Browse the Old First Congregational Church records in Bennington, Vt
The First Church in Bennington, Vt., also known as the Old First Church, actually originated in Massachusetts as a result of the congregational schisms induced by the Great Awakening. During the 1750s, a group of Separatists drawn from churches in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts began meeting in Westfield Mass., selecting Rev. Jedediah Dewey as their pastor in 1754. The group then moved to Bennington as it was being newly settled in 1761, and reorganized in 1762 as the First Church of Bennington, becoming the first Protestant congregation in Vermont. These first members were also proprietors of the new town.
The first meeting house, located in the heart of the village, was an architecturally plain and multi-purpose building which hosted town meetings, legislative sessions, court trials, and a school in addition to worship services. It even housed wounded Hessian mercenaries after the battle of Bennington in 1777.
A new meeting house, which is still in use, was erected in 1805. The building was designed by renowned architect Lavius Fillmore and was considerably more lavish than its predecessor. The cost of construction was $7,793.20, a sum largely raised from the sale of first floor pews. The legal agreement over the building's maintenance constituted Vermont's first instance of separation of church and state, with the church assuming full autonomy as well as financial responsibility for its own upkeep.
The building was rededicated and extensively renovated in 1937, with the box pews and high pulpit restored. Pew and wall plaques were installed to honor prominent Vermonters, including the poet Robert Frost, who was not a member of the church but who spoke at the rededication, and whose grave is located in the churchyard. The meeting house remains one of the state's best examples of Federal period religious architecture, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.