The First Congregational Church of Swanzey was organized November 4,
1741. The town was originally granted a charter from Massachusetts in 1733 and was known
as Lower Ashuelot. In 1753, the town was again granted a charter; this time by the state
of New Hampshire, on July 2nd. In this charter the name of the town was Swanzey.
settlers of the town were enjoined by the state of Massachusetts as a condition of their
charter to build a meetinghouse and settle a minister within five years of the settlement
of this town.
In 1737, the settlers first voted to build a meetinghouse. However, in 1738
it was voted not to build a meetinghouse at that time due to fear of Indian raids. On
December 4, 1741 Rev. Timothy Harrington was ordained as pastor of the Congregational
Church. At that time there were thirteen members. In 1745, the Rev. Harrington's house was
burned by the Indians and all the church records were destroyed. In 1747, the settlement
of Lower Ashuelot was totally abandoned because of Indian raids. Two family bibles, buried
for protection, survived the Indian raids and are still in existence.
In 1751, the settlers felt it was safe enough to return and start to rebuild.
August 21, 1753, the churches of Keene and Swanzey united under the ministry of Rev. Ezra
Carpenter. This union continued for seven years. The first church building, located on
"Meetinghouse Hill" (Mt. Caesar) was started prior to 1755 but was not finished
until 1765. In that year it was turned around 90 degrees by a hurricane and we can assume
it required major repairs. The site of this first meetinghouse is now marked by a granite
monument on Mount Caesar. The inscribed date on the stone, September 7, 1737, refers to
the date when the original vote was taken to build a meetinghouse. When the meetinghouse
was finally finished in 1771, it was used for all kinds of meetings; religious and civil.
It was a simple structure with no steeple and no bell. Pews on the main floor were built
by the owners and each pew varied according to how wealthy the owner was. Pews were
personal property which were bought and sold. Deeds of pews are recorded. A gallery was
available for those with no pews.
The second meetinghouse, built by the town in 1796, was used for general purposes.
Being public property, it's use was claimed for meetings by both Congregationalists and
Universalists as well as meetings for town business. It was a two story building with a
towering steeple and a belfry with no bell. Two rows of windows were on each side. The
interior was unpainted. It had a huge gallery on three sides with rows of pews next to the
walls and rows of long seats in front for the singers. On the main floor rows of old
fashioned box pews were between broad aisles.
The pulpit, on the north side, was a large
box with a door to enclose the minister. It was many feet above the floor.
For many years
there were no heating facilities in this building nor in the first meetinghouse.
pews are said to have been high enough so that only the tops of heads showed above them.
Charcoal foot stoves were carried to church for warmth. Sometimes even the family dog
could be found in a box pew as a way to keep feet warm. In approximately 1850, this
building was cut to a one story building and was used as the town hall.
The present church building, the Brick Meetinghouse, was erected in 1836 by Virgil
Woodcock for a sum of $2000.00.
This building was completely surrounded by brick and the
roof was covered with slate. It included a steeple, belfry and bell. Horse sheds were
built on the site of the current Friendship Hall. When this building was finished, it
marked the first time in Swanzey when there were separate buildings for religious purposes
and municipal purposes.
Over the years there have been many changes and additions to this