ABOUT US

We Are Family

Our Church History

The town of Seymour’s historical journey began in 1642, when land from the town of Derby extended into what, today, is Seymour. The center of activity was where the Naugatuck and the Housatonic Rivers met in Derby. John Wakeman was the first European to purchase land from the Indians that lived throughout this area. He established a trading post at the Derby port where, eventually, tall sailing ships from many far-off ports came to trade. Within 13 years, several more settlers came to the area and the New Haven court granted permission for a village to be established on land purchased from the Indians.

   As the European settlers moved “up river” into the area of the falls, they and the Indians worked and lived together as friends. The area began to grow with more and more settlers moving into the hills of Great Hill on the west side of the river, the Skokorat area on the east side of the river and over onto the “Promised Land” area (Maple and Pearl Streets and Washington Avenue). The fertile, green land and dense forest now was spotted with clearings, housing farms and grazing cattle. Dirt roads criss-crossed fields to connect outlying settlers with the town and the port of Derby. This small settlement, although still part of Derby, now needed a name. To honor Chief Joseph Mauwehu, who had been given the nickname of “Chuce,” the settlers called the area Chusetown.

   As the population grew, small industries began to make an appearance, especially along the banks of the town’s valuable natural resource, the Naugatuck River. Its falls and numerous brooks and tributaries provided much-desired power for grist mills, corn mills, paper mills and blacksmith shops. By the mid 1700s, the people of Chusetown, in the Colony of Connecticut, and the colonists of the other 12 colonies were becoming upset with England’s “taxation without representation.” When the Revolutionary War began, the people of Chusetown were proud to enlist and more than 100 soldiers hailed from this small village. An important figure from Chusetown to serve was General David Humphreys. During the war, he joined the Continental Army and became an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Following the war, Humphreys and Washington remained close friends. When Washington became the U.S. President, he appointed Humphreys minister to Spain and Portugal.

   On November 3, 1789 the first Congregational Ecclesiastical Society was formed to support the religious community in Derby, near Bladen Brook. The founding members were:

John Adye                                              Joseph Loines
Capt. Timothy Baldwin                        Ashbel Loveland
Isaac Baldwin                                        Bezalel Peck
John Coe                                                 Leveret Pritchard
Frances Forque                                      Bradford Steele, Jr.
Amos Hine                                              Capt. Bradford Steele
Philo Hinman                                          Elisha Steel
Thomas Hotchkiss                                  Levi Tomlinson
Eben. Beacher Johnson                         Ebenezer Warner
Asahel Johnson                                      Nathan Wheeler
Gideon Johnson                                      Ebr. Turel Whitmore
Medad Keney                                          Hezekiah Wodin

Our Clergy  

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1789-1805

Rev. Benjamin Beach

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1817-1825

Rev. Zephaniah Swift

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1825-1827

Rev. Ephraim G. Swift

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1828-1833

Rev. Charles Thompson

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1833-1834

Rev. Rollin S. Stone

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1834-1842

Rev. John E. Bray

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1843-1849

Rev. William B. Curtiss

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1850-1852

Rev. E. B. Chamberlain

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1852-1855

Rev. J. E. Willard

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1857-1858

Rev. Henry Davenport Northrop

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1859-1860

Rev. Elijah C. Baldwin

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1860-1861

Rev. Sylvester Hine

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1862-1864

Rev. John L. Mills

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1864-1865

Rev. George A. Dickerman

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1865-1867

Rev. Abram J. Quick

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1868-1869

Rev. Allen G. Clark

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1869-1870

Rev. H. P. Collin

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1871-1872

Rev. J. W. Fitch

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1872-1874

Rev. W. J. Thompson

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1874-1879

Rev. S. C. Leonard

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1879-1884

Rev. F. Stanley Root

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1885-1886

Rev. Francis J. Fairbanks

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1886-1891

Rev. Thomas E. Davies

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1892-1904

Rev. Hollis Andrew Campbell

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1904-1908

Rev. J. F. Johnstone

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1908-1924

Rev. George F. Abel

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1924-1940

Rev. Edward A. Jones

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1940-1949

Rev. Richard S. Graham

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1949-1956

Rev. Dr. Harry B. Miner

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1956-1973

Rev. Robert J. Divine

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1973-1980

Rev. Edward Pettis

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1981-1987

Rev. Timothy J. Benson

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1988-1997

Rev. William Hamel, Sr.

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2001-2006

Rev. Stan Youngberg

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2007-2013

Rev. Dr. Greg Dawson

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Seven Members have entered Christian Ministry

Rev. Ira Harvey Smith (Yale B. A. 1842, Licence to Preach 1844, ordained 1846.) Served at the North Haven Congregational Church until ill health forced him to leave the ministry. After one year in Calofornia he joined the tide of free imigration to Kansas.

Rev. Dr. Henry A. De Forest, MD. – ( Yale B.A. 1832, M.D. 1855), served as a medical missionary in Beirut, Syria for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission. Along with his wife Catherine Sedwick De Forest they opened the first boarding school for girls until ill health forced him to return to the US in 1854.  Catherine was a lineal descendant of John Sargeant, the first missionary to the Indians in Western Massachusetts.

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Rev. Robert Bell – served churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

OUR HISTORY

Rev. Benjamin Beach was the first pastor and appears to have been here before the formation of the society. He served from 1789-1805. The first church was built in 1789 on present day Pearl Street where the UnitedMethodistChurch now stands. Capt Timothy Baldwin and Levi Thomlinson were appointed deacons.

In 1804, the name of the town was changed from Chusetown to Humphreysville, in honor of General David Humphreys.  In 1805 Rev. Beach moved to Milton and it was about this time that the village of Seymour suffered a decline in commerce. During this time of decline the congregational members in Humphreysville attended other churches in the area.

In 1817 a Council of Five convened for the express purpose of reorganizing and re-constituting things ecclesiastical in Seymour. These five were the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Taylor, who became a professor in Yale; Rev. Bennett Tyler, who was involved with Hartford Theological Seminary the Rev. Samuel Merwin, Rev. Bela Kellogg and the Rev. Zephaniah Swift of Derby. Rev. Swift began to supply the Seymour pulpit a portion of the time.  On March 12 of that year nine persons presented themselves to a council of clergy from the area for the purpose of “organizing a church of Christ.” Up until this time there had only existed an ecclesiastical society. Nine persons presented themselves before this council:

Joel and Martha Beebe, Sally Wheeler, Bradford and Ruth Steele, Hannah P. Johnson, Ira and Sarah Smithand and Lewis Holbrook

The village of Humphreysville prospered and attracted other manufacturing concerns. Items such as cotton cloth, paper, furniture and tools such as augers and bits were now produced here. As a result of this prosperity in 1817 the Congregational meeting house was sold to the Methodists and a new church was completed of a more modern style. Completed by 1825 on ground now occupied by the Congregational cemetery on South Main Street. This building was called the VillageChurch. The addition of a church spire in 1829 provided a symbol of worship for all in that part of the community.

As the community continued to expand it was determined that the location of the church building was no longer central to the population. For this reason a third church building was begun at our present location in 1846 and dedicated April 20, 1847.  Then in the ecclesiastical society’s records of the day we read,

“The failure of an extensive branch of manufacture, in 1855, removing about 80 families from the congregation, greatly reduced the resources of the society, and made the Church, after several years of self-support, again dependent on home missionary aid.”

In 1850 the townspeople wanted to change the name of the town to Richmond, but then agreed to honor Governor Thomas Seymour by naming their community Seymour.  But by 1890 the situation must have inproved for the church set about to enlarge by an addition the south end. A new pipe organ was installed and the church was incorporated as the Seymour Congregational Church.

By the turn of the century, there was pressing need of a parish house to accommodate the various parish activities. One such activity was a Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) Chapter which was founded on March 20, 1906.  To accomodate the growing needs the parsonage was moved south to Derby Avenue and in its place the Albert Swan Memorial hall was built in 1907 and dedicated January 19, 1908.

This splendid building was adequate for some years; but with the growth of the parish and the increased demand for a large hall, expansion became necessary. In 1930 the basement of the church was entirely rebuilt and refurnished and several rooms were added between the church and the parish house. Additions included the stage and a new kitchen. New floors were laid in the kitchen, and many changes and additions made in various places.

Then in 1954 there was a complete remodeling of our sanctuary and a new Skinner organ was installed in July of 1955. An organ known as the Deusenberg, the Rolls Royce of organs of its time.  After this new stone steps were built at the front of the parish house to match those of the church and paths, conforming to a new pattern, were laid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the sanctuary a split chancel, a new altar-table, pulpit, lectern, choir stalls, reredos, dossal curain, cross and candle sticks replaced the central pulpit and the old organ and chancel front.  The chancel and sanctuary took on a new look with the installation of new pews and lighting. A change-over from coal to oil in the heating system was introduced and a new piece of audio-visual aid equipment was bought.

This was the condition of affairs until Friday, August 19th, 1955 when the “rains descended and the floods came: and beat upon our town…”

The flood waters, diverted into two streams, gouged a channel fifteen feet deep on three sides of the church buildings, and carried away the ground beneath the foundations of the steps in front of both the church and parish house. Finally the unsupported weight of these steps caused them to pull away from the buildings, to which they had been connected, and in this process much damage was done to the walls. They fell into the deep channel, and to remove them later it was necessary to have them broken by a heavy ball mechanically operated and the pieces excavated by a power shovel. A stair well at the left front of the church was carried away, the ground having been washed away below its level. All landscaping and paths were obliterated.

Inside the dining hall, gymnasium, kitchen, and furnace room the flood waters rose to the ceilings. The first floor of the parish house was flooded to a depth of six feet, and in the sanctuary the water rose until it covered the seats in the pews, floated the pew cushions from their places, and ruined many of the new hymn books. Everywhere when the water receded it left mud varying in depth from two inches or more in the sanctuary, to four feet in the dining-room, and up to six feet in the gymnasium. In this mud there was much of the equipment of the church and its many organizations, and a variety of debris, from wooden shoe lasts to barrels of chemicals, came in through the great hole created by the breakaway of the wall to which the church steps were attached. Railroad ties were found lodged in awkward places.   You could recognize such things as choir gowns, pieces of homes, and kitchen utensils. Scattered in the mud were more than 300 chairs, tables, and four pianos. These pianos were so heavy with silt inside that it was a problem to move them from the rooms in which they rested. The beautiful kitchen was in such a mess that it had to be stripped right down to the bare walls and all the equipment thrown away.

It was difficult to approach the buildings because of the high piles of debris which covered the doorways and entrances.  Many tears were shed by people who looked upon the scene from afar, and many more were shed by people who later came to look inside the buildings.  And yet it could have been much worse.  It became well known in Valley lore that the church was saved that day from complete destruction when a huge oak tree fell and blocked the savage waters.  The town library next door was washed away.  A monument now stands to the so-called Hero Oak.

Volunteers from among the membership of the church, and friends of it, began at once to dig the mud out. It took six weeks of work, most of it in the evenings when men were free, to finally get rid of all the mud. It was thrown through windows; had water added to it after it was settled and then pumped out; it was shoveled into wheelbarrows and wheeled out it and was moved with a mechanical scoop; and some was even carried out in buckets. At one place a rig had to be set up, and mud hauled up like water from a well. Until some of the channel around the church was filled in it was necessary to walk up planks, like going aboard a ship, to gain entrance or leave the dining room. But the work went on.

Those who came had to have special permission from the town police and the military authorities in charge, and had to have anti-typhoid shots. A fine group of the women of the church moved into the church sanctuary, and suitably clothed, got down under the pews, into the corners, around the doors, behind the radiators, and wrestled with the mud and dirt and saved it from further damage by cleaning it as soon as possible.  Mud was removed from the beautiful new carpet by the use of a snow shovel! When it was finally cut into two sections and removed, it took three men to move each part-it was still so heavy with mud and moisture. Until one of the bridges across the river was restored, the town was practically cut in two, and from one side you could only reach the church by either climbing a three-section fire ladder from river bed to a surviving section of bridge or, at another place, climbing through the debris which cluttered up a much battered old iron bridge. But day by day the volunteers came.

Everywhere there was damage. Windows smashed in, doors wrenched off their hinges and carried away, mud under floors, back of walls and inside ceilings. The blowing-room, specially built for the new organ, and filled with various pieces of blowing equipment, was flooded to the ceiling, and practically everything inside, ruined. The new oil burner was dug out, given expert attention, but found to be ruined. Insulation on wiring, hot waterpipes, everywhere was ruined and had to be removed. Cupboard and closet doors were so swollen and distorted that they had to be broken down to get at the contents and mud.

Chemicals from works in Naugatuck and Waterbury were carried by the flood, and these left a deposit on walls and fixtures which not only did damage, espcially to electrical fixtures, but was hard to remove. Such things as choir gowns, curtains, rugs, table cloths, were often damaged beyond repair more by the chemical character of the silt than the mud itself. Much of the new asphalt used on the outside paths was found in great chunks all over the place. The church safe was carried from the place where it normally stood, turned over on to its back, and when finally opened by a safe expert, found to have mud inside and its contents ruined. The colonial sign outside the church was broken to pieces and carried away. But, strange to relate, some days after the flood, a man working in a dockyard 22 miles away by river, found the center panel floating in a jam of debris, rescued it, and it was finally returned to the church.

The scene in the area, as in the buildings themselves, was a very, desolate one. No wonder the people have designated August 19, 1955 as “Black Friday.” Estimates of the church’s losses and damage, made by professionals, were in the region of $80,000. Of course, there was, and is, no insurance against such an eventuality as damage by flood, and the church was not considered for any grant from such public relief agencies as Red Cross. It did not expect such help, but it is necessary to state this because many people thought it would be so helped. The weeks came and went after August 19th. Much was said about what ought to be done to protect the area against any possible reoccurrence.

But the truth is that the community, the state, and the federal authorities did not, or could not, do anything to restore the river defenses washed away. So when the second flood came on October 15, there was nothing the church could do to prevent a second inundation. This reached a depth of five feet, but did very little additional damage, although it created a great deal more work. It did ruin some of the electrical equipment which had been restored, and left another job of cleanup. Until the first Sunday in December, we used the sanctuary of the Episcopal Church for our Sunday morning worship, and until April, 1956, we used their parish house for our ChurchSchool. Our youth work was carried on at the LutheranChurch, and many of our organizations had meetings there too. Ladies’ Aid, and similar groups, met regularly at the MethodistChurch, and a variety of other activities were continued as opportunity offered at these churches.

After having recently raised a large sum for the renovation of the church premises, and in a town so severely hit economically, the task of raising such large sums was required for reconstruction and renovation, seemed an almost impossible task. But new hope began when on Sunday, November 20, 1955, our church held a Thanksgiving service and received a check for $1,200 from the Ansonia Congregational Church. And other churches, both on the state and national level, showed such practical sympathy for us that by December 1, 1955 the church sanctuary was again ready for worship, and through an added generous gift from the churches of Connecticut, we were able to have the damage to the organ repaired, and it was played for the first time in a worship service on Sunday, January 2nd, 1956.

In 1961 our congregation voted to become part of the United Church of Christ.  Then in 1979 our church celebrated its 200th Anniversary. We are the oldest church in the town of Seymour as a congregation, and we still have a vibrant ministering presence in our community.

Most recently in 1993 we began a 3 year Renovations Program to effect some badly needed repairs both inside and outside the church buildings. Our heating system has been completely redone and re-zoned. Our roofs have been nearly all replaced and a new steeple was raised to replace the Cupola that had capped our BellTower since 1890. Built as closely as possible to the specifications of the original steeple that was destroyed by lightening in 1890, in November of 1993, the Seymour skyline was changed as a new Spire rested on the top of the Congregational Church for the first time in more that 100 years. And we set about to fully restore our organ which had been damaged in the 1955 flood. It had been repaired, but now it was time to bring it back to its glory. At a cost of $100,000 the A. Thompson-Allen Company, LLC., curators of organs at Yale University, took the organ apart and replaced all of the rubber and leather parts. When completed a rededication service was held on March 12, 2006.

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