Compiled by Susan Gerken
This building was begun in 1770 and completed in 1771. It originally stood about a mile from it's current location off of Highland Street on Meeting House Hill Rd. The Meeting House was the Town Hall and used by the Congregationalists and then the Unitarian Society. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) fathers and sons practiced marching and signed their enlistment papers there. Later, during the Civil War (1861-1865), patriotic speeches were made there for young men to enlist.
In 1798 the town voted to "find the center of town and say where the Meeting House ought to be."
In 1804, mid winter, this building was moved piecemeal by oxen to this site. It had porches, 3 entrances and only 1 floor, with side balconies or galleries.
In 1852 the Methodists bought the building and what is now the Townsend Common for $600.00 from the Unitarians. The deed is dated August 15, 1852 and 4 days later they voted to turn the building "quarter wise round" to face the south (it had faced west), remove the porches and the old fashioned square pews and install the floor to make it 2 sections. The town continued to use the 1st floor until 1894 when the present Town Hall was built.
The bell in the tower was installed in 1876. It weighs 2500 pounds and was bought for $837.60 plus transportation from Boston for $5.27; total $842.87. It was said "a bell truly of rare sweetness, and a volume of sound unsurpassed by any other in the valley."
The "slave" pews as we call them, are four very narrow seats or pews. They are located in the tower overlooking the sanctuary and are reached by stairs in the tower.
Documented in The Squannicook Parish booklet by Rev. Charlton in 1917 as "four pews in the attic for the Negroes, which still remain as originally built." And from Sawtelle's History of Townsend, "over the stairs at the West end were seats for Negroes, the small remnant of the Race that was here at the beginning of the century" (1800).
Whether freed slaves or runaway slaves, the Negroes in town used these pews. The name "slave pews" has been used for as long as anyone can remember. These pews are the only ones we know of in any church in the country and we are proud to preserve them and show them as historical evidence of the past.
The Belltower at TUMC