Congregational Church sanctuary marks 225 years
The town’s “centerpiece” is 225 years old — a dozen years older than the incorporation of Wilton itself.
The Wilton Congregational Church is the oldest meeting house still in use in Fairfield County and one of the 12 oldest in Connecticut.
The congregation at the historic Wilton Congregational Church has been celebrating the 225th anniversary of the church’s sanctuary on Ridgefield Road this year. In the early 18th Century, a group of settlers moved north from Norwalk and petitioned to establish a new church in the parish of Wilton.
“The first building was built in 1726 on Wolfpit Road near the railroad tracks and Norwalk River,” said Bill Follett, head of the Wilton Congregational Church Buildings and Grounds Committee, whose family joined the church in 2002.
“Two decades later, as the congregation grew, they built a new church at Sharp Hill and Danbury roads, where Sharp Hill Cemetery is today.”
WIth the northward spread of the town and arrival of new settlers, a third and final sanctuary was constructed in 1790 at its current 70 Ridgefield Road location, which once served as the town’s central meeting house.
Marking long history
Over the summer, the buildings and grounds committee hosted a tour of the Wilton Center Historic District, led by town historian and former first selectman Bob Russell.
“This included an historical display and PowerPoint presentation in Pilgrim Hall, and for anyone who was up for a dusty climb, a tour inside the steeple,” said Follett.
Also this year, buildings and grounds committee member Dave Forslund launched Know Thy Church, a monthly bulletin insert about the church’s long history in Wilton.
“Last weekend, we dedicated a memorial plaque to Walter Smith, who was instrumental in the preservation of historic structures in Wilton,” said Follett.
“He was also involved in restoration work on the sanctuary and the Comstock barns next to the parsonage, across the street.”
Follett said the plaque honoring Smith can be found on the recently restored Comstock barn, “facing the church and his home on Lovers Lane.”
Steeple, front came later
A few years after the 1790 construction of the current sanctuary, a steeple and Greek Revival front were added, said Follett.
“Walt Smith re-shingled the steeple in the 1970s — the first time it had been re-shingled in over 170 years,” he said.
Aside from maintenance and safety updates, Follett said, “not much has changed” about the sanctuary since 1790.
“A beautiful structure only needs to be cared for. You can still see original windowpanes and detail inside and out that date from the 18th Century,” he said.
“Some of the structural beams used in the current sanctuary came from the Sharp Hill building — ancient wood, yet sturdy still.”
Two additions, however, have been made to the church since its 1790 construction — one in the 1950s and the other in 2009.
Follett said the 1950s addition included “a large hall, a comfortable living room, a kitchen, and classrooms,” and the 2009 addition brought new meeting space, offices and modern amenities like an elevator.
“These are signs of a growing, active community, but the original 1790 sanctuary remains the center of worship,” said Follett. “In fact, the 165-year-old, 600-pound bell in the tower still welcomes worshipers every Sunday.”
Follett said the “local, state and nationally listed” historic church is the “centerpiece” of the Wilton Center Historic District.
“The Colonial white exterior is ‘classic New England,’” he said. “Beautiful to view, some might say stark, but inside, the place and people are very warm and welcoming.”
To learn more about the church, call 203-762-5592, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit wiltoncongregational.org.