A History of Third Congregational Church
The First One Hundred Years
1773 - 1873
Westfield is a pleasant rural village located in the northern part of Middletown, about a mile from the Westfield Station, on the Berlin and Middletown Railroad. The inhabitants are a prosperous people, mostly engaged in agricultural pursuits. The first settler is generally conceded to have been one Edward Higby, who settled there about 1720, and whose residence was at the foot of a bluff called "Higby Mountain." Other early settlers were: Benjamin Atkins, Benjamin, Nathaniel, John, and Joseph Bacon, Joseph Cornwell, Joseph Doolittle, Samuel Plumb, and Daniel Roberts, from the first society in this town; John Warner, Israel, John, and Jeremiah Wilcox, from Cromwell; Joseph Clarke, from New Haven; Nathaniel Churchill, from Wethersfield; Edward and Josiah Boardman, from Glastonbury; David and Richard Dowd, Asahel Dudley, and Joseph Graves, from Guilford. In 1815, there were 81 dwelling houses in Westfield and 93 families. Early in 1852 there were 104 dwellings and 120 families. There were 84 deaths in the society during the ten years prior to 1852. The yearly mortality was as follows: In 1842, seven deaths; in 1843, nine; in 1844, three; in 1845, eight; in 1846, eight; in 1847, nine; in 1848, four; in 1849, seventeen; in 1850, seven; and in 1851, fourteen.
In 1766, a number of persons living in Westfield, but belonging to the first and second ecclesiastical societies, sent a memorial to the General Assembly, praying to be organized into a separate society; the petition was granted, and thus arose the fourth ecclesiastical society in Middletown. The first three names on that memorial were Edward Higby, Nathaniel Gilbert, and Benjamin Atkins. In 1773, this society built their first meeting house. It was 48 feet long and 30 wide. It stood where the present one stands. It was a plain structure, built in the style of those early times. There was no paint on the building at first, either inside nor out; and the only stoves used during winter were foot stoves.
On the 28th of December 1773, 21 persons from the first church and five from the second were organized into a church in Westfield by a council convened for that purpose.
At an adjourned session the next day, Rev. Thomas Miner, of Woodbury, a graduate of Yale College in 1769, was settled over the church and society, Rev. Noah Benedict preaching the sermon. Mr. Miner was a man of means, and dwelt in his own abode just west of the meeting house.
His salary was provided for on the plan of the old salary charter, and the first transaction recorded of the society was in 1787, and was in regard to that matter. At this early date there was a choir. There were also four school districts, which were under the supervision of the ecclesiastical society as late at 1801.
Mr. Miner being in feeble health towards the end of his ministry, other preachers were employed to assist him. Among these appear the names of Austin, David Bacon, the father of Dr. Bacon of New Haven, Samuel Goodrich, and Bela Kellogg. In 1817, he released the society from further pecuniary obligations, but continued to be their sole pastor till May 24th, 1820, and their
honorary pastor from that time till his death, which occurred April 28th, 1826, and completed his entire pastoral of 52 years, 3 months, and 29 days. Mr. Miner was 88 years old when he died, and that was the number of persons admitted to the church by himself and others while he was sole pastor. He was buried in the cemetery bearing his honored name, by the side of many of his beloved people.
May 24th 1820, Rev. Stephen Hayes of Newark, New Jersey, was installed colleague pastor, with the understanding that he should preach one-third of the time to the church in Middlefield and the remaining two-thirds to the church in Westfield, both societies obligating themselves to pay a similar proportion of $500 a year as salary, and help in the same way toward procuring a dwelling place for his family. The difficulty which arose just before calling Mr. Hayes was in securing a parsonage. This difficulty was at length overcome by the purchase of the house now occupied for that purpose; then, a brown, one story building. As the tax law had been annulled by the new Constitution of the State, in 1818, the pews had to be sold to defray the expenses of the minister's salary; and as fears were entertained that enough would not thus be raised, the subject of a ministerial fund was agitated. In 1823, just 50 years after the organization of the church, eighteen hundred dollars had been subscribed for this purpose. One of the subscribers was Rev. Chauncey A. Goodrich of New Haven, who at that time was preaching in the first society. A great loss was sustained to this fund when the Eagle Bank of New Haven, failed. During Mr. Hayes' pastorate, Dr. Miner, the son of Rev. Thomas Miner, made his will, bequeathing to the society a part of his estate; as he lived till 1841, not much was realized from this beneficent act.
Rev. Mr. Hayes was dismissed June 6th, 1827. His pastorate continued a little over seven years, during which time 21 persons were admitted to the church.
It was nearly two years before the next pastor was installed. During the interval, the pulpit was supplied by various ministers, among whom were Rev's Bela Kellogg, Samuel Goodrich, Joshua L. Williams, Edward R. Tyler, Royal Robins, and Stephen Topliff. The last gentleman, who was a native of Willington and a graduate of Yale College in 1825, was installed May 27th 1829, Dr. Bacon preaching the sermon. When Mr. Topliff first came here, which was late in 1827, he found the church "very much scattered and run down, and but for the prayers of a circle of women that used to meet statedly for prayer, the church had well nigh broken up." Mr. Topliff went among the people, praying earnestly from house to house, and it was not long before, "contrary to all expectation, that old question, 'What must I do to be saved?' began to be agitated, and the whole aspect of the church was changed." Mr. Topliff was wholly consecrated to his work, and during his stated supply and regular pastorate there were several revivals, and many were gathered into the church. Mr. Topliff was dismissed September 25th 1838, having served this church as pastor nine years, three months, and three days, his entire ministry amounted to nearly, or quite, 11 years. He was afterward settled at Oxford. From there he moved to Cromwell, where he resided till his death. He never removed his membership from this church, and when he died his remains were brought here and laid to rest among the people of his early labors and love.
The fourth pastor was Rev. James H. Francis, a native of Wethersfield, a graduate of Yale College, class of 1826, and of the theological department of that institution. Before he came here, he had been the pastor of the church in Dudley, Massachusetts, six years. He was installed in Westfield, December 2nd 1840. In the autumn and winter of 1842, there prevailed quite an extensive revival, from the fruits of which a goodly number united with the church. Mr. Francis was dismissed June 11th 1845, having been pastor for four and one half years.
The fifth pastor was Rev. Lent S. Hough, a native of Wallingford. He received a classical education at Bangor, Maine, and studied theology both at Bangor and at New Haven. Before coming here he had been pastor in Chaplin and North Woodstock, and stated supply in North Madison and in Bethel, Danbury. He began his labors in Westfield, in 1846, and after preaching about nine months was installed February 10th 1847. During his pastorate, in the year 1849, a new meeting house was built, at a cost of over $4,000. The old one had lasted three-fourths of a century. The new one was dedicated December 6th 1849.
During Mr. Hough's pastorate there was a general time of prosperity in the community. New school houses were built and new residences. Some improvements were made upon the parsonage and a conference house was secured. But the most blessed event of this pastorate was the revival of religion that took place in 1854. Mr. Hough was assisted by Rev. George Clark, an evangelist and the Holy Spirit was poured out in a most copious manner. What a joyful scene was that when on the 4th of June 1854, 57 persons came forward into the aisles of the new church, and crowded around its altar to express their faith in their newly found Saviour!
Mr. Hough was dismissed March 31st 1863, having been pastor sixteen years, one month, and twenty-one days, and having labored with this people nearly seventeen years in all. One hundred and forty persons were added to the church during his ministry.
After leaving here, Mr. Hough Preached a short time in Salem. His last pastorate was East Lyme. From there he moved to Rainbow, where he died.
Rev. A. T. Waterman was the sixth pastor. After preaching some time to this people, he was installed November 9th 1864. He was dismissed June 1st 1869; having served as pastor four and a half years. Quite a number of persons were added to the church during Mr. Waterman's pastorate. At his dismission, the council paid him the following tribute: "We take pleasure in commending the retiring pastor to the fellowship of the churches of our Master as a faithful and efficient laborer, an acceptable devotion to the Salvation of Souls."
Mr. Waterman, after leaving here, preached a while in Kensington, and then at the West.
Rev. Edward T. Hooker was the seventh pastor. Mr. Hooker is the son of Rev. Dr. Hooker, who was professor at East Windsor, and afterward pastor at South Windsor. He was born in Bennington, VT. He received his academical education at Phillips' Academy, Andover, and at Williams College. He studied theology at Chicago, and was ordained and installed at Broad Brook, June 17th 1868. He began his acting pastorate in Westfield, July 1st 1869, and closed it October 1st 1872, having labored here three years and three months. Several persons united with the church during Mr. Hooker's pastorate. Mr. Hooker went from here to the First Congregational Church in New Orleans. Many ties bind him to Westfield, and among them is that of a dear little child that fell asleep while his father was pastor here.
The ministers who have officiated since Mr. Hooker have been; Revs. John Elderkin, J. Webster Tuck, and Edwin C. Holman. The deacons of church have been: Nathaniel Boardman and Amos Churchill, chosen about 1779; Samuel Galpin, April 14th 1843; Asa Boardman, April 30th 1858; Elisha B. Wilcox, November 22nd 1861; Pardon K. Fay and Benjamin Wilcox, October 30th 1868; Albert Bacon, January 12th 1873; and George W. Boardman.
The Sabbath school was started many years ago in a dwelling house just east of the church. It has been well supported, and still holds on its way.
During the first hundred years of this church 439 persons were members. Taking into consideration this hopeful fact, together with all the good work done in this neighborhood by this church, who can measure the results? Certainly, to God this community is greatly indebted for the works of love and salvation here wrought out by the church of Christ planted here so long ago.
The membership, January 1st 1884, was 104; 39 males and 65 females.
Thomas Miner - 1773
Stephen Hayes - 1820
Stephen Topliff - 1829
James H. Francis -1840
Lent S. Hough - 1847
A.T. Waterman - 1864
E.T. Hooker - 1869
John Elderkin - 1873
A.H. Wilcox - 1876
J. Webster Tuck - 1877
Edwin Holman - 1882
David Hubbard - 1885
Aaron Downs - 1918
Earl Sweet - 1918
William Williams - 1923
Paul R. Coons - 1926
David Yale - 1930
Lewis Knox - 1934
Matthew W. Porter - 1947
Craig G. Whitsitt - 1950
Hubert J. Topliff - 1951
Robert W. Henderson - 1956
David Hirtle - 1982
John Carson - 1986
Markham E. Dunn - 1995
Norm Erlendson - 2007