The First Congregational Church in Randolph was founded in 1731 as an outgrowth of a decade of settlement in the most southerly part of the town of Braintree, which had been set off administratively as the South Parish or Precinct of Braintree in 1728 with the construction of a meeting house on parish land located in what is known today as Bicentennial Park in Crawford Square. In the earliest days the meetinghouse also served as the locus for precinct and later town meetings after the town of Randolph was established in 1793, and also housed classes for the high school until Stetson Hall was erected across the street in 1842.
Over the intervening years five meetinghouses have been erected on top of this hill:
First Meetinghouse was erected in 1728 on the location of the present Bicentennial Park, and was a small rectangular affair, with a main floor and gallery, and moveable box pews.
Second Meetinghouse was built in 1764 on the site of the first, and was the first to have a bell tower and clock. The bell for the tower was imported from Whitechapel, England, and when it was unloaded at Boston and hung in the tower it was discovered that it had a flaw, and had to be returned. The replacement proved flawless, and tolled for many years. The clock was maintained by the sexton for the South Precinct, and when the precinct became the Town of Randolph in 1793, the new town voted annual funds for the upkeep of the clock.
It was from the pulpit of this meetinghouse that the Declaration of Independence was first read in August 1776, and that word was given of a British raid on Cohasset in 1814 that called out the local militia, who marched for Cohasset, accompanied by Rev. Jonathan Strong.
The Third Meetinghouse was built in 1828 on the site of the present meetinghouse. It appears that the clock works and bell were moved from one structure to the next, and continued to serve the community until the Fourth Meetinghouse was built. At that point, the building was sold and moved to its present location opposite Burger King on North St., where it has served as a Grange Hall, Knights of Pythias Hall, and most recently, as an apartment building.
The Fourth Meetinghouse was built in 1860 on the site of the third meetinghouse. It was the largest of all the meetinghouse, and could comfortably seat over 500 parishioners. It appears that when this meetinghouse was built, that a new clockworks was purchased for the tower, but the records are silent about the bell. This building was destroyed in a spectacular fire in October 1936, which conflagration destroyed both the clockworks and bell.
The Fifth and present Meetinghouse was built following the 1936 fire in the colonial revival style according to plans by the noted church architect Arlan Dirlam of Malden, MA. The bell which was damaged in the fire was taken to Holbrook bell foundry in Medway and re-cast. In 1962 an educational wing was added to provide more programming space. The building's front facade was painstakingly restored in 2011 and 2012, including the elegant plasterwork capitals to the pilasters that grace the corners of the building, and the fine plasterwork swags and shield emblazoned with a ship, possibly the Mayflower, a book of law, and a lamp of learning.
Seventeen full time pastors have labored on behalf of the faithful since Rev. Elisha Eaton was called in the spring of 1731 to “take ye pastoral care of ye people”. Two pastorates, that of Rev. Moses Taft (1754-1794), and Rev. Arthur Bowler (1956-1996) endured for four decades. During the tenures of Rev. Jonathan Strong (1793-1815) and Rev. Calvin Hitchcock (1821-1851) the church experienced important periods of growth and revival, the latter occurring during the period which saw the establishment of a Congregational church in East Randolph, and the Unitarian schism.
Within the walls of these meetinghouses was played out a rich and exciting history. Missionary outreach began here in the 1790’s with the founding of the Massachusetts Missionary Society, the progenitor of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, and the commissioning of local resident Stephen Turner as a missionary to Maine. One of the first Sunday Schools in the area was founded here in 1821. During the first half of the nineteenth century, church members and organizations led the community in seeking various social reforms, including temperance and the abolition of slavery. In the latter half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries the church involved itself in the support of Indian Schools in the American West, and overseas missions in the Far East, and later southern Africa. During the latter half of the twentieth century, church leaders and members were active participants in the civil rights and social justice movements.
A Massachusetts Historical Commission Building Form B is being prepared for submission as part of the documentation of Randolph's houses of worship and historic municipal buildings. I believe that the Fifth Meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church in Randolph is eligible for consideration for the National Register of Historic Places as one of a small number of Arlan Dirlam designed churches that still retains much of its interior and exterior character defining features, materials and massing.
Henry M. Cooke IV
Church Historian, First Congregational Church in Randolph, MA
Town Historian, Town of Randolph, MA