First Church in Boston

The First Church in Boston, at the corner of Berkeley and Marlborough Streets in Boston, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The church in 2015:

Boston’s First Church is among the oldest religious organizations in the United States, having been established in 1630 when John Winthrop and other early settlers first arrived in Boston. It became an influential congregation in New England, with leaders such as Charles Chauncy, who served as the pastor for 60 years from 1727 until his death in 1787. Theologically liberal, he opposed the Great Awakening revival that was led by one of his contemporaries, Jonathan Edwards of the church in Northampton. In part because of Chauncey’s influence, Unitarian theology began to take root in early 19th century Boston, and most of the city’s churches, including the First Church, shifted to Unitarianism.

The church had previously been located in downtown Boston, but by the 1860s many of Boston’s wealthier residents were moving west into the newly-filled Back Bay, and many of the long-established Protestant churches joined them, including the First Church. They moved into this Gothic style building at the corner of Berkeley and Marlborough Streets in 1868, and remained here for the next 100 years until it was gutted by a fire in 1968. The historic church had to be completely rebuilt, aside from the tower and the Berkeley Street facade, which had survived the fire and were incorporated into the new building.

Methodist Church, Monson, Mass (2)

Another view of the Methodist Church on Main Street in Monson, around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The church in 2015:

As explained in the previous post, this church at the corner of Main and Cushman Streets was built in 1850, and it is the oldest of Monson’s four church buildings.  The only major change in the church’s appearance between the two photos is the steeple.  The top of the steeple above the belfry was removed in 1952 because of damage caused by the 1938 hurricane, and it was replaced in 2010.  Aside from that, though, the rest of the historic church is essentially unchanged, and it is an excellent example of mid 19th century New England church architecture.

Methodist Church, Monson, Mass (1)

The Methodist Church on Main Street in Monson, probably taken around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The church in 2015:

The Methodist church in Monson was first established in the 1820s, and in 1827 its first permanent church building was built about a mile south of here, at the corner of Main and Maple Streets.  However, the congregation outgrew that building, and in 1850 they moved to this much larger, more centrally-located church in downtown Monson.  As seen in the two photos, it is still standing today, and it is the oldest active church building in town.

Architecturally, the church strongly resembles the traditional New England churches of the early 1800s, but there are also some elements of Gothic Revival architecture, such as the arched windows and the quatrefoil window on the tower.  Since its completion, there have not been many major changes to its appearance.  Aside from an expansion around 1860, the only major change has been the steeple.  The 1938 hurricane weakened its supports, so in 1952 the spire was removed, and was not replaced until 2010.  Just a year later, a tornado caused severe damage to downtown Monson, and destroyed the steeples of two nearby churches, but this church survived largely unscathed.

Centre Street Congregational Church, Machias, Maine

The Centre Street Church in Machias, around 1904. Image from Narrative of the Town of Machias (1904).

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The church in 2015:

The town of Machias is one of the easternmost places in the United States, so this remote fishing village seems like a strange place to have one of the state’s few examples of early 19th century Gothic Revival architecture.  The Centre Street Congregational Church has stood here overlooking the town since it was completed in 1837, and it was built based on designs by Richard Upjohn, a British-born architect who designed Gothic Revival churches throughout the United States.  Upjohn is better known for works such as Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street in New York and the Church of the Covenant in Boston, but this church in Machias predates both of those.

Since its completion nearly 180 years ago, the church has been remarkably well-preserved.  The only major exterior changes have been a clock in the tower, which was added in 1870, and stained glass windows, which were added in 1899, a few years before the first photo was taken.  The church even has its original bell, which was purchased used in Boston and originally came from Paul Revere’s foundry.  Today, the historic building is still a major focal point in the town, and the 2015 photo shows the setup for the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, a town-wide festival that is sponsored by the church.

Great Boston Fire (7)

A view of Trinity Church on Summer Street in Boston, taken in 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


A photo from a similar angle, taken in the aftermath of the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Taken from almost the same location as the photos in this post, and from the opposite direction of the ones here, these photos illustrate not only the damage after the Great Boston Fire, but also what the scene looked like before the fire.  As mentioned previously, the church was built in 1829, where Boston’s Downtown Crossing shopping district is located today.  The area was heavily damaged in the fire, and the church’s congregation relocated to the present-day Trinity Church at Copley Square later in the 1870s.  Today, nothing remains from the first two photos, and even the historic former Filene’s building in the center of the photo is a shell of its former self – literally.  The interior of the building was completely demolished, leaving only the facade as seen in the photo.  As evidenced by the construction work in the photo, the renovation work is ongoing as of July 2014.

Great Boston Fire (6)

Looking up Summer Street toward Washington Street, following the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The location in 2014:


Taken near the location of the photos in this post, but facing the opposite direction, the 1872 photo shows some of the damage to the present-day Downtown Crossing area, which is actually mild compared to the damage along other sections of Summer Street.  On the right is the Trinity Church, which was probably the oldest building in the first photo, having been built in 1829.  Following the fire, the area was rebuilt, and by the end of the 19th century became a major shopping center.  It is still that way today, with many department stores and other retailers along Summer Street and Washington Street.  The entire area is closed off to most vehicular travel, making the narrow Boston roads more pedestrian-friendly.