, Noah Belding, Samuel Wells, Samuel Crittenden, Cyrus Rice, Daniel Davidson, Samuel Wares, Daniel Newhall, Ephraim Smith, John Boyden, Thomas French, Joseph Catlin, Elijah Wells, Adoniram Bartlet, Prince Freeman, Amos Wilcox, Roger Farnam, Ebenezer Redfield, Josiah Boyden, John Bond, Jason Harrington, Solomon Goodale, John Gilmore, Cornelius Parker, Abel Dinsmore, Gorham Farnsworth, Timothy Chadwick, James Gilmore, Joel Dickinson, Nathaniel Field, Aaron Howe, James Oliver, Oliver Stephens, Alexander Oliver, Israel Gates, Jonas Rice, William Gates, David Whitney, Reuben Hendrake, John Sherman, Sherebiah Lee, Eber Lee, John Langdon, David Parker, James Dickinson, Robert Oliver, Isaac Nelson, William Bancroft, Jr., Ebenezer Maynard, Nathan Gould, David Smith, John Goodale, Samuel Gould, Joel Baker, Elisha Amsden, and Jonathan Oaks.
      Mr. Emerson served the First Congregational Church during the remarkably extended period of fifty-seven years, from 1769 to 1826, in which latter year he died, while yet in the pastoral office.
      During his ministry he received 580 persons into church membership, wrote upward of 3500 sermons, attended the funerals of 1037 of his people, and in the first fifty years of his service baptized 1219.
      The church building was enlarged in 1796, and supplied with porches, steeple, and clock. In 1842, the structure having outlived its usefulness, the present edifice was erected, a short distance north of the old one, and the latter taken down. Six of the windows which were in the first church are now set in the front of the cabinet-shop of E. C. Foote, at Conway Centre, and the works of the old steeple clock are to be found in Howland's carpenter-shop, at Pumpkin Hollow.
      Mr. Emerson's successor and colleague was Rev. Edward Hitchcock, D.D., LL.D., who was ordained in 1821 and preached until 1825, when he was dismissed. He became subsequently professor of chemistry and natural history in Amherst College, and in 1845 the president of that institution. Prof. Hitchcock achieved also a national distinction as an author, especially of works upon geological researches. Among his successors were Revs. Daniel Crosby, Melanethon S. Wheeler, Samuel Harris, Geo. M. Adams, and Elijah Cutler. Rev. Arthur Shirley is the present pastor (1879).

The Baptist Church

      The Baptist Church was organized in October, 1788, with 29 members, of whom 18 were women. Two years afterward a meeting-house was built in what is now Burkeville, near the present residence of Elijah Arms. Rev. Amos Shevi was the first to preach to the congregation, but the first pastor of the church was Rev. Calvin Keyes, who was ordained November, 1799, and continued in the ministry until 1819. Two important revivals marked the term of his service, in one of which (1806) 55 converts were added to the church membership, and in 1816 a further addition of 40 members was made. In 1810 the meeting-house was removed to the site of the present church building at Conway Centre, which was erected in 1840. In March, 1819, the church was dissolved, but reorganized in June, 1820, and since then has continued to prosper. Among those who have preached for the church were Revs. Amos Shevi, John Leland, Asa Todd, Calvin Keyes, Adam Hamilton, Josiah Goddard, Mr. Rimes, Mr. Grant, David Pease, Abbott Howe, Wm. H. Rice, David Wright, Henry H. Rouse, Joel Kenney, P. P. Sanderson, Richard Lentil, C. A. Buckbee, M. Byrne. The present pastor (1879) is Rev. Everett D. Stearns.

A Methodist Class

      A Methodist Class was formed in Conway in May, 1852, and was reorganized in 1853, with 17 members. The earliest supplies were Revs. Wm. F. Lacount and A. S. Flagg. The first quarterly conference of the Methodist Church in Conway was organized April 30, 1871, L. R. Thayer, D.D., presiding elder, and Rev. Wm. H. Cook pastor in charge, the membership at that time being 16. The present church building at Conway Centre was occupied December, 1871, and dedicated the following March. The structure, including furniture, cost $11,000. The church's pastors have been Revs. W. H. Cook, A. C. Munson, .1. A. De Forest, E. R. Thorndyke, W. N. Richardson, and I. A. Mesler,—the latter being in charge in 1879, when the church membership was 92.

The Baptists Of Conway

      The Baptists Of Conway, in common with those of Western Massachusetts, made their way against some opposition; and warm controversies as well as legal prosecutions followed their refusals to contribute for the support of the Congregational minister. Passages in the town records dealing with these matters make reference to "those people calling themselves Baptists," and bitter personal feeling was frequently exhibited. It is related that even Parson Emerson, attending Baptist preaching at the house of Israel Rice, was so offensive in his expression of sentiments that the host unceremoniously compelled his withdrawal from the assembly.

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