Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Beacon Street Years from 1892 until 1970: History of The Mount Vernon Church of Boston...Part Three

I present more from Mrs. Marjorie H. Gillette's 1967 church history presentation.
This section of the history shows the church in the new Beacon Street building along the Charles River. I present a small selection of newspaper notices from this period as well as a few photographs...I have many more to share from my collection as the blog grows over time.

In 1905, Dr. Albert Parker Fitch was called to be the third minister of our church. He was a man of scholarly background and expressed himself forcefully and eloquently. He organized our Young Peoples Society of Christian Endeavor. He remained with us until 1909 when he was called to become the President of Andover Theological Seminary, in Cambridge. He resigned from this position in 1917 and became professor of History of Religion at Amherst College. From 1928 until his resignation in 1933, he was minister of Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. He was author of several books of fiction and non-fiction. He died in 1944.

The Reverend James Austin Richards, minister of Mount Vernon Church from 1909 to 1918, was born in Andover, Massachusetts, March 27, 1878. He was graduated from Phillips Andover in 1896 and from Harvard University in 1910. For a couple of years, he took graduate work at Harvard and worked in a church extension project in Cambridge. In 1904 he was graduated from Union Theological Seminary. He served in parishes in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, before coming to Mount Vernon in 1909. In 1907 he married Hazel Temple Read, who was of great assistance to him. Leaving Mount Vernon Church, he went to the Winnetka Congregational Church in Illinois. He received an honorary degree of D. D. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1926, and in 1932 an honorary degree from Oberlin College. His last pastorate was at the First Church in Oberlin, Ohio.

The Reverend A. Sidney Lovett, minister of Mount Vernon Church from 1919 to 1932, was born in Boston on January 30, 1890, - the son of Augustus and Elizabeth Russell Lovett. He was graduated from Yale in 1913 and the Union Theological Seminary in 1917. In 1932 he received his K.A. from Yale. At Yale, Mr. Lovett was University Chaplain, but he was also the Pastor of the University Church of Christ, and the Woolsey Professor of Biblical Literature. In 1937, he was awarded an Honorary Degree of D.D. from Dartmouth College. In 1953, President A. Whitney Griswold appointed him Master of Pierson College, one of Yale's undergraduate residential colleges.
Following his retirement at Yale, he and Mrs. Lovett spent a year in Hong Kong, where he served on the board of Yale in China. Many of our present members had the rare privilege of being guided by Uncle Sid, when we were members of the Mount Vernon Young People's Society, during his pastorate. He was instrumental in establishing the Boston City Missionary Camps for young girls and boys which were originally in Andover, Massachusetts, but were later moved to Lake Winnesquam in New Hampshire.
At present, Dr. and Mrs. Lovett are well and enjoy their summers on Squam Lake in Holderness New Hampshire, and in the winter they remain in New Haven.
During the year of 1928--1929, Mr. Lovett took a sabbatical leave from Mount Vernon Church to study at Oxford, England. The Reverend Harold 0. Jones served as acting minister during his sabbatical.
When Mr. Lovett resigned as our minister in the spring of 1932, the Reverend Edward E. Aiken, Jr. served as minister until the Reverend Carl Heath Kopf became the minister in 1933.

More to follow...


Friday, 20 August 2010

The Early Years 1842 to 1892: History of The Mount Vernon Church of Boston...Part Two

I present more from Mrs. Marjorie H. Gillette's 1967 church history presentation.
I also include a few photos from the Ashburton Place years and some sermon notes published in 1873. Sermon notes were published in the newspapers at that time and remain a wonderful way to look back at various issues that the church was dealing with. I have many of these and shall publish more in future updates.
Mount Vernon Church of Boston began to be known as a "thinking" church and used Sunday sermons and guest speakers from all over the world to explore theological and social issues. The church did not shy away from science, politics and other hard hitting topics.


Dr. Kirk received his BA degree from Princeton University in three years. The college gave him his Master's Degree in 1825. He studied law for 18 months and decided to attend Princeton Theological Seminary. Amherst College gave him the honorary degree of D.D. in 1855. He became a promoter of revivals, and a lecturer in behalf of missions, temperance, and the anti-slavery movement. Dr. Kirk was considered one of the outstanding preachers of the city and his church became an aggressive agency of evangelism and reform.

Our second minister, Dr. Samuel Edward Herrick was called as an associate minister in 1871 and assisted Dr. Kirk until his death in 1874. His accomplishments were many. He established The American Church in Paris in 1856. Its doors are still open to the European traveller. In 1865 he was elected to become the President of the American Missionary Association. He also served as President of The Board of Trustees of Mount Holyoke College, then a female seminary. In 1870, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of Wellesley College, which office
he held until his death.

The Reverend Samuel E. Herrick was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York, and the son of Captain Austin Herrick, who was the master of a whaling ship. His mother was Mary W. Jagger. Dr. Herrick was graduated from Amherst College at the age of eighteen in 1859. Four years later, he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1878, he received an honorary degree of D.D. from Amherst.

Dr. Herrick served as minister of Mount Vernon Church from 1871 to 1904. He was a man of vision, wisdom and a respect for the compatibility of science and religion. He led the church from the old Calvinistic belief towards the new belief based on scientific discoveries. His people were not bound by old dogmas, and their spiritual experience was strengthened by his intellectual approach to religious controversy. He wanted his church to stand for religion and not primarily creed. He was regarded by collectors in New York and London as one of the world's best experts in antiquarian lore. Sophia Woodhull Foster, his wife, a beautiful and gifted woman was the support and inspiration of his whole life.

Part three will follow soon!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Early Years 1842 to 1892: History of The Mount Vernon Church of Boston...Part One

This is part one of a brief history of the church lecture as prepared for the 125th anniversary celebrations held in May of 1967. The lecture was written and delivered by Mrs. Marjorie H. Gillette, the church historian for many years.


Mount Vernon Church has a wonderful heritage and through the years has spread its influence throughout the world.
At the time of our hundredth anniversary in 1942, there had been only six ministers of the church, When the church was founded in 1842, (125 years ago), Boston was a small city with a population of less than 124,000 inhabitants. Boston had long been distinguished as a center of culture and erudition. Charles Dickens who made his first visit to the city in 1842 wrote that Boston was what he would like "the whole United States to be". This period was spoken of as "The Flowering of New England." At this time such men as James Freeman Clark, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James T. Fields, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and John Greenleaf Whittier were all contributing to the educational uplift of this Boston area. Where our church now stands was a marshland. Beacon Hill was the fashionable, residential center.
At this time, the Reverend Edward Norris Kirk was a prominent evangelist and had conducted revivals in New York, Philadelphia, New Haven, and Boston. There was conflict in Boston between the Unitarian and old Congregational Trinitarian doctrines. Dr. Kirk came to Boston to preach at the Park Street Church. The religious people of greater Boston all came to hear him, and he preached to packed houses. Those who came to hear him said that he should have a church of his own. As a result of this idea, on December 16, 1841, a meeting of pastors and several lay brethren from the Orthodox Congregational Churches in this city was held at the house of Daniel Safford to consider the expediency of forming a new Orthodox Congregational Church, and Reverend Edward N. Kirk was invited to become its pastor. A committee of nine was appointed to discuss this plan from all angles. As a result of their meetings, the official call was sent to Dr. Kirk with persuasive eloquence. The committee emphasized the advantages of settling in Boston, "a city of such intelligence and wealth" that might be brought to the foot of the Cross and enlisted in the whole work of restoring a pure Gospel to the Old World"
This persuasion was effective and on May lst, 1842 it was announced, with great rejoicing, that Dr. Kirk had accepted the call. An Ecclesiastical Council was called. It sat in the vestry of Park Street Church on the morning of Wednesday, June 1, l842 when 47 members - 25 men including Dr. Kirk and 22 women were regularly organized into a church. At their own request, they had been dismissed from their respective churches.
The church held its first public religious service on June 5, 1842 in the Old South Chapel in Spring Lane, which was generously tendered for their use by the Old South Society. In June they started worshipping in the Lecture Roman of the Masonic Temple on Tremont Street. Here they held their services until December 31, 1843. The church building on Somerset Court (named Ashburton Place in 1845) was dedicated to the worship of Almighty God on January 4, 1844, just six months from the day the corner stone was laid, and Dr. Kirk preached the
dedication sermon an "The Unrivalled Glory of the Cross".
The Church was called the "New Congregational Church", until June 23, 1843 when the church voted to assume the name of “Mount Vernon Congregational Church”.
On September 7, 1843, the proprietors of the new church voted to organize them-
selves as a corporation under the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by the name of “The Mount Vernon Congregational Society”.
Dr. Kirk was minister of Mount Vernon Church from 1842 to 1874.

Part two will follow soon!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Introduction and Welcome to... The Historic Mount Vernon Church of Boston Blog

This blog has been a work in progress long before there was such a thing as a “blog”.
All my life I have had a passion for churches and church buildings in and around the Boston area.

Some of my earliest memories are of driving round the Boston-Brookline area in our white 1962 Comet and church spotting from the large backseat. I had my favorites and always was ready to locate these treasures when passing anywhere close to them. Even at less than five years of age, I noted the windows, bell towers and if able to go inside...the organs always got my heart racing.
A rather unique passion for a child, but that was part of who I was and still am today!

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw churches in the metro-Boston area changing dramatically.
Dropping attendance caused mainly by the lure of suburbia…this changed Boston demographics forever and also huge social shifts starting in the 1950’s onward saw the downsizing, merger and closure of many old Boston area churches. Those drives in the old family car had me asking my mom and dad questions like, “Why is that church all boarded up?” and “Why did all the people leave?”
My mother tried to explain all that was going on back then in terms a young child might understand.
She told me that people move, old folks die and many just don’t go to church anymore so that some churches are closed and even torn down. I found that a shocking truth. Not torn down! My five year old mind could not imagine these buildings I loved being torn down. I had seen buildings torn down, normal buildings...not churches!

My young mind was blown wide open in early 1973 when my dad took me in the car to sit in a Coolidge Corner parking lot on Beacon Street and watch the outer walls of my beloved Baptist Church of Brookline come tumbling down.
I asked my dad so many questions that day. I was 8 and this church…a church I had never even stepped foot in, but always admired from infancy was becoming a pile of rubble. Dad told me about the new apartment building that would be built there and I kept asking why...why this old church?

Our landlady, really more like a grandmother to me, told me stories about how she was once a Baptist and had been baptized there in the tank by immersion. I was mesmerized…your whole body pushed down in a tank in the front of the church….Wow! She explained that Brookline once had many Baptists and the church on Beacon Street was built at their peak in the early 1900’s. But times change and people die and...I knew what would come next all too well. She and my parents all sung the same hymn about why churches close. My landlady had left the Baptist Church in the early 1950’s to join her second husband’s church in Brookline Village...the Presbyterian Church. Things change, people change...some churches come and go. I began to catch on to this sad reality of life.

The other church I was passionate about was The Mount Vernon Church on Beacon Street. Riding down Beacon Street into Boston or passing along the Charles River on Storrow Drive, Mount Vernon Church quietly stood and always caught my focus. I loved the way the building loomed up as you passed by on the Charles River side and the view from Beacon Street, seeing that wonderful, soaring tower…well; I was taken in...completely!

Mount Vernon Church closed its doors in 1970 and (unknown to me at the time)began an affiliation style merger with Old South Church in Copley Square. The trend of church decline had been effecting this dear institution on the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Ave. for nearly twenty years. It was slow, just like the Brookline church situation that saw three churches unite to form one, but the numerous attendees of the 1940’s would never be seen again. The church decline took its toll on a city full of large, ornate church buildings...buildings that were now in need of serious maintenance and the energy crunch of the mid-1970’s meant heating bills that were crippling to any shrinking budget.

Mount Vernon Church on Beacon Street began to look very lonely as the 1970’s unfolded. To a child, the word lonely was all I could come up with to describe the feeling I got as I gazed at the once proud structure beginning to succumb to neglect. I found myself finding excuses to visit this building.

Any walk along the Charles River always included a jog up the steps onto the Harvard Bridge and a few moments gazing up the building, wanting to bring it to life once more. It still stood tall and proud, but the hands on the tower clock faces were all frozen on different times now…some of the windows were covered over in wooden boards and weeds were growing in the uncollected autumn leaves of years gone by filling the once grand doorways.

I look back now and can only imagine the sorrow of the few last members who passed by on their way to Old South Church. Now I know the struggle they faced to find a way to save their beloved building and find a new use for it in the secular climate of 1970’s Boston.

The sorrow I felt that summer morning in 1978 when the kitchen radio, tuned to WEEI, announced that a huge blaze had gutted an old, abandoned church on Beacon Street.
My hear stopped. I was 13 and still just as crazy about churches as ever. The announcer said, “The church once was the home of the Mount Vernon Congregational Church until 1970. The building is a total loss”!
I cried. 13….a boy and on summer break from school….life was great….but I sat in front of my breakfast crying for a church building. In my mind….nobody cared about it! I did and I had to see it.
That day, with the help of a neighbor, I got a ride down from Brookline and saw my lonely church.
The sight, like the sight I saw of my own church in Brookline in 1976, was too horrific
for words. Seeing the gaping roof, charred and mostly collapsed and all the windows gone left me speechless. The once graceful parish house section of the building that stood facing the Charles River was hollow...just stone walls and charred timbers within. The bell tower was all that seemed untouched by the flames.
So many similarities to the Brookline St. Paul’s Church fire of 1976, a devastating fire that was quickly stopped before moving on to the parish house and church hall. Mount Vernon Church was not so lucky, the fire was able to spread and consume the building because of the way it was built, handsomely compact and using all that lovely timber roofing...sadly, totally interconnected and highly flammable.
I learned that day another sad life truth, empty churches often go up in flames. Nothing could be said to comfort me. There was no one to ask questions of, to reminisce. I did not even know at that point about the Old South just seemed like the end for this dear 1892 building and I was alone in my mourning.
I carried on my vigil. I watched the building sit, boarded up and roofless for the next few years.

I was in my last year of high school when the Graham Gund project was in the early planning stages and it seemed like some of the building would be saved. I had always feared the complete demolition of the Mount Vernon building and this was a way to save at least part of the historic structure for the future.
The demolition of the rear parish house section of the building was a great loss! I had hoped they could incorporate it into the new development but the scope of the new structure was larger than the original walls would have allowed. Seeing the tower and two outer sanctuary walls preserved along with the parish house entrance was very comforting and made me renew my faith in the whole early- 1980’s project.

The Church Green project was hailed a major success for Boston. The handsome Mount Vernon Church stood on the corner with a new condominium building bursting skyward from her depths. Ample open spaces with much needed greenery added a wonderful touch to this classic corner of Beacon Street.
I was pleased to see the remains of the building looking brighter and crisper that it had in decades. Careful restoration of the stone work of the remaining fa├žade brought out the truly magnificent color tones which were first viewed when the building was brand new almost one hundred years before.

Life moved on and I left Boston to pursue my teaching career in New Hampshire. I was living in Concord in the early 1990’s and just happened to stumble upon a signed copy of Pauline Holmes’, One Hundred Years of Mount Vernon Church, 1842-1942. The book published for the one hundredth anniversary of the church in 1942 was in perfect shape and filled with a few snapshots that the original owner had tucked inside. I felt this was destiny calling. I had put Mount Vernon Church behind me when I left Boston but finding this book out of the blue made it all come flooding back again...I just had to do some research into this fascinating place. I bought the book and also a copy of one of Carl Heath Kopf’s little gems as well and began to slowly start my journey.

The journey began with phone calls to the Congregational Library and the church historian of Old South Church. Some information was gathered but more questions seemed to arise as I began my investigation. The internet came along in the later 90’s and emails began to help add more to my file on the church but it was still slow going and years went by.

By 2008, I had gathered a great deal of information and had a much better feel for the history of this historic place and was ready to launch a website or blog to house my findings. A FLICKR group was set up first as a way to open communications with anyone on the internet who wanted to contribute memorabilia or add memories of their own about the church. Attempts were made to work with Old South Church on the project since they hold the key to answering many questions raised by people who have contacted me since I began my work but nothing so far has come of it. So my blog will focus on the Mount Vernon Church of Boston from 1842 to 1970, the data after 1970 is contained in files maintained at Old South Church and unavailable to me at this present time. Maybe things will change and I do hope they will! Presenting Mount Vernon Church from 1970 until today would be of great value to me and my blog readers I am sure. I shall always maintain a welcome place for additions post 1970 if any come my way.

I always wondered back then and do to this very day, what became of all the treasures once held inside this building. Did the fire destroy all? No. I know that. I know that items were sold off over the period from 1970 to 1978. Several windows by famous stained glass artist, John La Farge were sold and relocated in the mid-1970’s.

Old South Church has the brass baptismal font as well as a grand piano from the building. But as for any other memorial gifts…the mystery remains. I would gather that more is in storage, somewhere.

The records of Mount Vernon Church from 1842 to 1970 are now part of the archives at the Congregational Library in Boston. They are a great source of information and worth their weight in gold.

The updates on the blog will always fall into two types. The Early Years from 1842 to 1892 and The Beacon Street Years from 1892 until 1970. A Mount Vernon Church from 1970 Onward section will be added if the need arises...and I hope it will.

I am looking forward to sharing the many bits of memorabilia I have located or been sent over time. The history of the church will also be told from a variety of sources and will contain many snapshots taken over the years by a variety of people.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions, requests, personal many of you know I have tried to help answer questions when possible and will always do my best to continue this as part of my blog work.

More soon!