History of Holyoke's Churches
First Congregational Church
Rev. H.O. Hannum, Pastor
This is the oldest church organization in Holyoke, having been formed December 4, 1799, by the pastor of the First Church in West Springfield. The names of the nine original members were Joseph Rogers, Amos Allen, Titus Morgan, Timothy Clough, Lucas Morgan, Nathan Stevens, Jonathan Clough, John Miller, and Grover Street. Amos Allen, one of the first deacons, lived a stirring life. In 1756 he was taken prisoner by the Indians in the French war, and was carried by his captors to Montreal, where he was sold to the French. At the close of the war he was released and returned home.
First Congregational Church
When the church was organized the place was known by the name of Ireland Parish, and was a part of West Springfield. It derived its name from a Protestant Irish family named Riley, who came prior to 1745. They were followed by other families of the same race and creed until quite a colony had settled here. Already regular preaching services were held at South Hadley Falls with a Rev. Mr. Tyler in charge. Previous to the organization of this church Baptists in 1792 had built a meeting house near the old burying ground on lower Northampton street, but on account of lack of funds had been unable to finish it. When the Congregationalists organized they offered to help finish this building, providing it were moved further north, and further provided that they be considered as part owners, which offer was gladly accepted. As the Baptists owned three-fourths of the church property the pulpit was occupied three Sundays in the monthly ministers of that denomination, while on the other Sunday or Sundays a Congregationalist would officiate, and there was great harmony under this scheme.
The first communion service of this church was held August 31, 1800. For nearly 28 years the society was without a settled pastor; in 1828 Rev. Mr. Hays, a Presbyterian minister, commenced preaching statedly for this society, and continued to do so for five years. In 1833 Rev. Hervey Smith began to preach here regularly on the Sundays assigned to the Congregationalists. He agreed to become the settled pastor provided a separate church building should be erected, which was done, though the pastor, to insure the success of the undertaking, had to pledge one-fourth of the $1,000 needed, and the church was dedicated free of debt December 10, 1834. Mr. Smith resigned in January, 1841. The next pastor, Rev. Gideon Dana, was installed February, 1841, and was dismissed May 7, 1844.
In January, 1846, Rev. Simeon Miller accepted a call to this parish at a salary of $500, but of this sum $125 was to be deducted for rent of the parsonage. He was a young man, graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, and had already supplied the pulpit for a little more than a year. He was installed May 7, 1846, and continued as pastor for 24 years, making the entire term of his ministry here a little more than 25 years. Mr. Miller was a member of the school board, and acted as voluntary superintendent of schools. During his pastorate the town of Holyoke was incorporated, which led to a change of name for our oldest church organization, which now became known in May 1850, as the First Orthodox Congregational Church of Holyoke.
An omnibus made trips on Sundays to carry worshipers from the vicinity of "Ireland Depot" to the church on Northampton street. With the advent about this time of the present Second Church these trips ceased, which resulted in so great a falling off of attendance at the services of the older church that it became a real question as to whether worship should be continued in the old building. Mr. Miller resigned in January, 1870.
Rev. H.O. Hannum
A small company of negroes were members of this congregation in its early days, and excellent seats n the southwest portion of the gallery were reserved for their use. Mrs. Flora Fuller, one of the colony, had been a slave owned by Rev. Joseph Perry of Windsor, Conn., her freedom having been purchased by her husband for $100. She was a beloved nurse in this community.
September, 1870, Rev. Charles E. Killjoy was engaged as pastor. About this time the church building was renovated and was rededicated November 3, 1870. In his prayer Mr. Coolidge thanked God that sectarianism was not rife in this community; that all denominations had contributed to rebuild this house of worship; and that notwithstanding differences, all were devoted to one cause and one Savior. Mr. Coolidge remained as acting pastor less than two years, and December 18, 1872, Rev. Theodore L. Day was installed pastor. He resigned in July 1874, owing to poor health and fear that his people were burdened in raising his salary. Then for two years Rev. C.S. Walker, later professor at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, supplied the pulpit, and for the six years following Mr. Walker's labors a number of men preached for the church, but in May, 1882, Rev. Egbert N. Munroe was installed, only to resign February, 1884. At the council which approved his dismissal, it was voted: "That it would be better for this church to forego all claim to bequests and move nearer the city's growth."
Rev. Henry Hyde took charge of the church in the spring of 1885 and remained until June, 1888. During his pastorate the site of the present church building was purchased and work was begun on the plan. September 18, 1888, Rev. G.W. Winch, who proved a strong preacher and a valiant fighter for civic righteousness, was installed pastor and continued as such until January, 1907. He was succeeded by Rev. Henry O. Hannum, the present pastor, who was installed February 28, 1908.
No church in this city excels the First Congregational Church in zeal for religious education. The Sunday school has been carefully graded and an exacting course of study prepared. Its superintendent is P.M. Judd, but Dr. R.E. Dickson and E.M. Dickson former superintendents, have had a large share in its reorganization. This church further exhibits its interest in its young people by employing a secretary for its Young People's department. The first incumbent of this position was G.H. Mayer Oakes, who recently resigned, and is now studying at the Valpariso University, Indiana.
The Men's Class is known far and wide for its large attendance and the excellence of the speakers who appear before it.
A notable feature in this parish is its Weekly Calendar, remarkably attractive in its makeup, and including a page called "The Study Window," whose pronouncements are highly uplifting.
James H. Wakelin, a composer of ability, is organist and choir master, having under his direction a double quartet. He remained loyal to the church of his youth in spite of flattering calls to other fields of service.
The church recently purchased a fine property at 59 Pearl street for a parsonage, and through a prominent members, controls property adjoining its splendid plant, on which it hopes to build a parish house some time in the not too distant future.
Rev. H.. Hannum writes: "The First Church spire is the highest object in the city, and is readily seen from any direction. The church desires that it shall stand to every passerby and every citizen of Holyoke for the highest things. In one sentence, the spire of the First Church, points for us to Christian nurture, to systematic world-wide benevolence, to the rich inheritance of Protestants, to the message of good tidings for mourner and sinner, — and to the hardest task God has ever laid on man, Christian love applied to modern life."
Officers: Deacons, John K. Judd, George W. Brainerd, Roland T. Oakes, Charles C. Judd, William Eastman, Alexander McAuslan, C.A. Allen; clerk, Coleman H. Waite; treasurer, Arthur N. Smith; standing committee, minister, deacons, clerk and treasurer, superintendent of Bible school, chairman of visiting committee, Mrs. S.E. Wilcoxen, Miss Mabel Judd, J.H. Wylie, W.C. Gaylord and J.F. Owen; superintendent of Bible school, Philip M. Judd; Ladies' Home Circle, president, Mrs. R.F. Kelton; Women's Missionary Society, president, Mrs. William Eastman; the King's Daughters, president, Miss Loraine Van Wagenen; the Men's Club, president, William L. Foote; Y.P.S.C.E., president, Winthrope Brainerd; sexton, Lyman F. Thorpe.
Rev. Henry Oliver Hannum came to Holyoke after fruitful pastorates at Southwick, Boston and Superior, Wis. He has welcomed 115 new members during his present pastorate and has been very active in deepening the spirit of fellowship among the Congregational churches in Hampden county. This summer he enjoyed a well-earned vacation in Europe.
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