History of the Road Meetinghouse
The Road Meetinghouse, First Congregational Church of Stonington, Connecticut, is the oldest church in the town of Stonington and the seventh oldest church in Connecticut. Established in 1674 under British rule, the church has enjoyed a productive, colorful and sometimes stormy history over the past 325 years.
The present Road Church structure, built in 1829, has maintained its original and unique design. The front door is in the back of the building and leads directly to the pulpit. The pews are high, gated and painted white with cherry wood railings. In the early history of the church, each pew was auctioned to the highest bidder, who was able to use it for 99 years. A seating diagram still hangs in the church vestibule.
When you enter the church through the doors to the right and left of the pulpit, you face the congregation, a somewhat intimidating experience for latecomers. As you walk to the back of the church, the aisle inclines upward ever so slightly, giving the impression of a theater. The decor remains plain and simple, indicative of the Puritan times in which the church was founded.
The early history of the Road church is, in a sense, the history of the town of Stonington. In 1649, William Chesebrough became the first settler of Stonington. The first religious service in Stonington was held on March 22, 1657 at the home of Walter Palmer with Reverend William Thompson, a Harvard graduate, officiating. At the time, Reverend Thompson served as missionary to the Pequot Indians, dividing his time between the Pequots and the settlers. In 1661, the town erected a small meetinghouse on Montauk Avenue where town business and religious services were conducted.
In 1664 the town appointed a committee to go to the Bay (Massachusetts) and procure a minister. The committee invited Mr. James Noyes of Newbury, a graduate of Harvard, to become their Gospel-preaching minister. He accepted the invitation and came in June 1664.
In 1672 a new meetinghouse was built on Agreement Hill, a compromise location at a spot a few "rods" west of the present building. The meetinghouse became known as the "Road Church" because it was located midway on the only road of the time. This road, laid out in 1669, ran from the head of the Mystic River (in Old Mystic) through the town platt to Kichemaug (now Westerly), Rhode Island. The Road Church, standing at the geographical center of town, was poised to become a religious, social and political center of activity.
On June 3, 1674 the First Congregational Church of Stonington was officially established with nine members: Rev. James Noyes; Thomas Stanton, Sr.; Thomas Stanton, Jr.; Nathaniel Chesebrough; Thomas Miner; his son Ephraim; the brothers Nehemiah and Moses Palmer; and Thomas Wheeler. Descendants of many of these families still attend services at the church today.
A small house with a fireplace where Rev. Noyes could keep warm between morning and afternoon meetings was erected in 1690 across the street from our current parish hall. Although it no longer exists, the church did acquire from the town the nearby one-room schoolhouse, which currently serves as a gathering place and library.
The meetinghouse as completed in 1673 stood until 1729, when it was taken down and rebuilt on a larger site. Since the town gave the land on which the meetinghouse stood, it had the right to hold the King's Court and the Magistrate's Court there from the time of the first meetinghouse was built in 1661 until 1828, when arrangements were made with the town and the Ecclesiastical Society to build one structure containing a basement to use for town purposes, and a meetinghouse for religious purposes. Some opposed this plan because separation of church and state had been instituted in 1818. However, a structure with basement was completed in 1829, and remains the meetinghouse for services today. It was built using timbers and posts from the former structure. They can still be seen today on the east and west sides of the building.
A Sunday School Picnic
from the archives of the Denison Society
The town of Stonington retained ownership of the church basement and used it as a town hall until 1929, and as a voting place until the late 1960s. The last election held in the basement of the church was October 2, 1967. It was with a great deal of sadness that the voters of the Road district bade farewell to the covered-dish luncheons and the day-long festivities that prevailed on voting days. In 1980, the basement was converted to classrooms for Sunday school and other church activities.
The church has a fortunate history of great and gifted pastors, beginning with Rev. James Noyes in 1664. Mr. Noyes died December 30, 1719 after serving for 55 years and six months in his first and only pastorate. Today his sword and a letter dated 1720 containing a proposed inscription for his gravestone at Wequetequock cemetery are on loan from the church to the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington Borough.
In 1999 Reverend Ron Lake accepted the call as the spiritual leader after an extensive two year search by our members. He was ordained by the National Association of Congregational Churches and has served in the ministry in Connecticut Churches for the past twenty-nine years.
In March 1990. the Pequot Trail, upon which the Road Church is situated, became the first road in Connecticut to receive scenic status under a 1987 state law. This law protects the road from changes that would affect its beauty.