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Cheshire United Mehodist Church - History

   CHESHIRE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
The Original BuidingCheshire United Methodist Church - First Church

 
The history of the Cheshire United Methodist Church began in 1800, the year Thomas Jefferson was elected to his first term as President of the United States. On October 28 to that year a parcel of land was sold by James Bunnell to Eli Persons and others "to erect and build or cause to be erected and built thereon a house of place of worship for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church." More than thirty years passed before Persons and the original trustees were able to begin work on their church. During most of these years, Cheshire Methodists depended upon itinerant preachers to lead them in worship. Not until 1829 were regular Methodist services held in Cheshire, these at the Center Schoolhouse. In 1832 there were thirty-six members of the Methodist Church in Cheshire, but the group was still without its own place of worship.
 
Finally in April 1834, a church building committee began meeting. Once formed the committee acted quickly. Before the year was out the church, which is, now located on the corner of Spring and Main Streets was standing. The cost of the brick structure was $3,000. Many years later, in 1886, the following letter was found inside the old pulpit. Written by the builder, it attested to the spirit with which he undertook his task. "I, Ebenezer Dudley, do this day copy a few lines to be had in remembrance, and to be enclosed in this desk. The two employed to erect this Church were Eldad Keeler, Master Workman; Ebenezer Dudley, Journeyman. It seems God in his providence has blessed the people in attempting to build a house of worship, and may He continue to bless and convert until all shall be brought to know him, from the least even to the greatest."
 
The history of the Church during its first hundred years was the record of the devoted service of three laymen of unusual ability and consecration. Because most of the pastors who served the Church were only part-time ministers, to these laymen fell responsibility for the welfare of the Church. Amasa Preston was lay leader from 1834 until 1866. He was the individual responsible for the building of the church building. James Lanyon was leader until 1885, during which time large numbers of Cornishmen came to the barytis mines of Cheshire and to the Cheshire Methodist Church. "They formed a picturesque element," wrote the Reverend J. O. Munson in 1895, "easily accessible to the gospel and ready under the right leadership to do a large work in practical evangelism." Alfred S. Bennett, leader from 1885 until his death in 1937, served as both chairman of the Board of Trustees and Superintendent of the Sunday School.

 
This tradition of strong leadership remained a part of the Church's history in recent years. The rapid increase in Cheshire's population since World War II and the corresponding increase in the Church's membership forced the Church's leaders to recognize that the original church building was no longer adequate to meet new demands. Expanding church school classes flowed over into neighboring Humiston School and into the church basement, where inadequate heat made it uncomfortable in winter. Parking was a growing problem. So, in September 1959, the church purchased 13 acres on Academy Road as a site for future expansion. A church building committee began plans for a new structure. This was not an easy decision for the Church. The old building and site had served Cheshire Methodists well for many years. Many members were baptized there, married there, and buried loved ones from its doors. To move was, in a real sense, to sacrifice part of the Church's history and the homey comfort of a long tradition. After much debate, it was decided that the future of the Cheshire Methodist lay in looking forward. Reluctantly for some, a new building was initiated on the present Academy Road site, and by February 1970, the new building stood completed. A few months later a new parsonage joined the church building on the same site.
 
In 1968 the growing Jewish population of Cheshire purchased our Main Street church building and renamed it Temple Beth David. Some of us who had memories and important happenings in our lives felt relieved that our Wesley Chapel, which the original church was often referred to, would continue to serve the community as a place of worship. The building is one of the last remaining examples in the United States of a Chapel by the founder of the Methodist Faith, John Wesley.
     
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205 Academy Road, Cheshire, Connecticut 06410