Churches bring historical significance to local area

The Brandon Baptist Church has been a town landmark since the 1800s.

People in our local towns come together in many facets of their lives — to work, to play, to go to school, to enjoy a holiday parade — but also for communal worship, which is never more apparent than at Easter services.

The number of residents in and around Brandon, Pittsford, Proctor and West Rutland who attend churches and other religious gatherings likely mirrors religious activity across the state. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2000 some 230,000 Vermonters, or 37.8 percent of the population, claimed to be adherents of a Christian religion. Another 6,000, or almost 1 percent, were Jewish.

About 22 churches are spread around the greater-Brandon-Pittsford-Proctor area, including nine houses of worship in Brandon alone. West Rutland has four places for worship, two of them Catholic. Both Pittsford and Proctor are home to three religious offerings, and Sudbury, Leicester and Whiting each have one.

In recognition of the upcoming Easter services, here’s a brief look at a few churches in the area.

Brandon Baptist Church

The stone construction of the Brandon Baptist Church — with its towering steeple looking over the childhood home of Stephen Douglas — is seen by thousands of tourists who come to the area every year, and also by the frequent passersby. But for 50 years, that iconic steeple was missing from atop the historic church.

The church has been a town landmark since the early 1800s. The Baptist congregation was established about the time of Brandon’s settlement in the late 1700s.

The early worshippers met first in a log meeting house and later in a larger frame church. John Conant, a church deacon and prominent Brandon businessman, financed and supervised construction of the present building in 1832.

The original interior was different than it appears today. Balconies adorned the sides and rear of the sanctuary, the pews were enclosed, and the minister preached from a high, raised pulpit reached by a winding staircase.

On November 26, 1950, a powerful hurricane toppled the steeple. Crashing through the roof, the steeple drove like a spear through the main sanctuary, causing extensive damage. The cost of replacing the spire was prohibitive and the building remained without one for 50 years.

In 2000, a group of local citizens raised money for a new steeple and the church was restored to its original appearance.

Pittsford Congregational Church

The Pittsford Congregational Church was founded just eight years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Eight years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Pittsford Congregational Church was “gathered” on April 14, 1784, by fifteen citizens, five of whom were women.

According to the book Pittsford’s Second Century, “this church was organized in 1784 on what was the frontier of a wilderness, unsurrounded by other churches, unsupported by the councils of older New England communities.”

Services were first held in private homes or barns until 1795, when the White Meeting House was built and used by both Congregationalists and Baptists before the Baptists withdrew in 1802 and built their own church. The meeting house was eventually sold to the town, moved in 1834, and used as a Town Hall and school until it burned in 1920.

Rutland architect John Cain designed and built the present church, which stands at the northern end of the Village Green. Completed in 1837, the church is an impressive example of the Gothic Revival style in Vermont.

The Union Church of Proctor

The first religious services of the Union Church were held in a barn in 1821. In 1880, a third of an acre was given by Rawson S. Humphrey to the Union Chapel Society with the stipulation that on no account was the chapel to be used by “Spiritualists, Mormons, Free Thinkers and the like heretical and pernicious denominations or persons.”

The first Union Chapel was built that year; a wooden chapel built on the present site of Union Church by the Protestant Societies for English-speaking, Swedish Lutheran and Swedish Evangelical Societies. A fire destroyed the chapel in March of 1889. The first regular worship service was held on Jan. 4, 1891 in the new church.

Many gifts were made to the church by Emily J. Proctor, including the parsonage and stained glass, and in 1926, the church was renovated in her memory. The renovations included new woodwork and pews, electrification, a parking lot for cars, and extensive interior and exterior work.

The Polish Catholics of West Rutland

St. Stanislaus-Kostka is located in the town of West Rutland. The church has served area Catholics for over 100 years.

The first record of Polish settlement in West Rutland was in the year 1890, drawn to the opportunity for work in the local quarries. A Polish priest would periodically hear their confessions, offer Mass and preach sermons.

In 1902, a parish report mentioned there were approximately 400 Polish people living in the area and recommended they have their own pastor. A piece of land was bought in 1905 on the corner of Barnes Street and Castleton Road, purchased for $800 from Albert Dodge, of Proctor.

The first Mass in the new church was celebrated in 1906 with no pews and a temporary altar. It was not until June that the church was completely finished, at a cost of $13,600.

On May 30, 1907, Bishop Michaud blessed St. Stanislaus-Kostka Church before a large gathering of West Rutlanders. It is safe to say the Polish people of the area were extremely grateful because even with the low wages of the times, $1.25 a day, the parish’s debt of $9,500 for construction was paid off in less than three years.

Our area, like the rest of the country, has continued to have several vital and dynamic communities of worshipers even to this day.

While the history of many religious congregations is reflected in the architecture of the buildings in which they worship, there are also many buildings that formerly housed churches but today house other activities. The Leicester Meeting Hall in Leicester, for instance, has been converted to other community uses. But it is more than a building that makes a family of worshipers. The energy and faithfulness of the congregation continues to plays an important part of each community today.

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