People have gathered on this spot since 1632
Think of it: 1632 was a mere 12 years after the Mayflower landed. What exists here is not just a building, but a living connection to men and women who have lived and come together here for 384 years. It is our past, our present and our potential as a people that we celebrate by revitalizing this building.
THESE WALLS BEAR WITNESS
In the beginning were the native peoples. Then came the farmers. Puritans trudged up the hill from Muddy River, now called Brookline, and established farms on land now called Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury. The first meetinghouse erected was simple: one small building with a thatched roof.
The building that catches first light as the sun rises on Boston each morning is the fifth meetinghouse to exist on this spot. It was built in 1804, the year Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had their famous duel, Lewis and Clarke were pushing steadily west and Thomas Jefferson was President.
The hand-hewn timbers of this historic building have born witness to young men marching off to a Civil War, and to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X walking along Boston’s streets. These walls have witnessed the growth of a vibrant center of Boston’s black culture. Through civil strife and civil rights. And through influxes of diversity: once from difficult times in Ireland and Europe, now from places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Cuba, China, Vietnam and El Salvador.
It is an architectural gem, the oldest extant wood frame church in Boston and an outstanding example of a Federal Style meetinghouse. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and anchors the John Eliot Square National Register District.
PEOPLE SHAPE HISTORY
People who sat in the pews of this church helped establish Harvard College in 1636, founded the Roxbury Latin School in 1645 and created the first Protestant Sunday School in America. Minister John Eliot, who spoke from the pulpit, translated the bible into the native tongue of the Algonquin people in 1663.
At the same time Paul Revere rode out of Boston to warn colonists that “The Red Coats are coming,” William Dawes set off from this spot to do the same.
The funeral of William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist in the face of slavery and a suffragist 50 years before women had the right to vote, was held in this space on a bright spring day.
TIME LEAVES MEMENTOS
This space is alive with the whispers of history.
The wall clock in the sanctuary is a replica of one the congregation bought in 1803 from Simon Willard, not only a prominent parishioner but a well-known local clock maker. The original is on loan to The Willard House & Clock Museum in North Grafton.
The 1,500-pound steeple bell was bought in 1819 from the Revere Foundry in Canton, the firm begun by Paul Revere himself. It is more than a bronze relic. The church bells of early America were the smartphone alerts of today. They signified important events as well as the time. It is still rung by schoolchildren today.
The organ was bought in 1883 from the nationally known Roxbury firm of E. & G.G. Hook and Hastings, whose organs filled churches and concert halls alike with music.
And the 1888 pulpit was modeled after the pulpit in the first Church of Lancaster, a church designed by Charles Bullfinch, the architect of the Massachusetts State House and the Capitol of the United States of America.
The steeple you see today was rebuilt in 1954 after Hurricane Carol tore through Boston, destroying not just this steeple but the spire of the Old North Church. The steeple clock is believed to date from the 19th century. Many churches have converted their antique steeple clocks to electricity; this one, however, still runs in the mechanical power provided by the original, massive, suspended weight.
This is a building filled with lives lived. It is rich with the pieces left behind.