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History of Southwest Harbor Congregational Church

SW Harbor Congregational Church in 1890

Circa 1903

Circa 1935

Teacher's Convention 1891

The Reverend Samuel McClintock of Greenland, NH, gave council to seven men and eight women who gathered together on the 17th day of October in the year of our Lord 1792 for a day of fasting and prayer, for the purpose of covenanting together to form a church with Christ as their head. Two years later on November 16th, 1794, Reverend Samuel Eaton, an ordained minister from Harpswell visited the congregation, officially pronounced them a church and served the Lord’s Supper for the first time. 


In those days, the Town of Mount Desert encompassed the entire island along with big and little Cranberry, Bartlett’s, Robertson’s, and Beech Islands, so the new church was called Mount Desert Congregational Church.  Then in 1796 the eastern side of the island was incorporated as the Town of Eden, which later became Bar Harbor (1918)


Through the 1790's a spiritual revival swept through this part of Maine and as a result in 1798 thirty-two new members joined the church. By the time of the turn of the century, the membership had grown to include seventy-five people.  This growth was encouraging for the Christian community as shown in a letter written by Rev. Peter Powers of Deer Isle dated March 2, 1799.  He stated that not more than eight months earlier it appeared to him that religion was near expiring in the area, except in a very handful of professors.  He wrote that Deism had taken an unaccountable stride and spread itself over a great number of the inhabitants.  “And now, no Bible, no Christ, but the Christian religion and Christians were the song of the drunkard; and every drunkard and every vice was deemed harmless and inoffensive to God.”  He further wrote he had no reason to think that, “by the next annual meeting of the town they would vote the gospel out from them.”


Clergymen were sent by the Massachusetts Missionary Society to travel from town-to-town to preach and administer the Sacraments.  Some who came to Mount Desert are:


            Rev. Daniel Merrill of Sedgwick 11/16/1794

            Rev. Peter Powers       6/24/1798

            Rev. Jonathan Powers 11/2/1798

            Rev. Jonathan Sewell  10/4/1801

            Rev. McLain   7/18/1802


Under Massachusetts law, towns were required to have a minister.  In October 1801 the town of Mount Desert voted to give Brother Ebenezer Eaton from Sedgwick $250 per year to serve as minister here.  At times he was also Treasurer, Moderator, Scribe, and a “committee” to settle differences in the church.  Even though Ebenezer was mostly self-educated in the Bible and thus considered himself ineligible to be ordained, he "yielded to the wishes of his people and consented to be ordained in 1823. He served the church for 35 years until 1836.


Throughout the 19th century, the church had no building so the church met in various homes, schools, or other meetinghouses on the western side of MDI.


Another spiritual revival in the 1830's brought another wave of new converts to Christ and, as recorded in the Clerks Record Book, on June 19,1833 Rev M. Blood received 23 new members into the church and baptized 7 children.


In 1848 the town of Mansel was incorporated which was composed of present day Tremont and Southwest Harbor.  Two months later it was renamed Tremont, and the church changed its name to The Congregational Church of Tremont.


After a series of revival meetings in October 1866 led by evangelist Rev. J. M. Parsons nearly two hundred people signed his ‘Covenant of Love’ pledging themselves to lead a religious life.  This brought another wave of converts and between February and June of 1867, twenty-four people joined this church. His sermons were so powerful that a paper signed by twenty of the church members was presented expressing a desire that the name of the church be changed to that of The Union Evangelical Church, and that its creed be the same as that adopted by the Union Evangelical Church of Sherman up in Aroostook County.   By a measure brought about by the special influence of the then acting pastor (Rev. David S. Hibbard), these two changes were adopted by vote.  However, the changes were never acted on, and the issue was expunged from the record in May 1887.


Plans for building a new church in Southwest Harbor began in 1883, to be funded partially by the Ladies Aid Society and by selling pews to members of the congregation. The congregation purchased a small lot on High Rd. from Mr. Henry H. Clark and wife Caroline for $100.  Ground was broken for the foundation on October 9th, 1883, and the building was closed in before cold weather.  This was a joint venture; the Congregationalists owned two thirds of the building, and the Baptists one third.  The new Church building was dedicated on September 9th, 1885.  The bell was hung in the tower in Oct. 1887.  After a decade of co-ownership, the the Baptists relinquish their claim to the building in 1898.


As Christianity grew, there was need for another church in the area and so The Congregational Church at Bass Harbor (later named Tremont Congregational) was built by November of 1889 with the minister of this church preaching at both churches (see picture at right). 


To support the growing ministry, groups such as the Ladies Sewing Circle, Ladies Aid Circle, Ladies Aid Society, Christian Endeavor Society (formed 1884), and Junior Christian Endeavor, who would hold bake and yard sales, or put on musical and theater shows to earn money.


In 1902 a movement began to make the church more accessible to everyone by making it a free-pew system.  Southwest Harbor Town Clerk, Geo. A. Lurvey recorded in the town records deeds that transferred pew ownership back to the church.  


To increase the utility of the building, eight members at a meeting on Sept 26, 1904 unanimously voted that the church authorize the  "fitting out" of the extension at the south end of the church, usually partitioned off in winter, into a room for prayer meetings and social activities. Thus the front part of the church now used as the entryway was made into a room with a potbelly stove for heat. (notice the pipe coming through the roof in the picture circa 1910 on the right.) It remained that way until 1928.


Over a dispute about whether to build a new school, the Town of Southwest Harbor divided itself from Tremont and was incorporated in 1905.  The church was then renamed Congregational Church of Tremont and Southwest Harbor. 17 years later in 1922, the two "yoked" churches of Tremont and Southwest Harbor divided into two separate bodies, and forty-four members transferred to the new Tremont Congregational Church.  At the next annual meeting, it was voted that Rev. Olsen 'take the steps necessary to drop the name “Tremont” from our church name.' Thus our name was yet again changed to The Congregational Church Southwest Harbor.


The church building went through major renovations in the 1940's, 1950' and 1960's. In 1943-44 thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Howard J. Rogers in memory of her sister Miss. M. Estelle Barker, and the Jesse H. Pease memorial fund. The work included installing the concrete floor in the basement, water, drains, a lavatory, and cesspool. Then a gift in February 1949 of $1000 from William Parker in memory of Dr. Mary C. Parker was used to install the kitchen in the basement.  A plaque was placed on the wall of the kitchen in her memory in 1954. A study for the pastor was build onto the east side of the pulpit area by the Pilgrim Fellowship in January of 1952.  This room now serves as the secretary's office.


March 4, 1954 The Fred Young property adjoining the church lot on the east was purchased along with the summer cottage that was there. That summer cottage was winterized and now serves as the parsonage.


In 1962, a major addition to the back of the church was completed which included the present-day Sunday school classes for both adults and children, 2 bathrooms as well as the pastor's study. This was funded mostly by the Ladies Aid Society.


In 1961, the church members voted to join the United Church of Christ at their annual meeting, but it took another 15 years until the name was changed to Southwest Harbor United Church of Christ in1976.


Celebration of the bicentennial of the church in 1992 was marked with monthly theme dinners that brought to life some of the major events in 200 years of U.S. history.


By May 1993, the church members no longer supported the liberal theology of the United Church of Christ, and voted to discontinue financial support of their denomination.  Then at a special meeting on December 5, 1993 they voted to leave the UCC and remain independent and changed their name to Southwest Harbor Congregational Church. On March 23,1997, the congregation voted to join the Conservative Congregational Christian Church. 

Interior of church 1918

Circa 1910

Church and Parsonage 1925

Circa 1910

Circa 1910

Circa 1910

Bass Harbor Congregational Church

Now named Tremont Community Church

Circa 1945

Circa 1940

Southwest Harbor Congregational Church present day

225th Anniversary celebration

On the evening of Saturday October 20th, 2018, the members of SWHCC gathered to mark the end of our year long celebration of our 225th anniversary. The year was marked with written monthly remembrances of our history as well as pictures and historical documents displayed in our sanctuary each month. A booklet of these historical moments in our history has been complied in a booklet available through the church. The year long celebration was brought to a wonderful conclusion with a dinner and presentation by our historian George Gilpin, who gave a talk focusing on the life and times of the seven men and eight women who signed the first church covenant on October 17th, 1792 (click here to download a PDF of the talk). Also presented at that celebration was a hand crafted covenant box (see below) lovingly made by Mike Updegraff with period tools. Thank you both for making this moment in our church history so special!


SW Harbor Congregational Church as it is today

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