Historical reminiscences of the early times in Marlborough, Massachusetts
by Mary Ella A. Bigelow, pub.Boston, 1910
SPRINGHILL MEETING HOUSE (now Union Church)
Let us imagine the interior of the church a hundred years ago. The large square pews well filled with substantial farmers and their families. Father Bucklin's pew No. 1 center aisle, Lawyer Draper No. 2, Mr. Coggswell No. 3, Silas Felton No. 4, Esquire Sherman No. 5, and so on. Large roomy square box pews extended on three sides of the gallery occupied generations by young men and boys who used to delight in turning up the seats which were hung with hinges and when the congregation arose for prayer, which generally was a long one, and the final amen was said by the preacher, down would go the hinged seats making a noise like muskets.
The pulpit was high and the gigantic sounding board hung over it from the ceiling. Mr. Bucklin climbed with all due patience and much dignity the winding stairs. His style was courteous and solemn and the services very lengthy. For twenty years he was pastor here and when he laid aside his official honors he took the place of layman and was a true friend, paying for some years the highest tax for the support of his church.
In winter the meeting house was as cold as a cluster of icebergs, but the people who were its supporters were filled with zeal that defied the ice and storm, and many of them climbed the hill and pushed their way thro' the valleys without much regard to snow-drifts and tempests of rain, to the old church on the hill they loved so well. Deacon Goodale came many miles from the East, and Deacon Bruce as far from the North, models of perseverance for the love they bore the church and seldom had their seats no occupant, for they were the leading spirits of that old parish.
Capt. Proctor occupied the singing post of honor in the other end of the church. He kept time by the rising and falling of the hymn book in his hand. The tunes were few and the noise not always in accord. The choir made ready to sing by the pitch and then gave in advance the time. Cold tho' it was, it had a kindling influence on emotion and sentiment and when the whole force was out, singers and players, one said there was an uproar of sound which could be heard almost to the West Parish (*). There was the trombone and the clarinet and the 'cello and the bass and the double bass which even while the minister was praying would be sounded for the pitch. These with a melodian to fill in, and above all, the determined spirit of the singers, for it was the strength of voice rather than the perfect tone or correct ear for music which always took the palm those days, would make the choir a place of great distinction. The soprano would untie her bonnet, and throw back her head and let out such a volume of sound as would incite the awe and admiration of all the church goers, and they'd forget the lack of carpets, or heat or comfort.
* Four religious societies, East Parish or Spring Hill, the West Parish, the Universalist — a new body of some 18 years standing and the Methodist in the north.
"The seats were hinged; in prayer we rose
And turned them up, and then
Were ready at the prayer's close
To slam a loud Amen.
We had no stoves; our mates, poor souls,
Indulged their vain desires
With small tin boxes filled with coals
Brought from a neighbor's fires.
Our parson made it hot enough -
No need for fires to yearn
While good old doctrine, dry and tough,
Made all our ears to burn."
METHODIST CHURCH, CHURCH STREET.
Phineas Sawyer was the first Methodist who came into the town, and he was the father of Methodism in Marlborough. About 1798 he purchased a water privilege together with a water mill and a grist mill at Feltonville and erected the second cotton factory in Massachusetts. He opened his house at Feltonville and invited Methodist preachers to hold services. It became a home for all Methodists. The first Methodist class in this vicinity was formed in 1808 in Mr. Sawyer's house in Feltonville. In 1828 the old Brick Meeting House was built (near Rockbottom) and in 1832 Marlborough became a station. The late John Chipman wrote : "I recall vividly to my mind the appearance of that rudely finished and awkwardly constructed church. The high built, box-like pews with narrow hard seats and straight backs, coming up to an ordinary sized man's ears. The choir of musical voices, seated just back of the pulpit, sang with the spirit and with the understanding also. Lucas Parmenter was there with his bass viol. F. D. and Cyrus Brigham struck up on their violins, while the tall form of their leader, Uncle Solomon Weeks, standing erect and beating time with his long attenuated fingers, was a picture never to be forgotten." "Ah", he exclaimed, "the Methodists of this town those early years were earnest men and women. They made great sacrifices to sustain themselves and keep peace with the other religious societies. They hailed the Sabbath with delight. They were poor in this world's goods, but rich in the faith of a happy and glorious immortality." In 1852 the old Brick church was destroyed by fire and the meetings held in a hall in Rockbottom (now Gleasondale).