Travel down the main road of any historic New England town, and you are bound to see at least one old white church. Not only have they survived more than 300 years of American history, these structures continue to contribute to New England communities in ways that would have astonished their colonial founders.
See how the local community rallied to restore the Old White Church’s antique grand piano in a digital exclusive clip.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Travel down the main road of any historic New England town and you are bound to see at least one old white church. Not only have they survived more than 300 years of American history, these structures continue to contribute to New England communities in ways that would have astonished their colonial founders.
Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story of one such church in Blandford that is celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Dr. Nicholas Aieta, Westfield State University: It’s a significant structure for the town. It is the biggest structure, you know, in the town, biggest single structure, and it’s a top to the hill on North Road there.
So, when you’re up in the steeple, it does give you a nice view looking down into the lower half of the Valley. So, you can see all the way to Springfield and — and into Connecticut.
Dave Fraser: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the White Church in Blanford has remained active long into the 20th century.
The town was initially referred to as Glasgowlands due to the European colonists of Scots descent who arrived here in 1735. They sought to erect a church for their congregational form of worship, and in 1822 approached Northampton architect Isaac Damon.
Dr. Nicholas Aieta: Isaac Damon was born towards Cape Cod, he was born in Weymouth and moved out here to western Massachusetts in 1811.
He was largely a self-taught architect and was most successful in — in his building of a number of churches in the region. And the church fathers decided to approach him and ask him to do the construction and to do the design.
Dave Fraser: The Meetinghouse, as it was first known, was the home of the congregational community. Though in the ensuing 200 years, it became much more.
Chips Norcross, Blandford Historical Society: You have to…put a little bit of…energy into it! And there it is!
And now everybody in town will wonder what’s going on at the church.
Dave Fraser: Chips Norcross is president of the Blandford Historical Society and recently shared some stories of the church and pointed out some of its more interesting characteristics.
Chips Norcross: Initials on the — up on the walls way above the bell. You have to shimmy up. It’s not an easy, easy process to get way up to the top of the to the steeple. But up there, there are a few names that are recognizable even today that — that are kind of fun to look at.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 30th Jan 1874. He was — must have been visiting here and the door opened and he thought, we’d like to know about Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dave Fraser: With no formal heating system, the White Church would become too cold during the winter months. So, the congregation sought to build a second church in town.
Dr. Nicholas Aieta: Now “in town” means…I don’t even know if it’s a quarter mile away down the hill, it’s just not that far. And at that point, the White Church is still used, essentially, from spring, May-ish, into October, roughly. And then they shift over and go to the other space.
In 1940, 1941, as part of the Works Projects Administration work that was done by the Roosevelt administration, there is a team of photographers that goes around to various important places, and this is one of them. And so, we have some wonderful photographs that are taken of the church that are in the Library of Congress. And so, they document what the church looked like at that point.
Dave Fraser: Eventually, as the White Church surpassed 150 years in age, time began to catch up with the structure and a variety of challenges faced the congregation. With the need for massive repairs, the community and the church members came together to begin the process of saving the building.
The first of a series of many Scottish festivals would provide much needed revenue to support the restoration work. In 2006, the congregation sold the White Church to the Blanford Historical Society for $1. This transition supported concentrated efforts to help preserve Blandford’s only building in the National Historic Register.
Chips Norcross: It’s the icon of the town of Blandford. It’s on the town flag. It’s on the town seal, and it’s — the town is very, very much attached to it, even if you’re not part of the — the original congregation.