New Salem — Churches

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

      Before the settlement of the tract was fairly begun the proprietors set about providing a place for public worship, and in August, 1736, they voted to build a meeting-house forth-with, 45 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 20 feet stud. For some reason the house was not built until late in 1739, and each "right," it appears, was taxed £3 to defray the cost of the edifice. There must have been a gala time at the raising of the frame, for the bill for expenses noted that, among other things, "wheat, sugar, rum, molasses, pork, beef, butter, cheese, men, and horses from Hadley" were furnished at a total cost of "29 13s. 5d. The foundations of this church may still be seen near the site of the Universalist Church in New Salem Centre.
      Rev. Samuel Kendall, of Woburn, a Harvard graduate, was the first settled minister, and was ordained December, 1742, at which time the church was probably organized. He served the church as its pastor until March, 1776, when he resigned his charge, but continued to reside in New Salem until his death, in 1792. Mr. Kendall's successor was Rev. Joel Foster, who was settled June, 1779, and preached twenty-three years, being dismissed in 1802. During his ministration, in 1788, a church society was organized distinct from the town organization, and church affairs prospered after the new departure. In 1794 a new church of considerable pretensions to architectural elegance was built, and considered one of the finest, if not the best, of all the churches in Hampshire County.
      Mr. Foster was a divine of some prominence, and it was said that the incorporation of the New Salem Academy was due chiefly to his efforts. His successor as pastor of the church was Rev. Warren Pierce, who was ordained in 1804. He resigned in 1807, and in December of that year Rev. Alpheus Harding was ordained. Shortly previous to that time a church was erected in the north, about four miles from the centre, near where Beriah W. Fay lives, for the accommodation of the people in that section, and at this church Mr. Harding preached fifteen Sabbaths annually for about eighteen years. Meanwhile, for about that length of time, the church parish was somewhat divided on the question of the relative merits of the Trinitarian and Unitarian doctrines. Mr. Harding inclined to Unitarianism, and preached its faith to the First Church until January, 1845, when he resigned, after a ministry of upward of thirty-seven years. Mr. Harding officiated in 1868 at the funeral in New Salem of Mrs. Daniel Shaw, at whose wedding he had likewise officiated in 1811. Rev. Claudius Bradford, ordained in 1851, was the next settled minister but he continued only two years, when he resigned. Rev. ______ Trask, the last settled pastor, was dismissed in 1874, since which date the church, which is now Universalist, has depended upon periodical supplies.
      As has already been noted, Mr. Harding preached a portion of each year at a church in the north for eighteen years,--from 1807 to 1824. This church building was owned by the First Society, and when the people, in 1824, becoming dissatisfied with the condition of things, formed a new and orthodox society, they purchased the church building and removed it to its present location, in north New Salem. Since 1842 there has been no settled pastor, and latterly the building has been used in common by Congregationalists and Methodists. The first pastor was Levi French, who preached from 1825 to 1829, and succeeding him was Rev. Erastus Brooks, who preached from 1834 to 1842.
      The THIRD CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH was organized at New Salem Centre in August, 1845. Services were held in the town-house until 1855, when the present church structure was erected. The pastors have been Revs. Wm. H. Hayward, Erastus Curtis, W. Kemp, David Eastman, and Samuel H. Amsdell,—the latter the pastor in charge January, 1879.
      In January, 1772, a BAPTIST CHURCH was organized in the south part of the town, and in that year a meeting-house was built, a little south of what is now the Prescott line. In 1800 the building was moved three miles north of its original location, and in 1822, when the town of Prescott was incorporated, the church became known as the Baptist Church of New Salem and Prescott. The church building was taken down in 1835, and in that year a new structure was erected directly upon the line between Prescott and New Salem.
      The church began to decline a few years ago, and previous to 1878 became extinct. In that year the building was sold and removed into Prescott, where it is now used as a store. Among the early pastors of the church were Revs. Ebenezer Smith, Samuel Bigelow, Joel Butler, Josiah Orcutt, Paul Davis, Calvin Orcutt, Asa Niles, Stephen S. Nelson, Thos. Rand, ______ Dwyer, George Doland, John Shepardson, A. B. Eggleston.
      There is a METHODIST CHURCH building within the borders of New Salem, near the Prescott line, but it belongs to the Methodist Society of North Prescott, with whom the Methodists of New Salem worship.
      The UNIVERSALISTS in the north part of the town organized a society in 1800, and erected a meeting-house frame, but got no farther with the building. It stood thus uncovered for several years, when it was sold and removed to New Salem Centre, where it was converted into a tavern, and destroyed by fire in 1876.
      In January, 1879, measures were on foot at the village of Cooleyville for the organization of a Universalist society at that point, with a fair prospect of success.

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