Methodist Church Unearths Its Cornerstone

It’s not the coolest cornerstone in religious history: a Bible, old hymnal, list of members, sermons, a newsletter, a letter from the pastor to future generations; some stones from the Holy Land.

But when United Methodist Church unveils that memorabilia tomorrow — in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original cornerstone laying — congregants will honor much more than those half-century-old relics.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

The congregation on Weston Road has quite a history. In fact, the church predates the founding of Westport by almost as long as the date it celebrates tomorrow.

Its roots here go back to 1790. Jesse Lee — a Methodist from Virginia — rode his horse all around the area, inviting people to gather in homes for fellowship. Churches in Easton and Ridgefield are now named for him.

The first church was built on Poplar Plains. It’s near the site of the longtime Three Bears restaurant. Today it’s once more a home of worship — for Chabad.

In the 1850s the Methodists moved to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. There’s a law office now, at the tip of what was then a much larger town green.

A new church was built on (appropriately) Church Lane in 1908. In 1966 — to help pay for the move to Weston Road — that building was sold to the church next door, Christ & Holy Trinity. The Episcopalians still own it; it’s been rechristened Seabury Center.

The one-time Methodist Church on church Lane is now the Seabury Center.

Other funds for the new church were secured by congregation families taking out 2nd mortgages on their homes.

The 5-acre Weston Road site was adjacent to the home of Robert Lawson, author of the children’s book “Rabbit Hill.” During construction, services were held at Coleytown Elementary School. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 27, 1967.

But for many years, this was not the only Methodist congregation in town. A building in Saugatuck was constructed in 1854, near where I-95 exit 17 is now. That congregation merged with the one on Church Lane in 1947. The Saugatuck building became an artists’ studio, before it was demolished in 1955 for the thruway.

The Saugatuck bell lives on, though. It was bought by John Sherwood, who set it in the grassy area in front of the Greens Farms train station.

Rev. Edward Horne

It sat there for decades. A few years ago Sherwood’s descendants gave it to the United Methodist Church. It’s now in the memorial garden, just outside Reverend Ed Horne’s office.

A 2nd bell on Weston Road came from the old Church Lane building.

Rev. Horne is surrounded by — and thinks about — all that history, as he prepares for tomorrow’s cornerstone unveiling.

(It’s actually a re-enactment. The tin box was uncovered and opened a couple of days ago. Church officials wanted to avoid a Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone’s vault moment.)

The celebration — at the end of the 9:30 a.m. worship service — will include excerpts for the original service. In attendance will be a few congregants who were there at the groundbreaking 50 years ago. Former fire chief Harry Audley and his wife Pat are still active church members. Longtime teacher Pat Farmer and her husband Haynes — both near 90 — still sing in the choir. Gay and Liz Land plan to be there too.

The 1966-67 Methodist Church building committee (from left): Harold Shippey Jr., O. Glen Simpson, Paul Gann, Liz Land, John Kronseder, Curtis Cortelyou, Bob Doty, Bill Hale, Gay Land, Chandler Moffat, Joe Kyle, Arnold Miller, Phyllis Bowlin, Dale Bowlin, Herb Mahn, Faye Busch.

The Methodist Church’s 50th celebration continues in September, with a dinner and visit from the bishop. Also on tap: a day of service in honor of the anniversary, and — next May — a commemoration of the 1st service in the new church.

Tomorrow’s unveiling ends with the installation of a new box of memorabilia in the cornerstone. It will contain a contemporary worship book; letters from young congregants, and a church DVD produced by Dan Gelman.

It will be opened again in 2067 …

… the good Lord willing.

United Methodist Church, ready for worship in 1967.

6 responses to “Methodist Church Unearths Its Cornerstone

  1. Michael Calise

    Interesting story Dan,
    The law office you refer to is at 234 Main Street which I purchased as a private residence from an Elizabeth Taylor in 1969 and converted to my first Real Estate Office (now Settlers & Traders) Local lore at the time was that It was the former home of the Methodist Church which had burned down and that the current structure was built by Art Fresenius (Fresenius Road) a local builder,. to the chagrin of local officials, “in the middle of the night” .The one thing I always got a kick out of was that the deed to the property had a deed restriction which read that if any religious services other than Methodist were conducted on the property ownership would automatically revert back to the United Methodist Church.

  2. Seth Schachter

    Does anyone know the history of the ‘Old Methodist Church’ that was located off Greens Farms Road (I believe somewhere between Maple Lane and New Creek Road) ????? I have seen it shown on maps from the mid 1800’s but don’t recall reading anything about it or knowing the exact location. One of the maps that I have seen the identification for the church is from the book, ‘Greens Farms Connecticut, The Old West Parish of Fairfield’.

  3. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    There is a picture of the Methodist Church that was on Main Street, a wooden structure with pie crust detailing, in a book of Westport vintage postcards, I think. I recall singing for the Westport Rotary Club in 1963 as an Orphenian,in what was then the Methodist Church and is now Seabury Center.

  4. Barbara Sherburne '67

    I first attended the Methodist Church when it was on Church Lane and continued to when we transitioned to the new location on Weston Road. That photo from 1967 is exactly how I remember it except it seems like we were having a lot of problems with mud in the parking lot. I recognize many of the names in the photo of the building committee. Of course Arnold Miller was the minister at that time. I have a vague memory of Arnold Miller having an office on the Post Road or off of it. I don’t know why he would have had an office at a different location from the church, but that is what my memory is telling me. It’s amazing that some of the people from the groundbreaking will be there to see the unveiling of the cornerstone box, Harold and Pat Audley, Haynes and Pat Farmer, and Gay and Liz Land, all of whom I remember. Thank you for this very interesting story and also for the information about the bells, Dan.

  5. Grateful for those congregation members in 1967 whose courage and faith led them to taking out a second mortgage to pay for the construction of the United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

  6. Today we can’t read a 25 year old 5 1/4″ floppy disk. So in 100 years congregants will open the memorabilia box, discover a DVD, and ask what it is. Then what?