Historical Highlights of the 1717 Meetinghouse
And how it is “inextricably bound” to the founding and history of the Town of Barnstable
LIFE AND TIMES OF THE HISTORIC 1717 MEETINGHOUSE
- 1616 - Southwark (London) England - Pastor Henry Jacob, an ordained priest in the Church of England, broke with the established church and founded the first independent church in London which survives in worship to this day. Calling themselves “Congregationalists”, the small group of followers worshipped in secret for if discovered would be considered “traitors” to the King and the established Church of England.
- 1623 - The Reverend John Lothropp, also a priest in the Church of England and a Cambridge graduate, succeeded Henry Jacob, who had been imprisoned, as Pastor of the London Congregationalists. The Congregational church, denied the right to worship openly, was meeting in homes and outlying sandpits.
- April 22, 1632 - King’s officers discovered the Congregational church at worship and imprisoned 42 members including the Rev. John Lothropp in the dreaded “Clink” Prison for the next two years all the while refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Church of England.
- September 18, 1634 – Having been released from prison and exiled, the Reverend John Lothropp arrived in Boston aboard the ship “Griffin” with his family and 30 of his followers. (During his imprisonment, Rev. Lothropp’s wife had died and his children were forced to beg on the streets.) Their voyage from London had taken nearly a month and a half. They originally settled in Scituate where Rev. Lothropp served as the minister but the congregation was beleaguered by dissension and they also found Scituate scarce on cultivatable land.
- June 16, 1639 – Reverend Lothropp had twice petitioned Governor Prence of Plymouth Colony for land and on this date was granted land in Mattakeese which included some of the finest land in the colony for agriculture and cattle grazing. (These petition letters written by Rev. Lothropp have been preserved with the papers of Governor Winslow allowing historians to note that “Rev. Lothropp was an articulate advocate of his congregation’s interests, aware of the political forces in the colony and able to influence them to reach his goals.”
- June 26, 1639 - Rev. John Lothropp and 22 followers along with their families left their settlement in Scituate and began the journey to Mattakeese. The move was made in two ways: One group drove the livestock over land for the 60 mile trip and another group arrived later by water crossing nearly 40 miles of Cape Cod Bay.
- October 11, 1639 – Rev. John Lothropp and his followers arrived in Mattakeese joining previous settlers including Rev. John Hull, Thomas Dimmock, and friendly Wampanoag Native Americans and thus founded the Town of Barnstable named after Barnstaple, England which shared similar topography – “miles of sand flats at low tide in a long narrow harbor…” Tradition has it that one of their first acts was to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion at what is still known as Sacrament Rock (located off of route 6A, near the Barnstable/West Barnstable Elementary School) using the pewter vessels that the congregation had brought with them from England. It is also thought that the new settlers held their first town meeting at this rock site. The Town of Barnstable would become a thriving community and the colonists began to nurture the beginnings of a new nation in America which was about to be born.
It is interesting to note that from the Lothropp Family lines “have come men and women who have shaped the times in which they lived as profoundly as Rev. Lothropp shaped his.” Lothropp descendants include religious leaders, Presidents, artists, designers, physicians, inventors, and scientists. Among them are: Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church; the second Rev. John Lathrop, Congregational minister of Revolutionary times and pastor of the Old North Church in Boston; Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George HW Bush and George W. Bush; Jane Lathrop Stanford and husband Leland, builder of the Southern Pacific Railroad and founders of Stanford University; landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead; Louis Comfort Tiffany; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Charles Ives; Georgia O’Keefe; Benjamin Spock; Eli Whitney; JP Morgan; as well as others who have continued to shape this new country.
- 1652 – John Jenkins came to settle in the Town of Barnstable from Plymouth owning and in what is now West Barnstable and building a home there that would become known to future generations as “The Old Parsonage.”
- 1653 - Reverend John Lothropp died after leading his congregation in Barnstable for 14 years.
- 1692 - The Massachusetts Charter of 1692 changed the colony’s base from theocratic to political and secular, thus it was no longer necessary to be a church member to vote on civil affairs. A new class of members was formed. Parish Members were male property owners (Proprietors) who lived in Barnstable, and who may or may not have been members of the church.
Barnstable was part of Massachusetts Bay Colony after the charter of Plymouth Colony was revoked in 1686. In Massachusetts the Congregational church was the established church of the Colony. Taxes were levied by the towns for the support of local churches. The church was the focal point of a settlement. Meetinghouses were thus built with a dual purpose – a house of worship but also as a place to hold school and town meetings regarding civil affairs. Such buildings and the maintenance were the responsibility of town meeting until 1834 when the church was “disestablished in Massachusetts.”
- 1712 – By 1712, the Barnstable settlement had grown so large, that the main concern of the annual Town Meeting for several years was the division of the town into two parishes and the building of two Meetinghouses.
- 1715 – A piece of high ground on the land of John Crocker was chosen as the site for the West Parish Meetinghouse. A proprietors meeting was held on April 11, 1715 and Colonel James Otis was the Moderator. Town land was traded, laying out 4 acres – three acres for public use (now the Town green below the Meetinghouse) and an additional acre for where the Meetinghouse would be erected.
- 1717 – The town of Barnstable officially voted to divide into an East and a West Parish, then called “Precincts”. The present villages of West Barnstable, Osterville, Marstons Mills and Cotuit were in the West Parish and the villages of Barnstable, Centerville, and Hyannis were designated to be in the East Parish. According to records, an order for two precincts was passed on February 7, 1718 and appears in Province Laws, Volume 1X, page 575.
- 1717 – Construction begins on the West Parish Meetinghouse. Records are largely silent on who actually built it or how but the village craftsmen created a structure that later generations of architects and builders continue to marvel at. Nearby great oaks and pines were felled by hand; pine beams, posts and planks were sawed and trimmed over a saw pit dug at the building site; 12 inch square pine timbers were hewn with adzes and raised 48 feet into the air; oak roof buttresses were curved like a ship’s frame by hanging them with weights at either end for a year; chamfering, beading and woodworking on the high pulpit and sounding board, panels and sheep pen pews were all done skillfully with simple tools…
- 1719 – Construction took two years to complete and the first service of worship in the West Parish Meetinghouse was held on Thanksgiving Day, 1719. Now completed, the 1717 Meetinghouse not only became the permanent home of the church that gathered 103 years before in England but for the next 130 years was also to be the scene of Barnstable town meetings reflecting the close union of State and Congregational church that existed in early Massachusetts. As years progressed, the Meetinghouse would house the village public school.
- 1723 - Even after only 4 years, the Meetinghouse was deemed too small for its growing congregation and for its secular purposes so was cut in half, the ends pulled apart adding 18 feet of length in the middle. A ceiling exposing only the bottoms of the beams of the Meetinghouse was installed at the same time. A bell tower, one of the earliest in New England was erected. The gilded cock, ordered from England as a weathervane for the Meetinghouse, measures 5 feet, 5 inches from the bill to the tip of the tail and this same “Rooster” crowns the tower today.
- 1717 thru 1775 - Historians have researched that fifteen years before George Washington was born, the men of Barnstable debated town affairs in the 1717 Meetinghouse. Men who came back from the French and Indian wars recounted their battles. Tories and Patriots argued bitterly. Stormy town meetings, particularly during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 periods, would often necessitate major repairs to the 1717 Meetinghouse interior as receipts for repairs found years later in records indicated. If these walls could talk….what we could learn about the people who lived in this community, worshiped at the Meetinghouse, were schooled in the Meetinghouse or served their community in a civic way at the 1717 Meetinghouse. Famous names of this era included James Otis, Jr., Mercy Otis Warren, “Mad Jack” Percival, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, among others.
- 1806 – The half-ton bell was cast by Paul Revere for the Town of Barnstable in 1806. It was given to the church in memory of Colonel James Otis, father of the Patriot. New research in 2016 indicates that due to a crack the original bell was replaced by the Revere Bell Company in 1833. It still summons the West Parish of Barnstable church to worship on Sunday mornings.
- 1717 thru 1880’s - the 1717 Meetinghouse as a School: James Otis, Jr. (born 2/6/1725) and Mercy Otis (born 9/25/1728) were educated, among many others, in the Meetinghouse.
Rebecca Crocker made a pencil drawing in 1851 of the 1717 Meetinghouse while a student and her drawing is the only detailed image in that era of the 1717 Meetinghouse still known to exist.
As a means of augmenting his yearly salary of $400, Rev. Henry Goodhue, Pastor of West Parish Church from 1863-1883 established a high school in the upstairs vestry now occupied by the choir. It was the first high school in the Town of Barnstable and was open to all pupils in the town. Affirming the existence of this Barnstable public school were notices in the Hyannis Patriot (now the Barnstable Patriot) in the 1870’s:
- 1852 - Some New England parishes demolished their old structures and built new ones when repair costs outweighed budgets. West Parish opted instead to remodel the 1717 Meetinghouse to the neoclassical style favored in the mid-1800’s. The old bell tower was torn down, a spire and belfry erected, windows and doors were changed…So much was altered that nothing of the original 1717 Meetinghouse was visible. A century later, however, restoration architects would discover that, underneath it all, the original structure – frame, floor, walls and roof – remained untouched and intact. Ironically, this option of remodeling instead of tearing it down, unknowingly offered the chance to “protect” the 1717 Meetinghouse until it could be authentically restored 100 years later in the 1950’s.
- 1871 - “In the Town Meeting of March 6, 1871: to know if the town will comply with the laws of the State establishing a high school as provided in the second section of Chapter 38 of the General Statutes.” And: “At a meeting of the school committee of the Town of Barnstable this day holden it was voted that the school taught by Rev. Mr. Goodhue in the vestry of the church at West Barnstable be fixed or designated and established as the school required by the second section…for the benefit of all the inhabitants of said town… Nathaniel Hinckley, Chairman and Aaron S. Crosby, Secretary.”
- 1872 - Another article appearing March 12, 1872 describes the school: “On Friday afternoon came the examination of the high school. Nine scholars have studied the Latin language during the year. They have made rapid progress. Six pupils have not been absent: John Bursley, John Cronan, Samuel B. Jenkins, William F. Jenkins, Marsha A. Crocker and Florence S. Crocker. The plan of having one session works well especially with advanced students.”
It has been noted also that years later while repairs were being made to the upstairs loft area in the Meetinghouse, slips of paper were found behind the plaster containing vocabulary studies of John Bursley and a composition written by student Darius Howland.
- 1874 - It is interesting to note on this timeline that Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins was born in West Barnstable on November 30, 1874 as the Town high school was underway in the 1717 Meetinghouse as described above. Miss Jenkins would become the driving force behind the restoration of the 1717 Meetinghouse in the 1950’s and the incorporation of the West Parish Memorial Foundation.
- 1837 -1849 - The 1717 Meetinghouse ceases to be used for civic meetings: The Massachusetts Legislature passed the Mass Act of Disestablishment in 1831 and it was ratified in 1833 meaning that meetinghouses could no longer be used for both religious and civil affairs. A Town House was built in 1837 for civic meetings on the corner of Oak Street and Old Stage Road. The 1717 Meetinghouse continued to be used for worship services by the church and as the first high school for the Town of Barnstable.
After 130 years, the 1717 Meetinghouse ceased to be the scene of the town meetings. Public support of the building was withdrawn sending the Meetinghouse into spiraling disrepair.
- 1907 – M.P. Moller Company from Hagerstown, MD installed a new pipe organ replacing a reed organ. (circa?)
- 1922 – Restoration Dreams and Efforts to restore the 1717 Meetinghouse begin. Miss Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins and a “comrade in arms” Miss Elizabeth I. Samuel began talks about how to save the beloved old Meetinghouse.
Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins was born in West Barnstable on November 30, 1874 (155 years to the month after the first service was held in the newly completed Meetinghouse in 1719) and was to become known as the “Woman Who Saved the 1717 Meetinghouse.” Her life and dreams are chronicled in a biography of ECJ written by J. Harold Williams referenced below and is a “must read” for anyone wishing to understand the impact this remarkable lady had on Barnstable/West Barnstable, West Parish of Barnstable and the 1717 Meetinghouse. The daughter of a sea captain and a 9th generation descendant of John Jenkins who settled in Barnstable from Plymouth in 1652, Miss Jenkins was actively involved in West Parish and the Barnstable/West Barnstable community all her life, even when school or family care took her “off-Cape” for periods of time. Over her lifetime, Miss Jenkins would repurchase and restore the ancestral home on Church Street known as “The Old Parsonage”, would serve on the committee that planned the Tercentenary Anniversary of the Town of Barnstable in 1939, would spearhead the efforts to restore the 1717 Meetinghouse, and would become a founding trustee of the West Parish Memorial Foundation, Inc.
- 1929 – At the annual meeting of the Church, Miss Samuel and Miss Jenkins challenged parishioners to pledge toward a Restoration Fund. Miss Samuel gave the first $25 gift to the Restoration Fund marking the beginning of years of efforts to gather funds and prepare with architects a plan to restore the 1717 Meetinghouse.
- July 30, 1929 - Edwin B. Goodell, Jr., leading church architect in America specializing in the Colonial era began his exploration and investigation of the old “Rooster Church.” Initial funds in the Restoration Fund had totaled over $400. Miss Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins was appointed Chairman of the Restoration Committee with Elizabeth Samuel and Cora Crocker as her associates.
- August 9, 1930 – Miss Jenkins produced “The Pageant of the Great Marshes” on the slope of the Meetinghouse as a fund raiser. Thornton Jenkins narrated.
- First Sundays in August beginning 1930 - The Church adopted a plan to host “Henry Jacob Sunday” every year on the first Sunday of August to honor the first pastor of the gatherers in 1616. The collection went into the Restoration Fund. Guest preachers included Dr. J. Edgar Park, President of Wheaton College who had a summer home in Osterville and who was destined to become the President of the Restoration Corporation.
- 1930 - Published in Old Time New England – The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Volume 21, July, 1930 were two articles: “The West Barnstable Congregational Church” by Elizabeth Samuel and “The Meetinghouse at West Barnstable, Mass.” by Edwin B. Goodell, Jr.
- 1936 - Miss Samuel died. The West Parish “Book of Remembrance” includes a tribute: “For Miss Samuel’s courage ‘to begin,’ the Parish will be forever grateful.”
- 1935 - 1949 - Through the Depression years and World War II, Miss Jenkins kept up her resolve to increase the totals in the Restoration Fund. Often she would give tours of the Meetinghouse for a quarter or quietly donate funds bequeathed to her by family to support the Restoration. Appealing to those with interest in preserving the historical and civic aspects of the 1717 Meetinghouse, Miss Jenkins was enlisting the help of Barnstable historian Donald Trayser, philanthropist Charles Ayling, State Senator Edward C. Stone and attorney Henry A. Ellis.
- 1938 - Deterioration continued. The horse sheds alongside the Meetinghouse had fallen into such disrepair that they had to be removed along with the “Little House” in the back. The Restoration Committee had been growing with the addition of Miss Lillian Arey, Fred Jenkins, Zebrina Jenkins, Victor Leeman, John Makepeace, Charles Makepeace and Bernard Paine.
- January 21, 1950 – There was now $18,615 in the Restoration Fund.
- May 17, 1950 – The non-sectarian, nonprofit West Parish Memorial Foundation was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “to preserve the West Parish Meetinghouse in the Town of Barnstable as an historical memorial of early America and Americans, and in furtherance of this end to: improve, repair, enlarge, alter, restore and maintain the present 1717 structure, to acquire land, and to make any contracts to these ends.” Artist Louis F. Cary designed the corporate seal. Solicitation to the community for the restoration was formally launched by The West Parish Memorial Foundation, incorporated to be separate from the West Parish of Barnstable Church.
The original Officers and Trustees of the WPMF were:
Dr. J. Edgar Park, President
Thornton Jenkins, Vice President
John C. Makepeace, Treasurer
Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins, Secretary/Clerk
Honorable Edward C. Stone
F. Howard Hinckley
John L. E. King
Richard H. D. Haydon
Dr. Fritz Talbot
Other early 1950’s Trustees included: N. Horton Batchelder, Dr. Charles Gilkey, Earle P. Merritt, Norman Everett,
Henry Kittredge, and Peter Pineo Jenkins.
- Late 1950 – Through the efforts of Deacon Alexander Crane, Mary L. Crocker sold to the Foundation, the land between the Meetinghouse and the Mid-Cape Highway – 4.71 acres. The new purchase by the WPMF provided land upon which the present Jenkins Hall was built and where the outdoor chapel was developed.
- January, 1951 - The Restoration Fund totaled $30,601 but it was decided to wait until the fund reached $50,000 before starting the work.
- 1952 - The Parish House (now known as Jenkins Hall) was built. Funds were raised by the Women’s Guild through suppers, fairs, and other projects. The Women’s Guild, originally chaired by Ruth Gilman, had been formed in 1948 as discussions began about the need for a Parish House where the church could gather while Restoration work was being done on the Meetinghouse and the need for such a Parish House after the restoration was completed. Permission was cordially granted from the Foundation for the building to be erected on the land newly acquired by the Foundation; Restoration architect Goodell gave his services to design the house and builder Forest Brown helped modify the plans to match the funds available.
- 1953 - On May 17th, the West Parish of Barnstable made a formal covenant with the West Parish Memorial Foundation giving full and complete permission for the work of the Restoration of the 1717 Meetinghouse to the Foundation and to subsequently see to its proper maintenance… in order that the relationship between West Parish and the Foundation might be clarified. Full text is contained in 1976 and 1988 By-Laws.
- Spring, 1953 – Architect Goodell’s final plans were approved, nearly half of the $100,000 fund raising goal had been reached; Earle P. Merritt and Charles Ayling were appointed a Building Committee, Rev. Goehring and Deacon Lindsay Armstrong were appointed Parish advisers, Deacon Forest R. Brown was selected as the builder, John Lahteine who would create the complete interior and Charles Hamblin were also on the team. As there were no drawings ever made of the 1717 Meetinghouse, the interior was modeled after the Sandown, NH Meetinghouse.
- June 29, 1953 - Restoration work began. A great crane arrived to take down the 1723 gilded cock weathervane, to remove the 922 pound Paul Revere Bell of 1806 and to remove the steeple added in the 1852 remodeling. As work progressed, the ceiling was removed; exposing the 1717 timbers and old plaster was removed exposing exact locations of the original windows, pulpit, balcony and stairways. Reuse of old materials in earlier remodeling permitted authentic restoration of the tower and other features of the building. Original paneling, window frames and other items auctioned off in 1852 and then built into houses still standing in the village were located, recovered, reinstalled or copied. Early in the restoration, the 18 feet of length added in 1723 was removed and the building returned to its original dimensions. Earle Merritt took motion pictures during the Restoration process.
- June, 1954 – A Half Way celebration service was held. The shell had been restored; the high tower, the rooster and the bell were in place again. The floor had been re-laid. Old style plaster had been applied to the walls leaving two spots exposed under glass to exhibit the original laths and plaster. Interior woodwork was yet to be done but makeshift seating and an improvised pulpit allowed the congregation to move back from the Parish House. The small 1907 Moller pipe organ was temporarily moved back from the Parish House and was pumped by hand each Sunday by Donald Bearse, a young person in the church.
- September 14, 1954 - The Sunday bulletin reported that “the installation of the heating system is almost complete.”
- November 30, 1954 - A surprise 80th Birthday celebration was given in the Parish House for Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins.
- 1955 - WPMF commissioned Quentin Munson to build a Communion table for the 1717 Meetinghouse in Deacon Crane’s memory. The top was fashioned from two heavy pine planks which were part of the boarding of shipwright Seth Goodspeed’s old workshop in Osterville. (page 39, green booklet by Williams)
Even as she became ill, Miss Jenkins continued to watch over the development of the interior restoration. The galleries were built resting on columns made from old timbers of the 1717 Meetinghouse. The sheep pen pews were beginning to take shape. The first division of the authentically designed 18th century organ crafted by Foundation Trustee Harold G. Andrews, Jr. was being readied for installation. Mr. Andrews, an Oberlin College graduate would construct and finish the pipe organ over 4 years, entirely without compensation.
- 1956 - On March 24, Miss Jenkins died. A memorial service was held on March 27th in the almost fully restored 1717 Meetinghouse. Tributes were made to the remarkable lady who truly had “saved the 1717 Meetinghouse” and ensured its preservation for future generations.
- August 24, 1958 – The Restoration was finished and a Rededication Service was held. A total of $133,159 was raised and spent on the Restoration of which $18,000 was for materials for the organ.
- 1960’s thru 2012 - “The 1717 Meetinghouse stands today as one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in the country. It is not a museum. It is a memorial to the devotion of the fathers who built it, a testimony to the faithfulness of those who maintained it through the centuries, and a witness to the life of the active church that worships in it today.”
- 1959 – The WPMF published The West Parish Church of Barnstable, An Historical Sketch by Rev. Walter R. Goehring. (pink booklet)
The 1717 Meetinghouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of “The West Barnstable Village - Meetinghouse Way Historic District.”
The 1717 Meetinghouse is open to the public in the summer from Memorial Day through Columbus Day from 9am to 4pm for self guided tours. Guided tours can be arranged by appointment.
- 1971 - WPMF published The Woman Who Saved A Meetinghouse, A Biography of Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins of West Barnstable, Massachusetts by J. Harold Williams. (green booklet)
- 1982 - WPMF published The Gist of Jacob by Rev. David Waite Yohn. (blue booklet)
- 2005 - Mander Organ Company, London, England installed a new “tracker” pipe organ built in the style of mid-18th century mechanical-action pipe organs.
- 2006 - The Music and Musings Series promotes concerts, recitals and lectures in the 1717 Meetinghouse which are open to the public.
- 2008 - WPMF printed an updated informational brochure about the 1717 Meetinghouse with color photos.
- 2011 - Over the years following the restoration, the West Parish Memorial Foundation continues to address the physical needs of the 1717 Meetinghouse - everything from exterior painting to security monitoring systems including daily maintenance.
- 2012 - A comprehensive needs assessment plan was developed by the Board of Trustees.
- 2013 - The Trustees vote to change the name from West Parish Memorial Foundation to the 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation.
Sources used in this compilation:
- The black and white, era 1960’s tri-fold brochure entitled West Parish Meetinghouse.
- The “newest” updated color brochure revised in 2008 by Greg Williams and Stan Warren entitled 1717 West Parish Meetinghouse.
- The West Parish Church of Barnstable, An Historical Sketch, by Walter Goehring, published by WPMF, 1959. (pink booklet)
- The Woman Who Saved a Meetinghouse – A Biography of Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins of West Barnstable, MA 1874-1956, by J. Harold Williams, published by WPMF, 1971. (green booklet)
- A New Home in Mattakeese, A Guide to Reverend John Lothropp’s Barnstable by Helen Lathrop Taber, 1995.
- “West Parish Meetinghouse” article reprinted in the Barnstable Historical Society’s newsletter, December, 2008. pages 4 and 5.
- “Factual History notes” assembled by Foundation Life Member, Richard N. Johnson, 2008.
- The Gist of Jacob, Being An Investigation of the Thought of the Rev. Henry Jacob Who Coined the Designation “Congregational” and Gathered the Most Ancient Church Still Called By That Name, by David Waite Yohn, Pastor/Teacher, West Parish Congregational Church, published by WPMF, 1982. (blue booklet)