The history of our church begins with the history of Wilton, New Hampshire. The town's original
land grant included 240 acres for a church and stipulated that a building must be erected in 1752;
so a log church was built and remained in use until 1773. For the first ten years traveling preachers
supplied the pulpit. Then in 1763 Rev. Jonathan Livermore became the first settled minister.
In those days this was a town church, the only church, and by law was supported by
everyone in the town. In April 1773, the town voted to provide six barrels of rum, a
barrel of brown sugar, half a box of lemons and two loaves of loaf sugar for framing and
raising the meetinghouse. On the day of the raising of the church, September 7, 1773,
people gathered from all around, for it was to be a festive occasion. But what started out
as a day of joy and festivity turned into a day of tragedy. In the course of the building
a huge beam broke and 53 men fell nearly thirty feet to the ground. Five men were killed
in the accident and many others crippled.
Despite the tragic beginning the church was completed in 1775. It was a large church
with a porch at each end. Two rows of large windows extended round the building. The
pews were square, with seats that were turned up in prayer time and were let down with
a distinct emphasis of sound at the close. In front of the pews before the pulpit were
open seats for the aged and deaf, and directly under the high pulpit, the deacons' seat
and the communion table. Galleries were built on three sides of the church supported
by pillars. The attic was the powder arsenal of the town, to which there was an ascent
by a trap door, "The earthly and the heavenly ammunition being thus stored under one
roof." The church, like the log church before it, was used for town meetings as well
as Sunday Services.
Mr. Livermore resigned in 1777. The Reverend Abel Smith was ordained and became the
second minister of the church. His term began in November of 1778 and he remained
the minister for 24 years. Thomas Beede was the third minister of our church. Mr.
Beede was a Harvard graduate. He taught in schools in Milford and Massachusetts and
preached whenever he had the opportunity. He gave the Thanksgiving Sunday sermon
in 1802 and the impressed congregation invited him to be their settled minister.
In 1829 Mr. Beede resigned after more than 25 years as minister of the church.
Later the same year, the church invited Stephen Barnard to be minister. During his
ministry a new confession of faith and covenant was adopted--much shorter and closer
to the beliefs of Unitarians today, than those adopted earlier. Less than four years
later, Mr. Barnard resigned due to ill health. From that time on most ministers stayed
only a few years. IN 1850 and 1851 there was no settled minister.
During this same time, changes had been taking place in town. Wilton Center had been
the business and social center of the town when farming was the principle business,
but with the coming of the railroad in 1851 and the increase in manufacturing and
business establishments at the junction of the two rivers in East Wilton, the
population naturally drifted that way.
During the ministry of Rev. Stillman Clark in December 1859, the large yellow church
built in 1775 burned. A stock company was soon formed to raise funds. Arrangements
were made with the town for a site on the common, and the present church was built.
The stockholders were reimbursed by the sale of pews in the new church, which was
dedicated in January 1861. Rev. Abiel A. Livermore, grandson of the Rev. Johnathan
Livermore, preached the dedication sermon.
In about 1885 our church united with the Liberal Christian Church in engaging a
minister--an arrangement that lasted for about 25 years. In 1897 the church voted
to change the legal name of the Society to the present name--the essential change
being the adding of "Unitarian" to the name. In 1910 the church discontinued the
arrangement with the Liberal Christian Church and called the Rev. E.M. Grant to be
the new minister.
For several years Mr. Grant had been a summer resident of Wilton. He was a man of
extended pastoral experience, unusual ability as a preacher and a competent organizer
as well. His pastorate, from 1911 to his death in 1927, was marked by an increase
in membership and attendance. Mr. Grant recognized the need for a social center and
space for Sunday school work and through his efforts, with the generous help of summer
and local residents, a large room was added to the church in 1924.
The ministers who followed Mr. Grant also contributed, each in his own special way,
to the life and to the thinking of the community. While the vehemence of the theological
debates of earlier times lessened, ministers have brought to us not only their thoughts
on contemporary theological discussions, but also have called attention to moral and
ethical concerns of our times, thus continuing the traditional Unitarian search for
truth in fields of human relations as well as theology.
In the 1950's the church felt they needed more space for the Sunday school. Converting
the horse sheds was considered, until it was learned "The Red House" was for sale and
that someone had offered to contribute money to purchase the house if the church would
fix it up. The church accepted this offer and obtained a mortgage to remodel the house.
Many of the parents helped with the simpler, indoor tasks. It was during the ministry
of Mr. Kyper that this occurred and he was most helpful in getting this accomplished.
It was a big accomplishment for a small church.
Compiled by various members of our
church from the following sources: History of the Town of Wilton, Abiel Abbot Livermore & S.
Putnam, 1988 and Historical Sketches of Wilton, N.H., 1739-1939, Wilton Historical Society.