History of Second Congregational

Palmer was first settled in 1716 by John King, who left the puritanical town of Boston to seek a new way of life.  Gradually, others followed.  Some came from the Connecticut River Valley, and others, mostly Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers came from the Worcester area seeking religious freedom. They all settled on land known as the Elbow Plantation. 

As the years passed, the growing population realized it would be a good idea both politically and economically to become a town.  In 1732, a few inhabitants signed a petition and traveled to Boston to plea for Township status, which was denied.  The reason given was that residents had settled on land without first obtaining the right to do so from the Connecticut Congress.  They were therefore squatters in violation of Massachusetts Bay Laws.  However, a special consideration was granted through an act of legislation in 1733, allowing the inhabitants to remain on the land provided they complied with certain rules and regulations.  These included that 1) a church meetinghouse be built, 2) a minister be called and fully supported, and 3) a penalty of 1500 pounds was to be paid for settling on the land.  Two years were granted to fulfill the obligations. 

Even though the first two requirements were fulfilled within two years, the monetary fine was not paid until many years later.  Palmer’s right as a town was prevented until 1776.  By 1795, Palmer had grown significantly in population which strained the capacity of the small church.  Therefore, a new two-story structure was built just north of the original site. 

In 1811, with the resignation of Rev. Moses Baldwin, who had served for 50 years, the congregation voted to change its allegiance from Presbyterian to Congregational.  The next thirty-five years would bring about changes in the church.  One of these resulted in hymn singing being allowed, where previously only the spoken word was permitted in the church.  A second major change was that a stove was installed, a creature comfort not accepted by the rugged Presbyterians. 

By 1847, many changes had taken place in town, it had become divided into four villages, three of which were controlled by the textile industry.  The fourth was a budding railroad center known as Depot Village.  Because so many residents had left the Palmer Center area to move to another village, the placement of the religious center had become a great concern,

Two of the villages, Depot Village and Thorndike, were the most thriving and each wanted to claim the church site.  Eventually, it was decided to divide the church membership into two parishes, one in Thorndike, and one in Depot Village. 

The cornerstone for the Second Congregational Church was laid on May 20, 1847.  The White Church as it was called, was dedicated on December 22nd.  It had two Corinthian pillars which flanked a recessed entryway.  In 1871, the church underwent renovations.  The pillars were removed, and the entryway was made flush with the remaining facade. 

Nine pastors served the White Church, each contributing to its growth and character.  On February 1, 1909, the White Church burned to the ground, an act of arson.  All that remained of the structure were a few photographs, a lead box found in the cornerstone, the front door key, and a fused piece of glass from a stained-glass window. 

Immediate plans were made for the building of a new meeting house, an English Tudor-style structure.  The building was dedicated in April 1910.  Our stained-glass windows were installed in 1926, gifts in memory of loved ones.  Please read the dedications at the bottom of each window.  Our bell tower was raised 5 feet in 1927 to accommodate the beautiful Deagon Chimes, another memorial gift.  In 1957, the organ pipes were moved to the side creating a choir loft.  The pews were rearranged to form a center aisle.  The center pulpit was replaced by a split pulpit and lectern, the Norman room was created by paneling the walls and lowering the ceiling.  The original pews of the church were replaced by the newer version in 1983.  In 1986, tie rods were placed in the sanctuary to prevent further rotation of the roof structure, the initial rotation had been caused by a small tornado.  In 1998, an elevator was installed at the back of the Norman Room.  The church was resided in 2007.  Fifteen full-time ministers have served Second Church, Rev. Bruce Prestwood-Taylor was the 24th pastor to serve this church.

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