Amherst Congregational United Church of Christ History
On July 2, 1840, the Congregationalist met in the Methodist church and shortly thereafter moved to the old wood frame Town Hall now located on Church street. They were incorporated by the state Legislature on February 20, 1841. By 1842, plans were made to erect a building. Josia Harris, who owned a large tract of land, was approached. There are two reports as to the result of this meeting. One states that Harris gave the land on which the church stands; the other says that it was aquired on payment of $ 75.
Interestingly, Harris had been excommunicated by the Brownhelm Congregational Church for riding his horse on a Sunday, so he vowed never to enter a church again. However, his sons Calvin and Milo soon became members of the Amherst Society, and since Harris gave land for the school and the Town Hall, it is believed he gave the land for the church as well.
The church was to be 39 feet by 46 feet with posts 17 feet from shoulder to shoulder. The cornerstone was laid in 1843. The original building had no basement. Parishioners purchased boxed pews annually. Many brought their own soapstone's or other heating devices because their was no central heat. At first there was no pulpit. The pastor preached from a high platform in the center of the congregation raised by several steps and a railing.
According to legend, the church remained unfinished for several years because of a controversy over whether to be Presbyterian or Congregational. The minutes from 1842-1879 make no mention of that disagreement or another controversy over abolition, which is reported to have split the congregation. The abolitionists remained in Amherst and became the Second Congregational Church.
It is in the early secretary's minutes that only men were taken into membership. Later, all potential members were required to pass an examination. Pastors were often provided by the Oberlin Seminary in the early years. They frequently were shared with the South Amherst church. In 1864, a Sabbath school library was created. The church was raised to create a much needed basement when central heat was added. The basement also housed areas for Sunday School and a kitchen. The choir loft and organ were removed. Memorial windows and a pipe organ honor designated members. In the mid-20th Century, space was made for specific Sunday School Classes and additional restrooms. The steeple and bell were removed during World War II. The Bell was the oldest in the township and had been the only means to call people to town meetings, fires, deaths and important events. The bell was sold for scrap metal. Many community leaders as well as state and national leaders are listed among those who were members. Some of these include Reverend Fairchild, who became president of Oberlin College; Reverend Hitchcock's son, who was Josiah Harris' grandson, who became Post Master General of the United States; and Reverend Monroe, who was consul of our government to South America.
In 1914 Reverend Robert Armstrong was instrumental in getting the community's Old Home week with the slogan "Back to the Old Spring" organized. At the same time Pastor Armstrong's book AMHERST STORY, a history of Amherst, was published. He proposed building a gymnasium behind the church where the horse barns were located. This provided the first opportunity for sports in Amherst. It was open to anyone, boys, girls, and adults of all denominations. It was used frequently. In 1923, after the schools had gymnasiums, the space was converted to a two-story unit to provide a lounge and offices on the second floor and a dining room and new kitchen on the first floor.
The congregation has a history of community projects. When the tragic train wreck of 1916 left five unclaimed bodies, the congregation provided flowers and saw to it the five unknown individuals had proper burials and headstones. During the depression, Reverend Eastman created an employment agency that helped needy persons of all denominations find work.