First Congregational Church of Canton Center, CT – A Brief History
By Tim LeGeyt, Historian
In 1750, our Church was established as The First Ecclesiastical Society of West Simsbury, with parishioners meeting in members’ homes. In 1763, the Parish constructed a Meetinghouse in the surveyed center of West Simsbury (now Canton) and the building was also used for town meetings and other public gatherings.
In 1785, our longest-serving minister, Jeremiah Hallock (forty years), joined the congregation and was well-received and venerated during the long course of his pastorate. During Rev. Hallock’s pastorate, in 1814, as the original church building was now too small, the old building was dismantled and the present Meetinghouse was erected on the same site.
In 1806, West Simsbury became the Town of Canton and the Ecclesiastical Society continued to manage church affairs while taxes, roads and other public matters were handled by the new town government.
In 1819, the Church School was begun, and classes were held in the main church building, the newly constructed Conference House across the street and eventually, the South Center District School opposite the Church Building itself.
In 1825, our second-longest serving minister, Jairus Burt, joined the Church and served until 1856, during some turbulent times involving the issue of slavery in our country and leading up to the Civil War.
In 1873, after considerable discussion and planning, the interior of the Meetinghouse was remodeled with a Gothic look, including stained glass windows, a false ceiling with vaults, removal of the balconies as well as the pulpit and the installation of central heating (replacing the stoves originally placed in 1824).
The ebb and flow of church membership over the years resulted in some difficult times and other times of enthusiasm and abundance. Our church sent soldiers to fight in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II, as well as other lesser conflicts, although no less challenging for families to carry on while loved ones were gone.
In 1959, our third-longest serving minister, Evans Sealand, Jr. joined the Church, serving until his retirement in 1994 (thirty-five years), during which time several changes occurred. We became incorporated as the First Congregational Church, Canton Center, and in that same year, a sizable addition was made to the older Meetinghouse, that of a Parish Hall, which is two stories for classrooms and gathering hall and which allowed for the demolition of the Conference House, which had stood for 130 years.
A decade later, in 1968, the interior of the Meetinghouse was returned to its original character, and the Gothic accoutrements were removed and balconies and pulpit restored. We joined the United Church of Christ (UCC) as a regional denomination and remain a member to the present day.
Between 1963 and 2014, our church celebrated certain anniversaries – in 1963, 200 hundred years since the first Church building was built- in 2000, 250 years of organization as a Church Society and in 2014- 200 years since the building of our present Meetinghouse. Each of these celebrations involved several days of events and many people taking part to portray our church in each of the designated periods.
In 2019, we took the important step of officially becoming an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation of the UCC, meaning that we make publicly known our commitment to welcoming into the full life of the church persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, ages and abilities.
With this long history and a contemporary spirit, we look forward to many more years of writing the story of this church.