The First Parish, Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Dorothy L. Mann and Anne H. Bates
The history and records of the First Parish Unitarian Church of Bridgewater, as found in the church records and other sources.
First Parish Bridgewater Unitarian Universalist was originally called the South Parish or South Precinct. It was created by an act of the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts in April, 1716. The actual effective date of incorporation was June 1, 1716. In that period a town and its church were considered one and the same. The new congregation in what would later be called the Town of Bridgewater was a mostly amicable split off from the First Church in what is now called West Bridgewater. However, it is believed that the new congregation continued to attend services at First Church while its own building was being constructed. That new building located on the same site as the current structure was ready in August of 1717 and the congregation moved into its new home with a dedication service held on August 14, 1717.The sermon that day was given by the Rev. James Keith, the minister at First Church. The South Parish called and ordained its own minister, the Rev. Benjamin Allen, who gave his first sermon a few days later. Rev. Allen served until 1730 when Rev. John Shaw became minister and he served until 1791, an astounding sixty years. Rev. Zedekiah Sanger D.D. followed in 1788 (before the aged Rev. Shaw actually died) and he served until 1818. Rev. Sanger was instrumental in the establishment of the Bridgewater Academy. Both Rev. Shaw and Rev. Sanger are buried in the Old Bridgewater Cemetery near the First Parish meeting house.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century the First Parish, along with scores of other churches, bolted from the Congregational Church and became part of the new American Unitarian Association in 1825. In the 1840's First Parish played an important role in the town in its competition with Plymouth to become the location of a State Normal School. According to one source the town offered its Town Hall as a temporary home to the potential school, something it was able to do because First Parish agreed to let the town use the meeting house for town meetings. Later when the school built its own building on School Street, part of the dedication ceremonies were held in the new (third) First Parish Building. That 1845 building still stands to this day. Eventually, the congregation joined the Unitarian Universalist Association when the Unitarians merged with the Universalist Church of America in 1961.
A Brief History of Bridgewater Academy
Maurice K. Walsh
The history of Bridgewater Academy begins in the year 1799. The thesis presents the history of the Academy in seven chapters. Chapter I treats of the movement which led to the establishment of the Academy and the factors which brought it about. Chapter II describes the steps taken by the Board of Trustees in satisfaction of the provisions of the Act of the Legislature that created the Academy. Chapter III discusses the conduct of the school as planned by the original Board of Trustees.
In Chapter IV the influences which insured the early success of the school are described. In Chapter V the author has attempted to give some idea of the type of teachers who had charge of the school during its most prosperous period. This period embraced the trying days previous to and during the Civil War. It also encompassed the battle which was fought in Massachusetts for the establishment of free public schools. It has been the author's plan to state clearly in Chapter VI the effect of the high school movement on the Academy. The growth of the high schools of the county finally closed the doors of this institution but the Board of Trustees continues to control the conduct of the Academy building. Chapter VII treats briefly of the Educational, professional and civic contributions of the school.
The Bridgewater Book
An illustrated history of the towns of Bridgewater (Bridgewater, England; West Bridgewater, Mass.; East Bridgewater, Mass.; North Bridgewater and Brockton, Mass.; and Bridgewater, Mass.) and their institutions (including the town library, State Farm, State Normal School, churches, and historical society). Essays in the book were contributed by Francis E. Howard, the Hon. Benjamin W. Harris, Bradford Kingman, John White Chadwick, Lucia Alden Bradford Knapp, Martha Keith, Theodore F. Wright, Albert G. Boyden, and Hollis M. Blackstone.
A Semi-Centennial Discourse before the First Congregational Society in Bridgewater, Delivered on Lord's Day, 17th September 1871
Richard Manning Hodges
The Rev. Richard Manning Hodges served as minister of the First Congregational Society in Bridgewater (at the time called the South Parish and now known as the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Bridgewater, MA) from 1821 to 1833, after having been ordained there in 1821. On the fiftieth anniversary of his ministry and after a long career in Cambridge and Somerville he returned to his first settlement to address the congregation.
This volume of approximately sixty pages is a complete text of both his discourse and the other elements of a Unitarian religious service of the 1870’s period. The last few pages may have been added at the time of publication and are interesting “historical notes” which include comments about the history of the town, the earlier ministers of the church, the nature of religious services, the high points of Rev. Hodges’ ministry and the coming to the community of other religious organizations.
The tone of the Rev. Hodges’ discourse is gentile and nostalgic befitting a minister of long and prestigious service, perhaps one who thought himself near the end of life as well as ministry. However, he does make note of the doctrinal controversy of his time in Bridgewater (well known as the Unitarian Controversy) which led to the church becoming Unitarian.
Rev. Hodges died in 1878 at the age of 84 and is buried in Cambridge.
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