Out & About: Norwich Congregational Church Rings in Its 200th Anniversary

  • The Norwich Congregational Church will celebrate its 200th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Photograph courtesy of Doug Lufkin)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Norwich — Why did the Norwich Congregational Church cross the street?

To get away from the rambunctious cadets at Norwich University.

That’s the story, at least, behind why, in 1852, the church pulled up its stakes on the green in Norwich, known then as the common, and moved across Church Street to its present site.

“The cadets,” the Rev. Mary Brownlow said, “were being problematic with their pranks.”

Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Alden Partridge as The American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy. Its North and South barracks occupied the site where Marion Cross Elementary School stands now, directly behind the church, which was built two years earlier. (The university moved to Northfield, Vt., in 1866.)

The cadets, legend has it, apparently liked to ring the church’s bell — one of six so-called “Revere bells” remaining in Vermont (Woodstock boasts five, according to the New England Historical Society) — in the middle of the night.

Brownlow said she had her doubts about that particular story, but it’s only one from the 200-year history of the church, which will mark that important milestone on Saturday. The free celebration begins at 4 p.m. and includes crafts, children’s activities, steeple tours, 19th century music, cider pressing and a light supper. At 7 p.m., the congregation will share stories and songs about the church’s history. The event concludes with “a great big gingerbread birthday cake,” said Susan Barron, a member of the church.

“Churches and towns have always had a tight relationship,” Barron said. “Towns and churches grow together.”

In 1817, when the church was founded, it was one of two congregational churches built that year in Norwich.

“There was a big disagreement about where a new structure should be built,” Brownlow said. Construction began in May of that year and the first worship service was held on Nov. 20, 1817. “They built it pretty fast.”

The other church eventually closed and the Norwich Congregational Church became the only congregational church in town.

“It’s kind of a combination of stability, having a central role in the town and also changing with the times,” Brownlow said. “We keep trying to understand our place in the world over time.”

The event will allow people to learn more about the church while interacting with other community members.

“(It’s) just kind of a time to remember and think, now, what’s next in the next 200 years?” Brownlow said. “We’re not done.”

Editor’s note: The Norwich Congregation Church is located at 15 Church St. For more information about the celebration, call 802-649-1433. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.