by Joyce Williams, Historian
Town Church: 1714 - 1833
The history of First Church Unitarian, Littleton, begins shortly after the establishment of the town. An act of the General Court (legislature) of Massachusetts on November 2, 1714, incorporated the Town of Nashoba. The provision of the act of incorporation was that the Town settle an orthodox minister within three years. A later act of the General Court, December 3, 1715, corrected errors in the previous act and further provided that the town henceforth be called Littleton. Records of land ownership were preserved in a book called the Proprietors Record Book, which was begun soon after incorporation. This notes that the Town is to "reserve two or three Lots where it is most convenient for the ministry, Scoole, or... other public uses ..." The Town Church was organized at a meeting held March 13, 1715/16. A month later, April 17, 1716, provision was made for calling a minister.
Mr. Benjamin Shattuck, a graduate of Harvard College, was called to become the first minister. He was ordained on Christmas Day, 1717, and continued as the Town Minister until 1730. In that year a council of elders and pastors from four area churches met to consider complaints and charges against the Reverend Mr. Shattuck. The primary concern was his drinking to excess. They advised Mr. Shattuck to consider his conduct, and advised the people of Littleton to call a council to further consider the matter. In August a town meeting voted for his dismissal, but also voted to continue his salary until the following May. He then retired from the ministry, but continued to live in town until his death in 1763.
The second Town Minister also was a graduate of Harvard College. Daniel Rogers was ordained here in March, 1731/32. His years of service to Littleton included the time of the Revolutionary War. By then he was an old man; he had been the minister for many years and was well-loved and respected. However, he was a Tory, as were many others in town. A proclamation had been issued to be read in all the churches on Thanksgiving Day, 1775. When the Reverend Mr. Rogers finished reading this, he supplemented "God save the people" with "God save the king." His parishioners rose in rebellion and asked for a retraction, but Mr. Rogers fled to his home. An armed group of men followed him there and demanded that he come out and state his position. When he hesitated, shots were fired into his house. The front doors, complete with bullet holes, are in the possession of the local historical society.
Edmund Foster, a graduate of Yale, assumed duties as a colleague of the Reverend Mr. Rogers in October, 1780. He did this in spite of the fact that there was a minority report from forty-six parishioners opposing his hiring. In contrast to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Foster was a supporter of the Revolution. He had been at home on vacation from Yale in April, 1775, and had joined the minutemen in fighting against the British at Concord. He was ordained on January 17, 1781, and became the Town Minister in 1782 on the death of Mr. Rogers.
The Reverend Mr. Foster was married in October, 1783, and eventually had thirteen children. He could not support this growing family on his minister's salary, so he took on other jobs, working on a farm and teaching school. He represented Littleton in the state legislature for several years. This was at a time when each town sent a representative. Later he was a state senator for two or three years. In 1820 he was a member of the Convention for revising the State Constitution.
The Reverend Mr. Foster's theological views were Unitarian. One time a woman in the Church complained to Mr. Foster that she had not heard the Trinity mentioned all year. Mr. Foster's reply was "And you won't." The later years of Mr. Foster's ministry saw the beginning of the break-up of the Town Church. He was understandably upset. The Church voted in 1822 that:
... the doings of the Baptist Council ... are wholly invalid; and mark the Baptist Church in the Town, in its present existing state, as irregular and disorderly.
Mr. Foster was the minister of the Town, and he took vigorous measures to bring back those who left the Town Church. He continued as minister until his death in 1826.
The fourth Town Minister was William Hunt White, who received the call from Littleton in October, 1827. He was ordained January 2, 1828. He was a graduate of Brown College and of Harvard Divinity School. A year after his ordination he married Sarah Bass Foster, a daughter of his predecessor.
As in many New England communities the minister and other church officials had always been elected at town meeting, and all property owners were taxed for the support of the parish. This situation changed in 1829, when the Massachusetts legislature passed a law ending public taxation for the support of religious worship, and provided that all religious societies should be maintained by their own members. Several other bills followed, and in 1833 the Eleventh Amendment to the State Constitution prevented a Church from requiring support from anyone who did not wish to belong. Church and state were now separated, at least theoretically. Thus came to an end the official Town Church, whose existence had been mandated by the General Court act which had incorporated the Town. During that time Littleton had only four ministers.
- Benjamin Shattuck, 1717-1730
- Daniel Rogers, 1730-1782
- Edmund Foster, 1782-1826
- William Hunt White, 1828-1833
There are streets in Littleton today named after each of these men. Houses occupied by each of them still stand.
During the first half of the nineteenth century the townspeople of Littleton, following a pattern common in New England at that time, began to divide into congregations according to differing beliefs. Littleton no longer had only one church. The Reverend Mr. White worked hard to keep peace among the various groups. The Baptists had left and organized their own church in 1822 in spite of the previously mentioned opposition from the Town Church. The original church was moving toward Unitarianism. During the 1830s several families who were Trinitarian in their beliefs left the local church to worship in their homes or with the Westford church. They organized the Orthodox Congregational Church in 1840. Even though Mr. White felt that Jesus was more than a man, he believed in the unity of God. The Church had in fact become Unitarian in its theology. The first reference to this church as a Unitarian society appears in 1841. Affiliation with the American Unitarian Association soon followed. What had begun as the Town Church was now the Unitarian Church.
The Years 1841- 1853
The Reverend Mr. White continued as the minister. The disestablishment of the Town Church, making its support voluntary, and the loss of parishioners to other churches brought serious financial problems to the parish. In Littleton money for the support of the minister and church building was still raised by the town through taxation. The changes dictated by the state now meant that only members of the parish would be taxed, and further, no legal compulsion was possible to enforce collection. The deacons reduced the minister's salary from $720 to $475 per year. Mr. White protested, but the deacons stood by their decision. Throughout his ministry there were continuing disputes about salary. As the parish frequently did not have the money to pay agreed upon amounts, bargaining and renegotiation seem to have been common. For a time the church assessed its members for support on the same bases as the town had done; on the value of real estate, the value of personal property, and the number of polls (adult males) in the household. This policy was subsequently abandoned in favor of asking for voluntary contributions. As late as 1884 a member remarked that "This Church, being the First Church of Littleton, claims to be the natural guardian of all residents of the Town." An important church committee at that time, the Committee on Hospitality, concurred in this opinion.
The Reverend Mr. White was much concerned with education. He organized the first Sunday School in town, and religious education for the children in the church has been provided ever since. Before completing his studies for the ministry, Mr. White spent some time teaching school in Lexington. One of his pupils was a young Theodore Parker, who was to become one of the most influential Unitarian ministers in the middle of the nineteenth century. Mr. White is remembered also for founding the Littleton Lyceum, the oldest lyceum in the country still in continuous existence. For more than twenty-five years he was chairman of the school committee. He served the church and the town well until his death, July 25, 1853.
Second Half of the Nineteenth Century
During the latter half of the nineteenth century a number of ministers served only short periods of time. None of these influenced the church as did the first four ministers. Recurring items at church meetings were church organization, statements of belief, and provision of religious literature. One of the continuing questions was whether or not the congregation should turn and face the choir during the singing of the second hymn. At a time before there was a public library in town, the Religious Literature Committee collected thirty and later fifty cents a year from each member so that books and magazines could be purchased and circulated. One year the committee reported proudly that six books had been purchased and circulated. There was regularly a Hospitality Committee with considerable duties. In 1886 it was voted:
That the Hospitality Committee in conjunction with the Minister propose some means whereby the Church may cooperate in the work of relieving want and raising up the degraded classes in Boston.
Missionary work was important. The American Unitarian Association was valued among other reasons for its missionary work.
First Half of the Twentieth Century
The Reverend W. Channing Brown was the minister here for only a short period, 1898-1904. His influence was far greater than this would indicate. In 1904 he left to become a field agent for the American Unitarian Association. He maintained a residence in Littleton and was an active member of the church. He was on numerous committees over the years, including the one that wrote the original Constitution and By-Laws adopted in 1922. In 1939 he was named Minister Emeritus.
In 1911 individual communion cups were obtained. This was in response to a new state law which prohibited common drinking cups in certain public buildings, although churches were not specifically mentioned.
In 1918 the first Wayside Pulpit was installed as a gift of Mr. Thomas H. Elliott in collaboration with the minister, the Reverend Oliver Jay Fairfield. It was placed in a shady nook between the Catholic Church (now the Masonic Hall) and the Center Store, which formerly stood on King Street directly opposite the end of Rogers Street. Later, the state rebuilt King Street and the pulpit had to be moved. In 1923 it was placed on the church lawn. The pulpit structure has been replaced several times, most recently in 1987.
An interesting note explains the absence of an annual meeting in 1918. All the churches were closed because of the Spanish influenza epidemic.
Incorporation of the Church, 1922
New England churches were originally organized with two separate entities, the parish and an inner body called the Church. The parish, which included all men in the town, was responsible for the support of the minister and the church building. Becoming a member of the Church carried with it a deeper commitment to the religious life of the community. After the dissolution of the Town Church the dual organization remained. The Society was the larger body concerned with buildings and finances. The Church was the inner body, concerned with religious services and activities. In 1912 the Reverend Mr. Fairfield first proposed a merger of the two organizations. This recommendation was repeated several times. Mr. Fairfield left in 1919 and was followed by the Reverend Carl Georg Horst. In December, 1920, Mr. Horst recommended that a committee be appointed to consider a merger of Society and Church, and that they bring in a proposed Constitution and set of By-Laws at a later date. It was decided to petition the Commission of Corporations for incorporation under state laws. A Constitution and By-Laws were approved on March 16, 1922, and officers were elected to fill the positions thus created. The organization was legally recorded at the State House on July 24, 1922. Neither Society nor Church ceased to exist, but instead the two were merged into a single successor organization.
Second Half of the Twentieth Century
Following World War II the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America began talks aimed at a merger of these organizations. On January 9, 1950, the local church voted unanimously to agree to the plan of bringing together these organizations. On January 12, 1953, another unanimous local vote approved proceeding with a federal union of the two groups. The final local vote was in February, 1960, when the church voted unanimously in favor of approving the actual merger.
A major change in the By-Laws of the local church was voted on January 15, 1959. A six-member standing committee replaced the president and church committee. On May 6, 1959, the name of the Church was changed from First CongregationaI Unitarian Church in Littleton to First Church, Unitarian, Littleton. On May 9, 1963, a subsequent vote revised the name by removal of the first comma. The Commonwealth has duly recorded the present name, First Church Unitarian, Littleton, with the change being effective June 14, 1963.
The Reverend Robert L. Hadley, a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, came to the church in 1956 and stayed thirty-one years. This is the longest pastorate the church has had since the disestablishment of the Town Church. The church community benefitted from his pastoral counseling, a field in which he received an advanced degree. A more unusual skill for a minister was his ability to fill in at the organ whenever the regular organist was absent. His instructive and entertaining sermon plays were well-received and are fondly remembered.
The Reverend Mr. Hadley's leadership steered the church into many social action programs. A strong supporter of better treatment for the mentally ill, he served for a time as the president of the Central Middlesex Mental Health Association. The church worked for the civil rights movement in the 1960s, was supportive of prisoners in the Massachusetts Correctional Institutions, and provided regular programs for the local nursing home. The church was a primary force in beginning two local programs, the HELP Committee (Help in Emergencies for Littleton People) and the Nature Day Camp. The HELP committee provided emergency help transportation, babysitting, meals - to people in the town. The Nature Day Camp brought together children from Littleton, mostly white and middle-class, with children from Lowell, many of whom were poor and non-white.
On April 29, 1979, the church ordained Libbie D. Stoddard, a church member. It s believed that this was the first time that a woman was ordained here. Also it was the first ordination here for anyone except an incoming minister of the church,. Since then there have been ordinations for Jacqueline Clement, a church member, in 2004; and for CJ McGregor, a former ministerial intern, in 2011. Both had strong connections with the church but neither served as minister here.
Vatican II made possible a closer relationship between the Catholic Church and other churches. In the late 1960s it was possible to begin having occasional joint services of the Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, and Unitarian Churches. For several years there was a service on Palm Sunday evening held in Saint Anne's church with music by the combined choirs of the four churches. In the first of these the choir director was Carey Prouty. Later Polly Oliver directed several times. These directors were both from the Unitarian Church. Combined services continue, but now are held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and rotate among the participating churches. Another way in which the spirit of ecumenicalism has been growing is in cooperation at wedding ceremonies. Several times the Reverend Mr. Hadley joined with Catholic priests and at other times with Jewish rabbis in performing interfaith marriages.
The Reverend Mr. Hadley resigned effective August 31, 1987, and the church was served for one year by an interim minister, the Reverend Stephen Howard.
In the spring of 1988 the church voted to call the Reverend Nannene Gowdy as its next regular minister. She accepted, and began service September 1, 1988. As minister she represented several firsts for the church. She was a divorced woman, a single mother of two biracial children. She was much concerned with opposing racism and with fostering diversity. One result has been the addition of several gay and lesbian couples to the congregation. One innovation to the service was the addition of "Candles of Caring," giving everyone the opportunity to light candles in recognition of personal joys, concerns, or sorrows.
The Neighborhood Supper, inaugurated in the summer of 1991 by the Council of Churches, provides a free meal once a week at the Congregational Church to anyone who comes. From the inception of this program, the Unitarian Church has accepted the responsibility for one meal a month. Shopping, preparation, set-up, serving, and clean-up are included.
Support is given to other ongoing programs for community help. These include Loaves and Fishes, an area food bank, and two programs sponsored by the Council of Churches, emergency aid and a holiday outreach program supplying food and gifts to local families in need.
A more personal instance of support involved a member of the church who in late December of 1996 decided on hospice care for the final period of her life. Since she had no family who could undertake her care, the church supplied this need. For several weeks, many people volunteered their time so that by taking shifts, someone from the church was there with her twenty-four hours a day. This care was supplemented by professional care from visiting nurses and aides.
On a less serious note, the Firehouse Coffeehouse supplied a very popular series of concerts by professional folk musicians. The first program was held December 9, 1994 and the last one on April 4, 2014. Five or more concerts are held each season, with attendance frequently at capacity, and some people coming from as far away as New York and Rhode Island. The church is grateful to Eric Semple, who organized and supervised the concerts, and many members of the church community who provided various forms of support, including selling tickets, supervising parking, and baking brownies to be sold at intermission. Besides providing good entertainment for all, the Coffeehouse contributed over $100,000 to our church operating funds through the course of its existence.
The End of the Twentieth and the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century
The Reverend Nannene Gowdy resigned August 31, 1998, and Alan Taylor became the interim minister for one year. He was followed by Frederick Emerson Small, who was ordained and installed on November 7, 1999. An interesting contribution to that service was the performance by the noted folk singer Noel Paul Stookey. The use of folk music during the service was especially appropriate because the Reverend Mr. Small had been a professional folk singer before he became a minister. During his time as minister here, he generously shared his talents with the church, both during Sunday services and in fund-raising concerts. He was a strong supporter and leader in the movement to combat global warming. To support another important cause, marriage equality, in 2002 he quit signing marriage certificates until the state allowed same-sex couples the right to marry. During his time here, attendance at church services grew remarkably, and the church added a second Sunday service. In the summer of 2008 he left to become the senior minister at First Parish in Cambridge.
Changes brought by the growth of technology have affected the ways in which the church operates. Older forms of communication have been supplemented by electronic means. Volunteers created and maintain a professional-level website. In 2002 a district grant paid for the installation of a sound system to assist parishioners with hearing loss. Microphones are now routinely used for Sunday services and other meetings. A program was put in place to record Sunday morning services on VHS tapes. Several years ago the switch was made to DVDs.
In 1999 the Church joined with the other churches in town to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity house.
In 2002, following a long history of nondiscrimination, the church added to its bylaws a formal declaration that the church "... shall not discriminate against any person on the basis of disability, gender, gender presentation, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or place of origin in any manner ... ."
Following the Reverend Mr. Small's departure, the Reverend Marta I. Valentin came to the church as an interim minister. The following year, because the congregational leaders wanted to explore possible settlement, she became consulting minister by agreement with the Unitarian Universalist Association. After a year-long discernment process, the congregation voted, and she accepted a call by the church in the fall of 2010.
Three themes stand out in this period: charity, multiculturalism, and ecology.
Recently two programs have been added to its historical practice of charity. Since 2005 ten percent of the proceeds from the church fair have been given to a local charity, and in 2010 the church began the practice of donating the loose offering on the third Sunday of each month to a deserving charity.
In 2011 a Multicultural Task Force was formed under the Council on Social Justice. Two years later the congregation created the Multicultural Ministries Committee to succeed the task force and continue its program of studying institutional racism and white privilege.
Several years of study and projects on the subject of ecology culminated in 2012 when the Church was recognized by the UUA for achieving the distinction of Green Sanctuary.
The Church was honored in 2009 when an image of our sanctuary quilt was chosen for the cover of each volume of the Encyclopedia of Religion in America.
The second decade of the century marked the passing of our minister emeritus, the Rev. Robert Lawrence Hadley, who died in December 2012. A memorial service was held in March.
In the spring of 2015, the Rev. Marta Valentín resigned to accept a position with the New England Region of the UUA as Congregational Life Consultant. The church is now being served temporarily by an interim minister, the Rev. Steven Edington, while a search is being conducted for our next settled minister.
The original church building was located on the eastern triangle of Littleton Common. It was across the street from the large white house now standing at 20 Meetinghouse Road. The meeting house, as it was then called, was used as far back as the ordination of the Reverend Mr. Shattuck in 1717, but it was not completed until 1723. It seems to have been a simple building in the usual style of the time, with doors on three sides, and square pews around those three walls. It probably did not have a steeple, a bell, or a gallery. After the building was finished, the square pews were assigned as family pews. This was done first with respect to age and then by income, with preference going to the wealthiest members. Others who did not have family pews were seated in the center, the women on one side and the men on the other. The seating of these people was done annually. Agreement on the arrangement was not easily reached. The committee assigned to do the seating frequently saw their efforts rejected. Afterwards they would be instructed to construct a new plan.
A second building was completed in 1742. This one was located on what was then called Ridge Hill, on the site of the present Unitarian Church. It was forty feet by fifty feet and cost nine hundred pounds. Those who had private pews built them at their own expense, except that pews were provided for the Reverend Mr. Rogers and for the former minister, the Reverend Mr. Shattuck. This building differed from the former in that it had a gallery, but the arrangement of the pews seems to have been similar. In 1760 the Town voted to assign the rear seats to Negroes, as blacks were then called. In 1770 the parish bought a bell and hung it from its own framework erected near the church. This bell was rung early in the morning of the nineteenth of April in 1775, when a rider came to town warning of the British march on Concord. The next year saw American soldiers quartered in the meeting house.
Two years of prosperity followed the end of the Revolutionary War, but then Massachusetts began to suffer severe financial problems. Along with other towns in the state, Littleton had promised benefits to its soldiers, and these payments were now coming due. At the same time, a two-year drought caused hardship in a town where the principal industry was agriculture. There was no money available for needed repairs to the meeting house, and eventually it was in such poor condition that it had to be propped up.
Many votes were passed and then reconsidered on whether to repair the building or build a new one. It was finally decided to build a new one on the same site. It had porches on three sides and a steeple. The new building was completed in the summer of 1794. Inside there were square pews with seats that rose when the parishioners stood. A gallery covered three sides, and the main floor had three aisles leading to the pews. In 1808 a new bell was added to the church. This bore the inscription "G Holbrook 1808." For one hundred years there had been no heating system in the town meeting houses. Foot stoves were passed around in cold weather to keep toes from freezing. In 1818 the Town finally voted to buy two stoves to heat the meeting house. The first three meeting houses also served as town halls. A separate town hall was not built until the 1830s.
The third building had been in use less than fifty years when it too fell into disrepair. It had suffered from a lack of maintenance, especially during the period after disestablishment when the parish was experiencing financial problems. It was torn down, and materials which could be salvaged were incorporated into the fourth and current building.
The architectural style chosen for the new building was Greek Revival, the most popular church style of the time, and today the style associated with the typical New England church. This building was placed twelve feet nearer the road than the old one, with a new foundation of Westford granite. The cost of the building, including fluted columns in the front, came to $3,217.90. The building was dedicated by a large gathering on September 8, 1841. The following day, according to the custom of the time, the pews were sold at auction. Five pews were reserved for the minister and the deacons, and the remaining forty-nine pews brought the sum of $3,225.75.
Between 1873 and 1874 major changes were made. The gallery at the rear of the church was removed, the organ lowered, and the floor of the room raised to its present level. This was done to allow for a vestry to be built at a later date under the auditorium, as the main room was then called. Stained glass windows were installed. During these renovations, services were held in the Central Hall, a large room over the store which at that time stood on King Street opposite the end of Rogers Street.
In 1880 it was voted to add a two-story addition to the rear of the church. This would provide a vestry on the main floor and a kitchen and dining room on the lower level. The earlier plan to build additional space under the main part of the church was set aside. It would be another twenty years before this would be done.
The plan to provide more space by excavating under the church auditorium was finally carried out in 1903 when a new kitchen was installed there. These changes in some sense completed the plan begun thirty years earlier with the raising of the auditorium floor.
The year 1903 also saw major changes to the steeple. The church bell, which was cracked and had not rung for many years, was sent to Meneely and Company of West Troy, New York, to be recast and enlarged. The steeple was strengthened to support the larger bell, and it was installed in time for a Sunday morning service June 21. For this service, described at the time as "in the nature of a dedication," the Sunday School children pulled the ropes and rang the bell.
The bell has the inscription:
First bell 1770
Second bell 1808, recast and enlarged 1903
On earth peace, good will toward men
On the second of July a new steeple clock began keeping time. This clock, complete with numerals finished in gold leaf, was a gift from a church group known as the Back Log Club. An unusual feature is that the clock is above the bell. The clock is weight driven, with the weights descending inside the columns in the front of the church. It is wound by having its weights pulled up. Originally this was done by hand, but now there is an electric motor to do the work.
In 1905 the church interior was almost entirely done over except for the pews and the choir loft. The classical design of the plan made and donated by Daniel H. Woodbury, a Boston architect living in Littleton, complemented the Greek style of the exterior. Improvements included the cornice around the ceiling and the elaborate woodwork over the windows. Particular attention was given to the front wall of the sanctuary. This received pilasters, the panel and pediment behind the pulpit, and the tablets containing the plaques.
Many improvements were made during the next half-century. Electric lights were installed in 1912. In 1919 the choir loft was enlarged. In 1934 the horse sheds on the south side of the church were removed. The organ and the clock were electrified. The kitchen was extensively remodeled in 1953. New side lights and overhead lights were installed in 1955.
In 1962 major changes were made. A new wing replaced the row of horse sheds on the north side of the building. A church office was created out of the former stage in the vestry. Sunday school rooms were provided both upstairs and down. The minister was given a private study, and a kitchenette was placed next to the vestry.
During 1993-1994 the building was made handicapped-accessible. A ramp to the end door was constructed and the electric lift which operates between the entry level and the level of the sanctuary was installed. At the same time, the office floor was raised to the level of the sanctuary, thus eliminating a third level on what is essentially all one floor. One restroom on the main floor was made handicapped-accessible. Part of the north lawn was paved to provide a reserved parking area near the entrance. In 1998, a second restroom, this one on the lower level, was also made handicapped-accessible. Later the original ramp was removed and revisions to the entrance on the south side of the vestry created an accessible entrance there. A ramp was built leading to this door, which, thanks to electrical power, can be opened by pressing a switch.
Between 1995 and 1999 major renovations were made possible by a successful fund drive. The unused chimney in the front of the building was removed. The retaining wall at the rear of the lawn to the left of the building was rebuilt. Problems with this wall had threatened one corner of the foundation of the building. And in the fall of 1995, the spire was removed and placed on the ground. Extensive repairs were made to both the spire and steeple, and then the spire was placed back on the steeple in the late spring of 1997.
Interior renovations were made both to the sanctuary and to the kitchen. In the sanctuary the walls were painted a pale yellow – a change from the earlier green, the pew cushions were given new covers, and the carpet was replaced. The kitchen was completely gutted, the ancient gas stove was removed, the floor received a hard surface to replace the previous linoleum over dirt, and new cabinets and appliances were installed.
In the summer of 2009 the front walkway, which was not in compliance with current building codes, was removed as a safety measure, and the area sodded. Wrought iron railings were added to the short flights of steps at either end of the transverse walkway.
The move to acquire a parsonage began in 1866. A house on Foster Street was purchased, but was sold again in 1875. On July 1, 1893, the parish voted to build a parsonage on Foster Street on land of Albert Smith between the land of Mrs. George A. Jacobs and that of Mrs. James Houghton. This house, now numbered 44, was occupied by the Reverend Isaac Porter and the ministers that followed him, until 1958 when the Titcomb house was acquired. The earlier house was sold, and a few years later the proceeds helped pay for the 1962 addition to the church.
The present parsonage, 27 Foster Street, was built in 1919 by Walter H. Titcomb, who lived in the house until his death in 1958. He left the house to the church in memory of his daughter and only child, Ruth, who had died at the age of seven on August 13, 1916. The house was accompanied by a bequest of $5000 to establish the Ruth Titcomb Memorial Fund, the income of which is restricted to maintenance of the parsonage. The house and trust fund together with certain conditions stipulated by Mr. Titcomb were accepted by the church on July 13, 1958. In 1982 vinyl siding was added to the parsonage, and in 1985 major repairs were made to the barn foundation, retaining wall, and tunnel connecting the barn and house. In 2002 new windows and doors were installed to make the building more energy-efficient and to conform to the state de-leading guidelines. Further de-leading was found to be necessary and was done during 2010.
The parsonage was rented from May 1996 to July 1999, after the minister elected to move to Carlisle.
Subsequently, our ministers and their families occupied the parsonage from 1999 to August 2015. It is now being used as auxiliary housing by our interim minister, Reverend Steve Edington, who retains his permanent home in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Furnishings of note
The pulpit Bible has this inscription:
This Bible is presented to the First Congregational Church and Society in Littleton, by Asa Priest, believing this to be the guide of our life here and hereafter. June A.D. 1856.
A second Bible has these names inscribed: John Farrar 86, W. H. White 1835, Nath. Seaver Jr. 1866 Note: John Farrar was a professor of mathematics and natural science at Harvard. His wife, Eliza, befriended a young Margaret Fuller, helped her in the improvement of her dress and manners, and along with Harriet Martineau persuaded Ralph Waldo Emerson to take an interest in her. Nathaniel Seaver Jr. was a minister and a son-in-law of the Reverend Mr. White, the second owner of the Bible. An earlier Bible, in the possession of the Littleton Historical Society, has this inscription:
This Bible is the pious gift of our worthy brother Dn John Wood to the Church and Congregation in Lyttleton Thanks to the donor may [sic] 22, 1795
The present pulpit was designed by Daniel Woodbury and constructed in 1952 to fit the Reverend E. Palmer Clarke, who was six feet, five inches tall. Later ministers and speakers have regularly stood on a carpeted box in order to use the pulpit more comfortably.
The large grandfather clock in the Alliance Room originally belonged to Walter Titcomb, and came to the church along with the parsonage. It bears the identification "Windmills and Wightman, London ". Two chairs formerly in the front vestibule of the church and now at the Littleton Historical Society were the property of the Reverend Mr. Foster.
Antique communion silver pieces include two plates and two large flagons all inscribed:
Presented to the
First Congl Church Littleton
by Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Hoar
According to church records the actual presentation was on February 13, 1867. Reuben hoar and his (second) wife Henrietta gave the flagons, the plates, and a baptismal bowl. J. Reed Whitcomb and his wife Mary Ann gave two silver cups. The cups and the bowl along with two other cups were stolen in September, 1971, and have never been recovered. The remaining pieces are silver plate. It is not known whether the missing pieces were sterling or plate. Portraits of Reuben Hoar and his wife are property of the church, but hang in the Littleton Historical Society.
A silk American flag with holder was given to the church by Mrs. Francena Mehitable Fletcher, widow of Theodore Fletcher, in memory of her son Ora Stevens Titcomb. The presentation was made December 12, 1920, by another son, Walter H. Titcomb. In 1988 it was replaced by a fifty-star flag given to the church by John and Marisha Rowse in memory of David G. Williams.
A state flag was given Easter Sunday, 1921, by a group of young people. The design of the state flag changed in 1971, and a new flag was presented to the church in 1986 by the honorable John McGovern, Representative to the House of Representatives of the commonwealth.
The mahogany hymn board was given April 16, 1922, by Mrs. Fred C. Hartwell in loving memory of her husband.
The mahogany baptismal font was given November 26, 1922, by relatives of the "four girls" (always present in Church and Church School) in loving memory of:
Ann M. Hendley, 1832-1919
Caroline A. Hosmer, 1835-1919
Janet S. Jacobs, 1835-1919
Mary J. Priest, 1834-1919
A portrait of the Reverend Theodore Parker was given by his widow to the widow of the Reverend Mr. White. Her daughter, Phebe White, gave it to the Women's Alliance in 1922, and the Alliance had it professionally restored in 2008. The portrait now hangs over the piano in the vestry.
In the front vestibule is an Honor Role made by Mr. and Mrs. William Houde and presented to the church by the Reverend John Henry Wilson in 1944. Listed are men from the church who served in World War II.
In 1963 William Houde hand crafted a desk for the minister's new office. Since then, every minister has used this desk.
An oil portrait of the Reverend Edmund Foster was in the possession of the Foster family for several generations. In 1978 the family sent a full-sized photocopy, now in the front vestibule. In 2000, after the death of Edmund Foster Soule, a fifth-generation descendant of Mr. Foster, the family gave the painting to the church. After careful restoration, the painting was hung in the Alliance Room.
The sanctuary quilt, "Many Paths, One Congregation," was dedicated by the congregation on October 22, 2006. It includes eleven religious symbols – and one empty space. This quilt is the gift of the hand and heart and spirit of many members of the congregation. Edith B. Smith directed the design process and construction. Rachel Gallant and Judy White led the committee. Rose Antonuccio, Carol Bibbins, Pat Hadley, Kathy Peebles, Edith Smith, Emily Welch, Carol White and Carole Williams sewed symbols. Kathy Smith Ritter, daughter of Edith Smith, did the original design machine quilting.
An image of the quilt graces the cover of the four-volume work The Encyclopedia of Religions of America, published in 2010. A second quilt constructed by the same group, "The Stories Quilt," contains pieces donated by members of the congregation. A scrapbook tells the story behind each piece.
The planter in front of the church was provided by the Women's Alliance, which also maintains it, as a remembrance for deceased members. It was dedicated in May 2001 by the minister, the Reverend Mr. Small.
The organ is a tracker organ. It was built by Jesse Woodberry and Company (opus 192), and the installation was completed in March 1899. It has two manuals and a pedal keyboard. Originally it required someone to blow it, that is, pump air into it. Later an electric blower was added. It has been revised and rebuilt from time to time, the most recently in 1989.
In 2008 a new Steinway model O grand piano was placed in the sanctuary. Purchase of this instrument was made possible by the generosity of Eric and Laura Semple, who initiated the campaign to buy a new piano. They offered to match any and all contributions to the project, and eventually the Semples not only matched, but supplemented others' contributions. A dedication concert for this magnificent instrument, on March 2, 2008, featured performances by the music director David Lussier, and by former musicians of the church: Carey Prouty, Polly Oliver ,and Justin McCarthy.
This piano replaced a Steinway grand piano given in 1984 by Robert and Alice Walker of Wayland, relatives of Lucile Thomée and Henry Harvey. That gift was celebrated on March 10, 1995, with a concert followed by a reception in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Walker.
The Sunday School
The Reverend Mr. White introduced the first Sunday School to Littleton. Established as a separate organization in 1847 with its own officers and treasury, records of it as a separate entity end after the 1943-1944 church year. It had gradually been subsumed into the general church organization.
The first youth group in the church was formed on May 7, 1887. The Littleton Orthodox Congregational Church had a branch of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor. The Littleton Unitarian group also became a branch of this non-sectarian national organization, and this branch was the first among the Unitarian churches in the country. Wayne Arnason and Rebecca Scott in their book We Would Be One: A History of Unitarian Universalist Youth Movements credits Littleton as the society where the movement arose for Unitarian youth organizations. Littleton changed to the name Guild of Christian Endeavor at the time the American Unitarian Association began to organize Unitarian young people's societies under that name.
The church now has active senior and junior youth groups. In 2008 the senior youth group went to Louisiana to help in the rebuilding needed after the devastation of hurricane Katrina.
Women's Alliance and its Predecessors
The Female Society for social improvement and charitable effort was organized in 1830, with Mrs. Sarah Bass White, the wife of the minister, as president. She served for thirty-four years. In 1880 the society was reorganized and adopted the name the Ladies Benevolent Circle. A branch of the American Unitarian Association-sponsored Women's National Alliance was organized March 27, 1891, and the two organizations existed together until 1912, when the Ladies Benevolent Circle ceased to exist as a separate organization. After the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists, the national women's group reorganized and changed its name to the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation. The local group maintains its affiliation with the national group, but has kept the earlier name. Today the Littleton Women's Alliance aims to foster tighter bonds of friendship between women in the church community, and gives particular care to the elderly. The group raises money so that it can contribute to outside charities and to projects within the church.
At one time the Alliance split into two groups, the Evening Alliance and the Day Alliance. The Evening Alliance, formed in 1952, attracted the younger women, some with young children and some who worked outside the home. Annually the group sponsored a holiday ball in the high school gym, successfully decorated so that it looked like a ballroom. They sponsored two operettas put on by the junior choir of the church under the direction of Carey Prouty. These were "Hansel and Gretel" and "Rumpelstiltzkin," both staged at the Prouty Auditorium in the Shattuck Street School. The group put on several foreign dinners: Hawaiian, French, Japanese and Austrian. At the end of the 1965-1966 church year the two Alliances merged, and now some meetings and programs are held in the daytime and some in the evening.
The Back Log Club
The Back Log Club was organized on June 18, 1882, at the home of the minister, the Reverend Jonathan Wingate Winkley. It raised money through suppers and what it referred to as entertainments. The club provided financial support for the furnishing and upkeep of church property, until it disbanded in the middle of the twentieth century.
The Curator's Club
The Curators' Club was organized October 1, 1884. Its twenty members each contributed ten cents a week for repairs and improvements to the church buildings. The club helped materially for a number of years, but ceased to exist a century or more ago.
Daniel Rogers, 1732 -1782
Edmund Foster, 1782- 1826
William Hunt White, 1828-1833
Frederick Richards Newell, 1854-1856
Eugene DeNormandie, 1857-1863
Albert Buel Vorse, 1864-1869
David Patterson Muzzzey, 1869-1871
Timothy Harold Eddowes, 1872-1872
Samuel Russell Priest, 1873-1874
Jonathan Wingate Winkley, 1876-1882
William Ichabod Nichols, 1884-1889
Elvin James Frescott, 1890-1892
Isaac Francis Porter, 1893-1898
William Channing Brown, 1898-1904
John F. Malick, 1904-1907
Chester Arthur Drummond, 1908-1910
Oliver Jay Fairfield, 1910-1919
Carl Georg Horst, 1920-1926
John Henry Wilson, 1927-1945
Grant Ferdinand Haskell, 1945-1949
E(dmund) Palmer Clarke, 1949-1953
Paul Harris, Jr., 1953-1956
Robert Lawrence Hadley, 1956-1987
Nannene Gowdy, 1988-1998
Frederick Emerson Small, 1999-2008
Marta I. Valentín, 2010-2015