On March 15, 1727, eight men of East Enfield, as Somers was then called, gathered to form an ecclesiastical society. On that same day, Rev. Samuel Allis, who had recently graduated from Harvard, was inducted as our first pastor. Prior to that, the East Enfield folks made the sixteen mile round trip each Sunday to their mother church, the Enfield Congregational Church, no easy trip by horseback or oxcart over very poor roads. Church attendance, which took most of the day with a long service in the morning and another in the afternoon, was mandatory with a monetary fine and social censure if they didn’t attend. But certainly the benefits of attending were great, both spiritually and socially, with time to visit with friends and relatives not seen during the week.
For the first few years, Somers church services were held in the homes of church members. In those early days, church and town government were closely intertwined. Town meeting minutes noted that financial provision be made for the erection of a meeting house and so, after much discussion about location and size, in the fall of 1731 a plain wooden meeting house was built, 45 feet long, 38 feet wide and 20 feet between the joynts (floor to ceiling) on the corner of Stebbins and Springfield Roads where our North Cemetery is today. It is recorded that, at the church raising, all 180 inhabitants of the precinct could sit on the sills of the new building. Yearly grants were needed for 10 years to completely finish the church building.
Rev. Mr. Allis was our pastor for twenty years until a disagreement, probably over salary, led to his dismissal in the spring of 1747. With the help of outside arbitration, Mr. Allis and church and town agreed that, on his dismissal, he would receive the house that he had built on Scully Road plus 260 acres of farmland. He remained in Somers, sometimes helping with preaching and negotiation of conflicts, until his death in 1796 at age 91.
Rev. Freegrace Leavit was our second pastor from 1748 until his death in 1761. In the mid 1700’s there was a time of great religious revival in New England with dissension between the “Old Lights”, the more traditional, conservative Congregationalists, and the more evangelical Separates or “New Lights”.
After Mr. Leavit’s death, Somers could not settle on a pastor and eight different men preached in as many years but none was ordained. When Rev. Samuel Ely, a rather radical “New Light”, came to town in 1767, the church split into two factions. In 1771, the “Old Lights” appealed to the CT General Assembly for the right to use the meeting house. The lawmakers found that the Separates constituted an illegal body with invalid claims to town property. In 1773 the town voted to seek advice from a council of ministers which recommended that the two sides reconcile and suspend Mr. Ely’s ministerial duties. After this, the church members voted to “forget and forgive all past offences towards each other”.
It was not until Rev. Charles Backus, a graduate of Yale College, arrived in Somers in 1773 and was ordained on Aug. 10, 1774, that peace and harmony really returned to our Somers church. He is perhaps best known for mentoring about 50 young men, mostly Yale graduates, who were studying for the ministry. His school is known as the first Congregational Theological School in the country. He remained in Somers until his death in 1803. All three of our first pastors are buried in our North Cemetery.
By the 1780’s, with the first Meeting house needing repairs and the congregation growing, a second Meeting House was built in the south west corner of the North Cemetery. We have no pictures of this structure but an old description says it was made of wood with a steep shingled roof two stories high with large windows on each floor, a door in the middle on each side as well as one on either end. The high old-fashioned pulpit with a green sounding board was at the center of the north side and a gallery was on either side and at the end of the interior. We learn from church records that a steeple was not built till nearly forty years later and was erected from the ground on the north end. A bell was hung at once and a weather vane, a fish, adorned the top of the spire.
By 1840 when the second Meeting House was in need of repairs and it was becoming clear that the center of town was now on Main Street, a third Meeting House was built and dedicated in 1842. When funds were being secured for the building, the Town of Somers agreed to contribute to the cost, with the stipulation that the Foundation Room could be used for town meetings and other gatherings. This practice continued until the town hall was built in the late 1940s. Our third Meeting House stood strong, the center of religious and social life on Main Street, until our devastating fire of Jan. 1, 2012.
Several times over the years, the need for space has led the congregation to increase the size of the building. In 1947 there was a major renovation to the Meeting House when the traditional two aisles in the sanctuary were replaced by one center aisle and two side aisles. In 1948 Pilgrim Hall was moved from across the street and attached to the existing Meeting House, on a foundation that allowed room for the kitchen under Pilgrim Hall. In 1959 the church added a parish hall, the Bugbee Center, a separate building for church school, office space and a library. Through the 1990’s the congregation experienced another significant growth in numbers and an addition was built which joined the Meeting House and the Bugbee Center together as one facility.
On May 18, 2014, our beautiful new Fourth Meeting House was dedicated.
Somers Congregational Church has been home to numerous pastors through the years, each of whom has contributed to the spiritual life of the community in his own way according to the gifts he had for ministry.
A Sunday School was begun for the children of Somers when Rev. Louis A. Goddard (1902-03) was pastor. Another of our pastors, Rev. George A. Oviatt (1855-1867) left Somers to serve as a chaplain in the US Army during the Civil War. Rev. Oviatt saw 132 members added to the church roles during his pastorate. Rev. Edwin Jones (1925-1931) presided over our 200th anniversary celebration in 1927 and began our first Vacation Bible School. Rev. Ransom Hammond (1973-1988) was our pastor at the celebration of our 250th anniversary. He was very instrumental in collecting a great deal of important historical information for our church archives. Our previous pastor, Rev. Dr. Barry Cass, came to us in 1988 and capably, along with our building committee, presided over the building of our fourth Meeting House until his departure in 2018.
For more information about our church buildings please see “Our Facilities”.
Information comes from our church archives, “History of Tolland County” 1888, and “The History of a Connecticut Town” by Davis and Davis.
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