The First Congregational Church of Marietta, Ohio
Rufus Putnam and his men came to the mouth of the Muskingum River on April 7th, 1788, founding a settlement that would become the town of Marietta, Ohio. For years, the settlers of this area had no formal church services. Then, in 1796, local Christians founded the nondenominational First Congregational Church. The congregation’s first church was completed in 1808 but burned down in 1905. A new church, designed to look like the first, was completed in 1906. Services are still held there today as part of the United Church of Christ.
Backstory and Context
The First Congregational Church of Marietta was established by settlers from Marietta, Waterford, Belpre, Warren, Newport, and Harmar, Ohio as well as Vienna, Virginia (now West Virginia). The church was officially organized on December 6th, 1796 with 31 members. The first deacons were Dr. Josiah Hart of Marietta, Joseph Spencer of Vienna, Benjamin Miles of Belpre, and Nathon Proctor of Waterford. Before its founding, locals from around Marietta would gather in the street to hear a pastor from back East preach from a booth. It is believed that the booth was located near the church’s present location. In 1798, Reverend Daniel Story became the church’s first pastor. He would preach three Sundays out of five in Marietta and the other two in church branches in nearby Waterford and Belpre. When he could not attend, Colonel Ebenezer Battelle would read a sermon in Belpre and Major Dean Tyler would read at Waterford.
Services were held in the Muskingum Academy until the congregation outgrew it. It took years for plans to build a church to get approved. The actual building finally began in 1807 and ended in 1808. On May 28th, 1809, the church was dedicated. Because of the church’s two towers, called “bell cones,” the church was soon nicknamed the “Two-Horned Church.” The towers were patterned after the Hollis St. Congregational Church that Rufus Putnam attended in Boston. The church was remodeled in 1901-1902 but completely destroyed by a fire in 1905. A new building similar to the original was built at the same location only a year later.
For years after Mary Lake quit teaching the first Sunday School in Ohio, the growth of Sundays Schools slowed. Many of the schools were run by individuals rather than churches. So, David Putnam of the First Congregational Church worked to establish better ones. In 1817, the First Congregational Church pushed the Moral Society (founded 1814), of which many members were a part, to found three Sunday Schools in the area. This move seems to have encouraged the church’s interest in spiritual matters as they voted January 1st, 1818 to meet once a week to pray for a revival of religion. For fifty years, the meetings were held on Thursday evenings. On May 11th, 1868, the church voted to change it to Wednesday nights.
The First Congregational Church of Marietta is still active today.
Andrews, Israel Ward. History of Washington County, Ohio. Marietta, Ohio. Peter G. Thomson, 1876.
Dickinson, Cornelius Evarts. A Century of Church Life. A History of the First Congregational Church, of Marietta, Ohio. Marietta, Ohio. E. R. Alderman & Sons, 1896.
Hathaway, Seymour J. My library My History Books on Google Play History of Marietta and Washington County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens. Vol. 1. Marietta, Ohio. Biographical Publishing Company, 1902. Via Google Books.