First Congregational Church - Bingham, ME

 

A History of the First Congregational Church of Bingham

by Elizabeth Goodrich Jordan

 
Published by the First Congregational Church of Bingham, Maine
 
On its One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary - July 24, 1955
 
Continued by Douglas Warren Drown
 
to the One Hundred Seventy-fifth Anniversary - July 24, 1980
   
  It is a far cry from a bridle path through the woods around Carratunk Falls to our modern highway, with its endless procession of high powered cars; a far cry from a little northernmost settlement in 1805 called Carratunk with a possible fifteen families to the present busy town of Bingham with a population of more than 1,300 persons; from a community that boasted neither school or meeting house to a town with modern schools and two attractive churches; from a group of nine people gathered that July day to be organized, by two missionaries, into a church group known as the Church of Christ in Carratunk, to the present First Congregational Church of Bingham with a membership of 238 and a Sunday school with an enrollment of 150 children, young people and adults.
   
  It is to honor this little group of 1805 that the Church of 1955 is observing this anniversary. It is to become somewhat acquainted with these people and become aware of the contribution they made to the community in their day and of how far their influence has reached down to our time.
   
  Previous to 1700 only six families had settled here. They were William Fletcher, believed to be the first white man to take up land here, coming in 1785 and taking up a section where the upper part of Bingham village now lies. About the same time Ephriam Wood, described as "an intelligent young school teacher, who sometimes exchanged teaching for farming," took up land on what is now the intervale farm of Guy Herron. Silas Parlin settled on the place now owned by Fred Stait. Both men were from Norridgewock and all three had come to that place where they were among the first settlers, from the old town of Concord, Mass. Choosing the location where Mr. and Mrs. Earl Taylor now live, Joshua Goodrich Jr. Brought his wife Elizabeth and a family of eight from Canaan where they had resided for seven years. Mr. and Mrs. Goodrich were natives of Lunnenburg and Lancaster, Mass. Daniel Foster settled on the farm now owned by Mrs. Henry Cooley and Ephraim Heald, from Peterboro, N.H. on the next farm above. By this time several families had located on the west side of the river, among whom was Major Ephraim Heald from Templeboro, N.H. who took up a large section of land in the vicinity of the Cool farm, which he later divided between his two sons, Josiah and Ephraim. Another was Joseph Russell, a young man, who with his widowed mother, Miriam Wheeler Russell, had come here from Canaan. The Russells were natives of Groton, Mass. These people are mentioned as it was from these families that the members of the first church came.
   
  Traditions and records have given Mrs. Elizabeth Goodrich, wife of Joshua Goodrich Jr., the honor of being the moving spirit in establishing the first religious worship in the community. She, herself, a deeply religious woman and devoted to the principles for which the church stood, determined that Sabbath observance and the worship of God should not be forgotten even in a small settlement. Family worship was the custom, but that was not enough. Soon after coming here she organized what was called Society Meetings which were held every Sabbath, unless some minister or missionary found their way up the river to hold a preaching service.
   
  For many years there was no place to hold such a service except the homes of the settlers, or perchance a new clean barn in summer. When no other place was available Grandmother Goodrich's spacious kitchen was always open. Unable to conduct such a service herself because it was not thought proper for a woman to speak in meeting, she nevertheless found a sermon or some religious reading and a man who was a proper person to conduct such a service. It was these meetings," wrote her pastor many years later, "that paved the way for the organization of the Congregational Church in this place."
   
  Organized by two missionaries, Rev. Alexander McLean, from the Tract Society and Rev. Jotham Sewall, of the Massachusetts Missionary Society, this church became the first organized body above Carratunk Falls, where the Church at the Falls was not organized until 1806. The town of Bingham was not incorporated until 1812. Maine was still a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the northern part, still a wilderness. No more than four Congregational Churches existed in what is now Somerset County and the Maine Missionary Society, mother of so many Maine churches, was not organized until 1807.
   
  The membership was very small at first, only eight names beside that of Mrs. Goodrich. They were Joseph Russell, Ephraim Wood, Josiah Heald, Sarah Fletcher, Betsey Goodrich Russell, Lephe Goodrich Wood, Bridget Heald, Alles Whipple. The creed which they signed was typical of the day. The covenant to which they consented, "in the presence of God, angles and men," was a solemn thing. In it they promised, "in His strength," to walk in all the ordinances of the church, to wait upon God in public and private worship, to abstain from all vain amusements, "such as gaming, frolicking and the like," to watch over one another and to be watched over according to scripture rule; to devote their offspring to the Lord and bring them up in His admonition. To this end we find parents frequently bringing their children to a service for baptism. Sidney T. Goodrich in his history of the church notes that in the first fifty years 101 children received baptism. For the next fifty years there were very few. The custom in recent years however has been revived.
   
  Discipline was adhered to strictly that no reproach be brought upon the church. The scripture rule in Matt. 18 was closely followed. Even among these good people there were some who fell from grace. One man was called to answer for publishing a book called Dreams and for speaking disrespectfully of some of the ministers of their order. He signed a confession and was thereby restored to the fellowship in good standing. Two brothers were cited before the church because of a quarrel. When both sides had told their story the difficulty was settled happily. The use of liquor was common among the people but overindulgence or drunkenness was not tolerated. The bans of excommunication were passed upon those who would not reform.
   
  The growth of the church was slow at first. In 1809 two families by the name of Smith and Baker came from Litchfield to settle here and in Moscow. These brought added numbers and strength to the little group. The Bakers added a new note to the music which has been heard down through the years. For nearly a century some member of the family led the singing or acted as organist. Mr. Ephraim Baker, father of Deacon Elmer Baker, was chorister for over fifty years in the old church.
   
  The first school house, built in 1815 was used for many years as a place of worship as well as school. "A very useful building," wrote Rev. Lewis Goodrich, "for both school and religious purposes. A place held dear to many of us where we took our first lessons in learning and in religion." Standing near the cemetery, not far from the old Goodrich home, it was Mrs. Goodrich's labor of love to prepare the house for a service whenever one was to be held, even until she was too old and infirm to do so longer.
   
  By 1836 the place had increased in size and the people more prosperous, and in response to Mrs. Goodrich's oft repeated plea, "You are building better homes for yourselves but none for God" the Union Free Meeting House Society was formed and the old white church on the hill at the lower part of the village was built. It was dedicated on Oct. 20, 1836. To this service Grandmother Goodrich, at 92, feeble and frail, was carried in an easy chair by Rev. Josiah Tucker, where she saw at last the long awaited answer to her prayers and partook once more after forty years in the Communion service in a church, with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
   
  Although it was shared by other sects, with a building in which to worship the Congregational Church took on new life. A revival of religion followed and many new members were added. Rev. Josiah Tucker was installed as the first pastor on March 8, 1837. For the next twenty-five years the church was not long without a minister.
   
  Albeit there were lean years and periods when the Bingham and Solon Churches shared the same minister, to the advantage of both, a steady consistent growth followed until it became apparent that his church needed a home of its own nearer the center of the village. In 1895, under the leadership of Rev. James C. Gregory who was pastor from 1892 - 1900, the present Congregational Church on Meadow Street was built at a cost of $7,851.23. It was dedicated free of debt on Dec. 15, 1895. Ninety years after its organization the church had a home of its own. Much credit was due the Reverend Mr. Gregory for his untiring work and generosity and that of his friends and friends of the church throughout the state. And we cannot forget the work and sacrifice of the people of the town and the work of the loyal ladies who stood behind the men with ice cream freezers, cook spoons, needle and thread and whatever to help raise money for the new church.
   
  In 1905 when Rev. William A. Richmond was pastor, the church celebrated the centennial of its organization. The day fell on Monday and there were services both Sunday and Monday. Rev. Smith Baker, a Congregational minister from Portland, who was closely connected with the Smiths and Bakers here, was the principal speaker both days. There were former pastors present and among the guests was Rev. Charles Harbutt, then Secretary of the Maine Missionary Society from whom we had received help down through the years. At his suggestion the church decided to make that occasion the time for becoming self supporting.
   
  When Rev. Thomas B. Hatt came to the church in 1909 it became necessary to have a parsonage. The little house beside the church which has been the home of our ministers since it was built that summer at a cost of $2,631.11. A loan of $1,000.00 made at the bank was repaid in 1915 and the church was free of debt again.
   
  In the spring of 1923 a young man came from Bangor Seminary as a supply and a possible candidate as minister of the Bingham Church. The Rev. Arthur R. Macdougall Jr. D.D. still remains our pastor and has become a permanent part of the community as well as the church. Among changes which have been made since he came is the reorganization and incorporation of the Church body and the dissolving of the Congregational Church Parish which had existed many years to handle the financial affairs of the church and its property, thus simplifying the business of the church and making it even more secure.
   
  Another project of which there had long been a need was undertaken the same year. The addition of the Parish House to the south side of the main building gave us more room for Sunday School classes and a place for much larger and more pleasant social life under our own roof. Today we are considering how we can still enlarge our building in order to provide more and better room for our growing church and community.
   
  A word about the ministers who have served this church as pastors or preachers. Previous to building the old meeting house there was no regular pastor. The church was dependent on some minister from the towns below for occasional preaching or administering the sacraments of the church. Rev. Jotham Sewall, who assisted in the organization was a frequent visitor and advisor. He is said to have preached here at least seventy-five times during those years. Others were Rev. Fifield Holt of Bloomfield, Rev. Josiah Peet, or Norridgewock, Rev. George Fargo of South Solon.
   
  Twenty men have served the church as pastor one year of more. They are Rev. Josiah Tucker, 1837-1841; Rev. Cyrus Stone, Rev. Henry Smith, 1844-1845; Rev. Levi Lorring, supply, 1845-1846; Rev Sidney Turner, 1846-1847; Rev. George W. Fargo, part time, 1857-1858; Rev. George W. Hathaway, 1861-1862; Rev. John K. Deering, supply, 1863-1865; Henry O. Thayer, 1865-1867; Rev. William H. Rand, 1869-1870; Rev. Albert H. Thompson, 1877-1879; Rev. Mr. Edwards,1882-1884; Rev. T.F. Millett, 1884-1890; Rev. G. W. Hamilton, 1890-1892; Rev. Jas. C. Gregory, 1892-1900; Rev. George F. Wright, 1900-1902; Rev. William A. Richmond, 1903-1908; Rev. Thomas B. Hatt, 1909-1920; Rev. Charles W. Robinson, 1920-1922; Rev. Arthur R. Macdougall Jr., D.D., 1923-present time.
   
  Four of these men have been ordained here. They are: Henry Smith, ordained Dec. 28, 1845; Sidney Turner, ordained Jan. 7, 1847; Albert H. Thompson, Feb. 26, 1879; and our present pastor, Arthur R. Macdougall Jr. was ordained June 27, 1924.
   
  Three of our ministers have married Bingham daughters and it so happened that each of these women were direct descendants of the original members of the church - and all of Grandmother Goodrich.
   
  Eighteen men have served as deacons. They are Joseph Russell, 1811-1833; Ephraim Wood, 1820-1841; Allen Baker, 1837-1874; Nathan Baker, 1842-1887; Gilbert Greenwood, 1874-1875; T. Houghton, 1885-1906; Albert Burk, 1885-1900; Sidney T. Goodrich, 1898-1929; Edwin S. Baker, 1898-1899; Henry O. Chase, 1900-1913; Fred P. Saunders, 1906-1907; Lewis Baker, 1908-1914; Charles A. Foss, 1913-1951; Elmer A. Baker, 1914; Allen P. Robinson, 1936; Ruben H. Crombie, 1949-.
   
  Just a word about their families: Sidney Goodrich in his Centennial History of the church, said, at that time there had been ten deacons, all of whom had been related by blood or marriage to the original church members. We have had eight since. All but two of these have likewise been related to these families. Of our present three deacons, Elmer Baker is a direct descendant of the first deacon, Joseph Russell. Allen Robinson is a direct descendant of the second deacon, Ephraim Wood. Mr. Crombie claims no relationship to these but we happen to know that he does claim as fine an ancestry as any.
   
  While we pause today to honor our founding fathers and mothers, we remember that through the century and a half of its existence, this church has always been the center for religious worship and service for the surrounding towns, as well as our own. We still welcome all who are of willing heart and mind, whether young or old, long time resident or newcomer, to become one with us as we look forward to wider horizons and larger opportunities of service in the future. Not how long we live, but how well we serve.
   
  Continuing the Saga: 1955-1980 by Douglas Warren Drown

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