The First Congregational Church of North Attleboro has a long history, going back to the mid-seventeenth century. Our current meeting house, built back in 1828, is actually the third meeting house that has been built for the church. Here is a brief history of our church buildings.
THE FIRST MEETING HOUSE
The first church building was erected to serve the colony of people who, in 1643, moved from Weymouth to “Seacunk” (now Seekonk) and then, some of them, to the Rehoboth North Purchase. This territory, now covered by the towns of Attleboro, North Attleboro, and Cumberland, RI, had been purchased from Wamsutta, the son of Massasoit and brother of King Phillip. In 1694, it was incorporated as the town of Attleborough with the part now known as “Oldtown” as its center.
One reason for the incorporation of the town was the distance to Rehoboth for the public worship of God on Sundays was too far to travel, especially for the children. At that time, an incorporated town needed a church meeting house at its center. Early in 1710, the town voted to “build a meeting house thirty feet square and sixteen feet between joints, said meeting house to be upon a peace (piece) of land east of the Cuntree Road (now Old Post Road), the house to be framed and raised by the first of June issuing.” The building was not completed until 1714, although the Congregational Year Book gives the date of the organizational gathering of the First Congregational Church of the Attleboroughs as November 12, 1712, which is also the date its first minister, the Reverend Matthew Short, was ordained.
THE SECOND MEETING HOUSE
In 1728, the community had outgrown the first building, so it was decided to erect a new meeting house. This building was to be fifty feet long, and forty feet wide with a tier of galleries, and to be constructed on a knoll just south of the present church. This meeting house served the community for one hundred years until it was condemned by the town as unfit for the place of meeting. We believe that there may have been an earthquake that shook the area at that time which caused substantial damage to the structure.
THE THIRD MEETING HOUSE
The third and present building was erected in 1828 on land which was donated by Mrs. Lemuel Stratton and was large enough for the Meeting House and horse sheds, the latter of which are now gone. The design of the building as it stands today is that of the builder, Mr. Ezra Walker, and it has drawn praise from every architect, artist, and craftsman who has seen it.
Built of white pine and oak, the building measures approximately sixty-five feet long by forty-five feet wide with galleries on the north, south, and west sides. The ground floor has pews with doors – an arrangement characteristic of churches built in this period – but instead of the people sitting with their backs to the entrance door, as is customary in most churches, the congregation faces the entrance door at Oldtown. The full benefit of light is gained from twenty-three large windows.
The dedication of the third building took place on January 1, 1829. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, extensive restoration was carried out and a service of rededication was held on June 24, 1951. In 1987, as the church celebrated its 275th anniversary, approximately one acre of land was donated for the purpose of expansion. The land was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Frank Maxcy and was given by their daughters, Mrs. Florence Meader and Mrs. Eleanor Razee, and her husband Herbert. In 1990, an addition was built and a parking area made behind the church. The upper level of the addition contains office facilities, restrooms, a nursery, and a large meeting room named Maxcy Hall. The lower level houses seven Sunday School classrooms and offices. A ramp was later constructed for better access to the side entrance, and this now serves as the main entrance to the church, despite the large sets of double doors at the church front.
THE CHURCH BELL
Every Sunday morning, the bell, which was cast at the Holbrook Bell Foundry in Medway, MA by George Handel Holbrook, sends out its call to worship. Mr. Holbrook’s father was apprenticed to Paul Revere, of Revolutionary War fame, as a machinist and a clockmaker. He learned the art of bell casting from an old English Encyclopedia and established his foundry at Medway in 1816. His son George Handel Holbrook took over the entire business in 1820 and carried on until 1871, having at that time cast over ten thousand church and other bells. The inscription in our bell reads, “By George Handle Holbrook, Medway, Mass. 1828”
Our bell weighs about 1,000 pounds and is cast of 80% Ingot Copper and 20% Straits Block Tin, a proportion which has for years produced the best results for durability and tonal quality in cast bells. Prior to 1959, the bell was tolled by hand, but it was electrified in that year. During our Steeple Restoration project in 2006, the bell rope was returned to service, and the children of the congregation were once again able to “ride the rope” as the bell rings out the end of service each Sunday.
In 1804, the Town of Attleboro gave its school districts authority to raise money and build schools. District #1, here in Oldtown, was the first to do so in 1805. A typical one-room schoolhouse was constructed and is located across the street from the current church meeting house. It was sold to the church by the Town of North Attleboro in 1966 with certain stipulations. It took more than three years and much hard work by members of Oldtown to repair the building for use as additional Sunday School space as well as social functions. Built in 1832, this schoolhouse for District #6 continued in use as late as 1938. The schoolhouse now serves as a place of meeting for various groups in the community.