THOMASTON — The First Congregational Church of Thomaston was built in 1837, in what was then named Plymouth Hollow. The church still has the original bell in the bell tower and the steeple clock. Additionally, what it will have, hopefully before Christmas, is a brand-new steeple.

A committee was formed to oversee the repairs to the steeple. Longtime church member Raymond Crannell has taken the lead for the project, using his carpentry and construction experience, including building chemical factories.

When the church hired local contractor Henry M. Osowiecki & Sons in mid-May for the restoration, the project was expected to take three months to complete. COVID-19 challenges impacted that deadline. Crannell said the church enlisted a drone pilot to shoot aerial footage of the steeple, and the recording was given to Osowiecki, allowing the work team to assess the worst of the structure’s deterioration. He explained that the peak of the steeple was replaced entirely with aluminum materials in 1960.

Osowiecki’s foreman, Tony Lauretano, said the aluminum tower was leaning four feet toward the back of the church. Rotted beams and columns also needed to be replaced. When church members were given the choice to remove the steeple or repair and replace it, they overwhelmingly voted to restore and preserve it. One member joked that a tall steeple helped other Congregationalists find their church.

Crannell said, “The bell and its support structure totals about 5,000 pounds and needed to be buttressed to carry that weight. The bell tower is now steel-clad with long-lasting PVC boards for the wooden structures. PVC will last a lot longer than wood and is more cost efficient.

“Our original 1837 bell only needed minor repairs,” he said. “The funeral toller, which rings on the inside lip of the bell, will be restored. When all the scaffolding is removed, the steeple will look exactly as it did (before).”

At a recent gathering of the church’s Women’s Fellowship group, members shared the history of their beautiful Greek Revival style church and their determination to preserve that history. An excerpt from the 125th anniversary booklet, prepared by Dr. Clifford T. Conklin, Jr., noted that in 1835 — on land donated by Seth Thomas, the famous clock maker for whom the town was named — the church construction began.

“Two wood-burning stoves on either side in the rear of the church furnished heat. The choir sang from the gallery with music from several stringed instruments and a melodeon (pump organ) brought in each Sunday. ... In 1860 horse sheds were built by members of the church and in 1861 the first seat cushions were installed by an anonymous donor,” according to Conklin.

In the early days, Crannell said, the bell was used as a town clock, since it is on Main Street, in the heart of the community. The ringing bell was a lunchtime reminder, while fast, frantic ringing meant there was an emergency.

Pastor Marcus Lee showed the pull rope in the gallery that will be restored to ring the ancient bell. He noted that the Osowiecki contractors also hung the church’s Christmas lights while they were working in that area.

Just a short distance from the church is another historic landmark — the Thomaston Opera House. A large three-story brick building with Romanesque features, the building was designed by Robert Hill of Waterbury and built between 1883-85 on land donated by Aaron Thomas, the son of the town’s namesake, Seth Thomas.

Through the years, the opera house has been used as a venue for theatrical performances, social events and a movie house. In the 1960s it underwent restoration, reopening with town offices on the first floor and the theater continuing on the upper floor. Several other vintage buildings in downtown have also been restored and repurposed.

Thomaston is a town that treasures its heritage; on Dec. 7, 2020 the First Congregational Church of Thomaston will celebrate its 183th anniversary with Christmas lights and a new steeple.

For more information email firstthomaston@yahoo.com or call 860-283-5765.

Donations for the new steeple on this historic church can be sent to First Congregational Church of Thomaston, 135 Main Street, Thomaston, CT 06787 with “Steeple Fund” noted.

Connecticut Media Group