First Meeting House 1768


Rev. Lewis Grout's Discourse


Among these points of interest may be reckoned a few facts and traditions respecting the first meeting-house. The house stood about eight rods west of the old cemetery, half a mile northward of the Harris hill, three or four rods northward from the present Smith Miller line, or about ten rods westward from the Rev. Abner Reeve's grave.


The spot is marked by a small hollow or basin, as if there were a cellar under the building; and on the westerly border of the basin is a good sized boulder, as if this stone might have been, at one time, a part of the foundation. The house was gambrel-roofed, and it is said to have been built by the town; but as to the exact time we have no certain record. . .


It will be remembered that when steps were taken for the building of a new house, near the site of the one we now occupy, the town authorized the selling of the old one to Mr. Israel Smith; and some of the older inhabitants of our day tell us it was taken down and moved about a mile to the northward, to the Hapgood or Kittredge place, this side of the Dunklee homestead, there set up and occupied for some years as a dwelling house, and finally consumed by fire.


It is also said that the porch of it was brought down and used for some years by Samuel Elliot, Esq., as a lawyer's office, and that this part of it is still extant in the first or ground story of the house at the east end of this village, just the other side of the covered bridge, and now owned by Mrs. Streeter.


A Discourse on the Early History of the Congregational Church in West Brattleboro, Vt. Delivered December 31, 1876 by the Rev. Lewis Grout (Brattleboro: D. Leonard, steam job printer).


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Meeting House Hill


This map is adapted from the topographical chart which Hon. Hoyt Henry Wheeler researched for Rev. Lewis Grout in 1876. The center line of Brattleboro was the key to finding the location of the Meeting House.


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Beautifying The Cemetery.


Notable Improvements Which Are Being Made by Ezra Fisher on Meeting House Hill---Location of the First Meeting House Has Been Marked by a Granite Block.


For several years it has been the desire of Ezra Fisher to improve and beautify the cemetery on Meeting House Hill. In fact, he has spent considerable time and money in so doing. Since the death of his son, Leslie Fisher, whose body was buried in this beautiful spot, his interests in this project have been quickened.


Last fall he bought a strip of land on the south side of the old cemetery, comprising about one and one-fourth acres, of Will Thurber, which has been divided into 156 lots, most of which are 10 by 20 feet in size. The wall on the south side of the old part has been moved to the rear of the new part, forming a back wall. A substantial iron fence, enclosing the grounds, has been begun and will be completed in the spring. Mr. Fisher has caused a receiving vault to be built of brick and stone. He has also placed a fine granite monument on the family lot.


It was through Mr. Fisher that the Meeting House Hill Cemetery association was incorporated. There has been renewed effort on the part of several who have relatives buried there, in the past few years, to keep the ground in better shape than formerly.


The cemetery is on a height of land back of the village and a more beautiful spot would be hard to find. It is particularly interesting from the fact that on the land recently bought by Mr. Fisher was built the first meeting house in town. The actual location of the meeting house has been determined by measurements and surveys from old records looked up by Hon. H. H. Wheeler. It was found in a lot near the centre of the new part.


The location has a suitable granite marker, placed there by Mr. Fisher, on which is the following inscription: "The first meeting house in Brattleboro was built here A. D. 1768." In digging for the foundation of this marker ample proof was found that right there was the fire-place in the old meeting house, showing that the survey was correct. In several places about the hill can be found indications that buildings stood there long ago.


The first burial in this cemetery occurred in 1765, the body being that of Elizabeth Wells. The old road running over this hill and through the valley to Guilford can be traced in the summer time. There are many slate headstones in the cemetery, some of which are so old and have become so affected by the action of the weather that the inscriptions upon them are almost indiscernable.


Vermont Phoenix, January 6, 1899.


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Meeting House Hill Cemetery


Over 12 years ago Mr. Fisher assumed charge of the cemetery and during that time he has wrought a striking change. Though known as Meeting House Hill cemetery records did not state exactly where the old church stood and to Mr. Fisher fell the task of locating the site. Careful study of the records and of the cemetery enclosure was necessary before Mr. Fisher was able to state exactly where the old meeting house stood.


While digging to locate evidences of the foundation of the old structure he found the fire pit where the housewives of a century and a half ago replenished their footstoves while attending worship. The corners of the old site were finally located and today a rugged granite marker erected by Mr. Fisher tells the visitor that here was located the first meeting house in Brattleboro and that it was erected in 1768.


Brattleboro Reformer, October 21, 1910.


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Rev. Lewis Grout in his A Monograph on the Origin and Early Life of Brattleboro in 1899 describes the marker now on Meeting House Hill---


This monument, the base of which consists of native granite and the die of millstone granite from Connecticut, is about four feet high by two and a half wide, "rock finish," bearing this inscription: "This First Meeting House in Brattleboro was built here, A. D. 1768." On the right hand corner, near the base, are the initials, "E. E. F., 1898," the letters being understood to stand for Ezra E. Fisher, to whom all are greatly indebted for his work and for other expensive and important additions and improvements in these now memorable and sacred grounds.


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"Where and when the first meeting-house in this town was built has been the subject of some debate, as shown by the letter of Rev. Mr. Grout. The town was surveyed and allotted under the New Hampshire charter. Five acres were reserved for a common and burying-ground on the top of meeting-house hill, south of the centre line, and marked on the plan. They included the south part of the cemetery now there, and extended over a part of the open field south.


The place was probably selected by Col. Josiah Willard, a commander at Fort Dummer, who became largely interested in the town and had the lot out of which it was reserved. The meeting-house would, of course, be built upon this common near the burying-ground, as was the custom then.


That it was so built is clearly shown by the laying out of a road from the meeting-house to Ebenezer Hawes's by Thomas Reeve and Noah Bennett, commissioners for laying out and regulating highways, June 23, 1774; 'Beginning at the burying yard in the centre line, from there running with the centre line on the south of said line the north side of the meeting-house to William Cune's land,' which was next west, etc. As the road was south of the centre line and north of the meeting-house, the latter must have been at least the width of the road south of the centre line, the place of which there is well known, and which would take it into the open field south of the cemetery. The burials of Elizabeth, a little daughter of Samuel Wells, in 1765, and Major John Arms in 1770, and other early burials, had been made further east, and the yard did not extend so far west as it does now, and going west from it north of the meeting-house might, and as the road ran from the meeting-house probably did, leave the meeting-house as far east as the southwest corner of the present cemetery."


Vermont Phoenix, January 26, 1894.


Hon. Hoyt Henry Wheeler, "The First Meeting House, Its Location as Fixed by the Early Records---The Town as It Was in 1768---A List of the Grown Men at That Time."


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When the above named little grave was made for Elizabeth Wells, 1765, probably the first in that region, it was in the lone woods, amid majestic trees, the entire hill being then covered with one dense, unbroken forest. From that grave westward there was now only a trail, a foot path, then a bridle path, then, in 1774, an open road full of stumps and stones, like all the new roads at that time, just passable for an ox cart or sled, the only kind of vehicle they had in those days.


In Memory of
Elizabeth Wells Daughtr to
Col Samuel & Mrs
Hannah Wells She Decd
Octo ye 9th 1765
Aged 5 Months & 19 Days


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Standing in the southwest corner of the cemetery and looking northward, close along the east side of the west boundary wall, we see what was evidently the bed of the road that came in from the north in 1768, as given on the chart of my "second discourse." After this road was given up, it would seem that the above named west boundary wall was built on the west border of the roadbed of which we speak, which roadbed comes in at the northwest corner of the cemetery, and runs north, parallel with the wall, till it comes to a large bounder, partly in the wall, near the northwest corner, and then turns south of eastward, and makes evidently for what was the site of the meeting-house. Here, too, standing again at the southwest corner of the cemetery, we evidently stand at the fork of the above road from the north and the road that struck off west, just south of the above named boulder in 1774, the bed of which seems, even now, plainly visible for a little way, in the pasture along the centre line of the town, which runs here, westward, two rods south of the "old cellar place". . .


Vermont Phoenix, October 12, 1894.

Rev. Lewis Grout, "The First Meeting-House", October 5, 1894.


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The laws of Vermont required every town to have "a good pair of stocks, with a lock and key, sufficient to hold and secure such offenders as shall be sentenced to sit therein, to be set in the most public place; and in the same place, a sign-post, on which all notifications, warrants, &c., for meetings, &c., shall be set up."


On the 14th September 1781 in town meeting, Brattleboro freemen voted to build a pair of stocks and a sign post; to set the sign post near the meeting house; to fit the stocks into the sign post. Then they on the 27th November 1781, "Voted to dismiss the 6th article in the warrant, to wit, the granting of money for the purpose of building pounds, a pr of stocks & sign-post, &--"


When Judge Hoyt Henry Wheeler drew his map of "Meeting House Hill, 1774," for Lewis Grout, he did not indicate the presence of any stocks and signpost--most likely because he saw the dismissal of its warrant.


Lewis Grout visited the Meeting House Hill grounds with Judge Wheeler on Friday, September 7, 1894 and recorded their observations. These skillful and fore-sighted men researched the land records and struggled amid the rocks, ruins, and the mistaken memories, to determine the boundaries and delineations of the old settlement on Meeting House Hill. Consolation is for any historian, to follow their efforts. Here Lewis Grout seeks to sift the grain from the chaff which his witnesses have presented:


One of the oldest of my informants, who lived all his days near the cemetery, thought "the site was five or six rods westward from the present cemetery wall, and that the house, a gambrel-roofed building, was, at first, a dwelling house, and so had a cellar." Another, whose ancestors lived near the meeting house, and whose father used to point out the site to him, puts it much farther away, 40 or 50 rods to the westward, in what is now a pine grove, and says: "The place is still marked and known by the corner stones of the foundation still remaining where the building stood." But another of the old men, whom I knew in my younger days, once said he knew the exact site because of the corner stones that still remained; but on going, many years ago, with a now elderly neighbor of mine, to show him the spot, failing to find the stones, said they must have been taken away and put into a wall that had been recently built not far away.


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The Porch


Mrs. Adoniram Judson Streeter, later called Adaline P. Herrick of Chesterfield, New Hampshire, was newly widowed in 1876 at the time of Lewis Grout's discourse. At that time, she lived in a house that had been built two years before, on the north side of Vine Street.


Speaking at the Congregational Church in West Brattleboro, Rev. Grout refers to the the Creamery covered bridge along the road to the East Village. In a second discourse delivered in 1894, Lewis Grout corrects his earlier audience's misunderstanding---


The "porch," of which I spoke in that first "Discourse," (p 19), was not taken from the house on the "Hill," but from the first that was built there in the village, a little north of where the present house stands. The mistake came from the understanding of some that the words, "old meeting house," "first meeting house," &c., referred to this, which was built in 1785, and not to the older house built in 1768.


The meeting house porch that Lewis Grout describes as later serving as Samuel Elliot's law office, a one-story wooden structure standing at least until 1830 on the southwest corner of Main and Elliot Streets, was actually one end of the second floor gallery of the second meeting house. This old law office was again removed, and it apparently became a part of Mrs. Streeter's house on present Vine Street.


This is the "Galery Pews & Seats" plan of the second meeting house gallery, in both original sketch, and its reprint, neither one entirely drawn to scale---


pews


galery360.jpg


First the repairs, alterations, and finally the removal of this second meeting house gallery was finally approved on May 12, 1817, in order that the second floor would conform more to the ground plan; and pews were sold to settle church debts. The altered meeting house was then moved in 1818 to the site of the present West Brattleboro Congregational church.


Since the 1785 meeting house was recorded as being sixty feet long by forty eight feet wide, it seems likely that Samuel Elliot's law office was approximately forty eight feet long by twenty two feet wide, more or less.


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Additional Vermont Phoenix Articles


"Local Church History. Interesting Extracts From Rev. C. H. Merrill's Recent Historical Address at West Brattleboro." December 24, 1886.


"Early Times in Brattleboro. The Old Common, Burying Ground and Meeting House." Article by Hoyt Henry Wheeler. May 13, 1892.


"The Old Meeting-House. Brattleboro's First Church Building." July 21, 1893.


"The Site of the First Meeting House." A letter from Lewis Grout dated January 17, 1894.


"The First Meeting-House in Brattleboro, Facts from the Early Records Which Definitely Fix Its Location on Meeting-House Hill Above Centreville." Major article by Hoyt Henry Wheeler. August 31, 1894.


"West Brattleboro. Notes on the Centre Cemetery." Lewis Grout. July 14, 1899.


"Cemetery To Be Much Enlarged." April 3, 1925.


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Other Sources


A Second Discourse on the Early History of the Congregational Church and Society in West Brattleboro, VT. Covering Two Pastorates--25 Years, or From 1794 to 1819. By the Rev. Lewis Grout. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, Printers. 1894.


A Monograph on the Origin and Early Life of Brattleboro. By the Rev. Lewis Grout. Brattleboro: Press of E. L. Hildreth & Co. April, 1899.


The Vermonter Magazine, Volume Twenty-Six, Number One, 1921, "On Meeting-House Hill" by Martha Votey Smith. Pages 22-5.


Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont. Early History, with Biographical Sketches of Some of its Citizens. By Henry Burnham and Edited by Abby Maria Hemenway, of the Vermont Historical Gazetteer. Brattleboro: Published by D. Leonard. 1880. Pages 22-25.


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