Mansfield Churches: First Congregational Church

78 years ago a Mansfield landmark burned to the ground.  Only four blackened walls remained of the First Congregational Church.  Hundreds watched as the spire, which rose over 200 feet above Park Avenue West, fell and the building crumbled.  According to the News Journal, the question was often asked – “What if the Congregation Church spire should fall?” The answer: The flame eaten spire toppled and plunged to the ground like a giant lance, impaling itself in the ground 50 feet east of the building.  No one was injured.[i]

Due to disagreements on social issues, church members split from the Presbyterian Church around 1833 and formed a society and obtained a temporary place of worship in an upper room of the warehouse of E. P. & E. Sturges.  The First Congregational Church in Mansfield was organized on April 3, 1835, by Rev. Everton Judson and Rev. Enoch Conger.  “The church advocated opinions on temperance, anti-slavery and other reforms, which caused much opposition both ecclesiastical and social, in the community.”[ii]

IMG_0830

The original First Congregational Church

The first structure for the church was built shortly after its organization.  A four-acre site was bought on Park Ave West, then West Market Street, for $750.[iii]  The same site was the home of the church until the 1942 fire.  A brick meeting house was built, “with a basement for lecture and Sabbath school purposes” and later a parsonage was erected on the grounds.  It was said the church could seat about 500 and was one of the finest church edifices in the state at the time.[iv]  In 1855 the church was enlarged, including an “audience room forty-two by seventy-three feet, a ladies parlor twenty-five feet square, and a pastor’s study.”[v]

FCC1856

1856 map showing the location of the First Congregational Church.  Mulberry Street is to the right and West Market is today Park Avenue West.

Disaster struck in August of 1870 when Rev. E. B. Fairfield noticed sparks coming from the roof or the church building.  By the time firemen had arrived, the church was already lost and they focused their efforts on saving the neighboring structures.   The library belonging to the pastor and seats and books in the lecture room and Sabbath school were saved, but a beautiful organ was lost.  Plans had already been made to replace the church the next fall and subscriptions for that purpose had already been made in the amounts of $30,000 or $40,000.[vi]

IMG_0831

First Congregational Church and Parsonage around 1896.

Construction began immediately and nearly three years later on June 8, 1873, the church was dedicated. The church was nearly destroyed by fire the month before its dedication.  Mrs. Proctor, who lived near the church, noticed a light inside on the night of May 10, 1873 and raised alarm.   The fire, caused by the spontaneous combustion of debris and rags left by painters, was quickly extinguished and minimal damage was done.[vii]  The organ installed in the church in March of 1873 was said to be one of the largest in the state at the time.  The manufacturer, Samuel S. Hamill, was on hand for its installation.  The case was of black walnut and the organ measured 16 feet in width, 29 in height and about 12feet from front to rear.[viii]

Library Document Station_2

Inside the church from the Memorial Manuel of the Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio, 1882

The church stood for 69 years until the early morning hours of February 17, 1942.  According to Virgil Stanfield, in his article in the News Journal in 1970, “Tippy Tin”, the pet bulldog of Raymond Bauer of 105 West Luther Place, first noticed the fire and awakened his master, who promptly sounded the alarm.  Even though the church was lost, Tippy Tin was rewarded with a hamburger at the Max Diner.  In addition to the church, the library and a painting of “Aunty” Bradford were also destroyed.   Bradford, a former slave, left most of her $2,000 estate to the library of The First Congregational Church and the Sunday school library was named after her.  After the fire, the church sold the property for $75,000.[ix]

Also after the fire, church services were held for a few weeks in the auditorium of John Simpson Junior High School and later in the Park Avenue Baptist Church until July of 1950.  In March of 1951, services began at the new Congregation Church on Marion Avenue at Millsboro Road and the church was officially dedicated June 24 – July 1, 1951.[x]

Sources:

[i] Flames Reduce Stately Edifice to Smoky Ruins. Mansfield News Journal. Mansfield, Ohio. 17 FB 1942, pp. 1
[ii] First Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio.  Seventh Manual, 1912, pp. 6-7
[iii] Flames Reduce Stately Edifice to Smoky Ruins. Mansfield News Journal. Mansfield, Ohio. 17 FB 1942, pp. 1
[iv] Memorial Manuel of the Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio, 1882. pp. 188
[v] First Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio.  Seventh Manual, 1912, pp. 7
[vi] Burning of the Congregation Church.  Mansfield Herald. Mansfield, Ohio. 25 AUG 1870, pp. 3.
[vii] Richland Shield and Banner, Mansfield, Ohio. 17 May 1873, pp. 3
[viii] The New Organ, Mansfield Herald, Mansfield, Ohio. 06 MAR 1873, pp. 3
[ix] The Mansfield That Was.  Mansfield News Journal. Mansfield, Ohio. 22 FEB 1970, pp. 5D
[x] Dedication – First Congregational Church. 1951.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s