Early settlers found the twelve-mile trip to Sherborn too far to go for their weekly meetings. After 50 years, 13 families asked to be set apart with their own meeting house. On December 3, 1724 the General Court granted their petition with this amendment “Saving that the western part of Sherborn be a town and not a precinct.”
The town, Holliston, was named after Thomas Hollis, a wealthy merchant from England, who had given money to Harvard (University) for scholarships. In January of 1725 five selectmen and the constable met and voted to build a meeting house “to worship God in on Lord’s Day and place it on the southeasterly side of Jasper’s Hill so called, on the westerly side of the road on the most rising ground—which is on the Honorable Col. Browne’s farm.”
In December 1726 the selectmen met to find a minister of the Gospel. They spoke to a young James Stone, who had graduated from Harvard in 1724 and was teaching in Framingham. When word reached London that one of his own Scholarship men had become the first minister of the church in the town that was named in his honor, Thomas Hollis responded by sending over a costly 1679 pulpit Bible. This Bible is still in use in our sanctuary today. It was rebound in memory of Frank Wesley Smith in 1962.
Finally the meeting house was ready and, on November 7, 1728, it was noted “to hold a day of fasting and prayer to seek God’s favor in the gathering and settling a church in said town, and that Wednesday being the 20th day of the same month should be the day with God’s leave for the Ordaining the Reverend Mr. James Stone.”
The seven men who took letters of dismissal from the church in Sherborn to become the founders with the minister of the new Church were William Sheffield, John Goulding, Jonathan Whitney, Timothy Leland, Isaac Bullard, Thomas Marshall, and Edmond Morse (see the Founders' plaque).
The first church building served for nearly one hundred years, plain, unheated, and furnished with backless benches, for the men on the left side of the great doors, and for the women on the right (see the floor plan of the Old Meeting House as it was in 1730 on the wall outside of Jordan Hall).
In 1820 the Church School was organized and a new meeting house was planned and built. It was completed in late 1823. Some of the materials used were salvaged from the original meeting house and other materials were used to build the Town Hall. The clock and bell were presented soon after. Stoves were installed for warmth and during this period whale oil lamps provided illumination for the sanctuary. It’s interesting to note that, at this time in the Church’s history, all Church business was transacted at Town Meeting. This practice continued until separation in 1836.
Before the first small organ was added in 1837, everyone who owned a musical instrument was urged to bring it to Church to lead the music. It is written in the Church history that this created such a chaos of sound that the idea was soon abandoned.
Since early in the 1800’s, our Church had a missionary society that has responded to needs at home and across the world.
Later, with a membership of over 400, the church was sawed open and 20 feet were added. This made possible the organ loft and room for the choir, with a parlor beneath. The entire building was raised, the vestry added, and the organ moved to its present location.
In the early 1870’s, women were allowed to vote in Town Meeting for the first time. Soon after gaining voting status the ladies, at their own expense, added a kitchen, paid for town water to be installed, and purchased carpeting.
In 1894 it was voted to dissolve the organization known as “The First Parish of Holliston” and to form a new church organization incorporated as the First Congregational Church of Holliston. A pledge system to raise funds also began at this time with pledges ranging from $0.02 to $0.50 per week.
The present tower clock was added in April 1903 and steam heat was added in 1921. The present parsonage was inherited from Dr. Lake on Hollis Street. In 1930, the 61 horse sheds, next to the Church sanctuary, were removed. The Church merged with the Methodist Church in 1931. Shortly after this occurred, the Church conveyed to the Town of Holliston the land on which the Town Hall now stands.
Jordan Hall and the office wing were added in 1953. Faith Chapel was added as well as several small classrooms for its Sunday School. In 1960, the Education Wing was added, giving extra space for the Sunday School and the kindergarten.
Recently, our church has become handicapped accessible and this Congregation voted to become an “open and affirming” Church at its annual meeting in 1993.
There is a wonderful, more inclusive history, The First 250 Years, of our Church in the office, offering a myriad of exciting events that occurred during each pastor’s tenure. The church around which the town was built: First Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 3, 1724
State court granted the petition for a new town, HOLLISTON (from Sherborn), named after Thomas Hollis, a merchant of London.
December 21, 1724
Town/Church officers were elected.
January 4, 1725
Meeting to vote on building first meeting house.
Meeting house completed. It served the church and town for almost one hundred years. James Stone chosen as first minister. Thomas Hollis of London gave 1679 Pulpit Bible for use in the church.
Prominent families in town were allowed to build box pews and to install windows in the walls next to them.
1753 - 1754
Year of the great sickness. 53 people died that winter out of a population of 400.
Meeting house enlarged and a porch added to the front.
New church building erected and old meeting house torn down. Lumber from it was used in the new church.
A clock and bell were donated to the new church. The bell remains today, but the clock has been replaced. The bell was cast by Col. Holbrook, who learned his trade from Paul Revere. The inscription on the bell is: “I to the Church the living call, and to the grave do summon all.”
Town and church separated forever.
The new building had become too small and was enlarged by cutting it in half and adding twenty feet in the middle.
The building was again enlarged, this time by raising it.
The sanctuary, at this time, was lit by oil lamps on the balcony and a large oil lamp chandelier over the pulpit.
A new tower clock was given to the church. It rang the hour and continues to do so today.
The present parsonage was given to the church by Dr. Lake.
Jordan Hall and the office wing were added.
The education wing was added.
A new Schantz organ was installed.
A handicapped access elevator was installed in the education wing.
2008 - 2009
With a full Capital Campaign in 2008, the interior of the sanctuary and exterior of the church were repaired and painted. A new acoustic system was installed in the sanctuary. The steeple above the clock was replaced by a new steeple and weathervane.
The church held a non-denominational service commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
First Congregational Church, Holliston
725 Washington Street, Holliston, MA
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