The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society has planned a unique architectural and historical tour this year, focusing on several unique places of worship.
By Ronni Newton
The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is once again reinventing its home tour – and this year’s focus on places of worship will give the community a glimpse of buildings it may never have seen. chance to visit otherwise.
“The idea had been under discussion for some time,” said Jennifer Dicola Matos, executive director of Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
The non-profit organization wanted to return to a multi-site tour like those held in the past after last year, due to the COVID pandemic, they organized a fundraiser for a tour of the house of only one building – the vacant “Seven Gables” house on Orchard Route. When planning for the event began over the summer, however, the Delta variant was in the midst of its resurgence, and Matos wasn’t sure owners would be ready to welcome strangers strolling into their homes.
This made 2021 the perfect year for the Places of Worship Tour.
The “West Hartford House Tour – Houses of Worship” will take place on Sunday November 14, 2021 from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm
“These are historically significant buildings in the city, and you walk past them but you just walk through maybe only one or two,” Matos said. Unless someone is from a congregation or is visiting a place of worship for a wedding or other religious ceremony, most would not necessarily have the opportunity to enter buildings, even if they are. open and welcoming.
The organized tour of six West Hartford sites will give an inside glimpse of a variety of iconic places of worship in the city, representing different faiths. The tour will focus on the architectural features of the buildings, as well as the histories of the congregations, how and why they were established and their belief systems, and their interaction with the community over time. A commemorative program will provide a more detailed history, as well as period photographs and other images.
While the sites aren’t close enough for guests to easily walk between them, parking is available and several are within walking distance from at least one other building. The six sites include Congregation Beth Israel and St. John’s Episcopal Church, both located on Farmington Avenue at the east end of West Hartford; the Quaker Meeting House at the corner of Boulevard and South Quaker Lane; Church of St. Thomas the Apostle on Farmington Avenue near the Center; First Church, West Hartford at the corner of Farmington Avenue and South Main Street; and First Baptist Church on North Main Street.
Several of the buildings are ornate, but others are historically significant in different ways.
“I think the Quaker Meeting House will be really interesting,” said Matos. “It’s not an iconic building, but it has a long history in the city,” she said, not least because of the name Quaker Lane, which stretches north and south of Farmington Avenue.
The following information was provided by the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society on the six sites that will be featured on the Houses of Worship tour:
- The Beth Israel congregation, located at 701 Farmington Ave., is West Hartford’s first synagogue, built in 1936. The Reform Jewish congregation dates from 1843 and its original synagogue was built in Hartford in 1876 (now Charter Oak Cultural Center). The presence of the Beth Israel congregation in the city paved the way for a possible Jewish migration from Hartford to West Hartford. Today Beth Israel is the largest Reformed temple in New England and one of the oldest in the country.
- The First Baptist Church congregation, 90 North Main St., West Hartford, organized in 1858. In 1937, when a new, larger church was needed, First Baptist moved to its present location but chose to retain many of the features of the original church, such as the original front columns, stone steps, bell and cornerstone.
- First Church, West Hartford, 12 S. Main St., West Hartford, is the oldest congregation in the city dating back to 1701, when it was known as Hartford’s Fourth Congregational Church. Many notable residents of West Hartford have been affiliated with this church. Founding Father Noah Webster was baptized into this congregation in 1758, the same year as Lemuel Haynes, the first African American to be ordained a minister of a major Protestant denomination.
- St. John’s Episcopal Church, 679 Farmington Ave., West Hartford, was originally located in Hartford, where the congregation formed in 1841. Some of St. John’s most notable parishioners include author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Colt and Gideon Welles. The building that we see today on Farmington Ave., whose main entrance faces Highland Street, was completed on June 9, 1909.
- St. Thomas the Apostle, 872 Farmington Ave., West Hartford, was one of the city’s first Roman Catholic churches in 1920 by Bishop John F. Callahan. Parishioners built the first church – a small wooden building on the corner of Boulevard and South Quaker Lane. Today’s church complex includes the Gothic-style church, a beautiful plaza lined with trees and plants, a parsonage, a convent and around the corner of Dover Road, St. Thomas School the Apostle.
- In the late 1700s, the Quakers arrived in West Hartford and established a meeting house and cemetery on present-day South Quaker Lane. In 1828, most of its members moved to Ohio and the site was abandoned. In the 1930s a second Quaker movement began and the group secured the original land and built the existing Quaker Meeting House in 1950 (144 South Quaker Lane, West Hartford.) An 18th century graveyard on the land – the final resting place of the early West Hartford Quakers, including the Burrs, Sedgwicks and Gilberts – will also be featured on the tour.
Tickets and additional information are available at https://noahwebster.yapsody.com/. Advance tickets are $ 30 ($ 25 for museum members).
Those who purchase tickets in advance can start the tour at any of the six sites. A limited number of event day tickets will also be available starting at 12:30 p.m. on November 14, at a cost of $ 35 each, at tables in First Church, West Hartford or St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The museum also creates a series of videos highlighting each location, chronicling history as well as current information, and including interviews and stories. A $ 15 contribution will provide exclusive early access to the videos as well as a digital program containing information about each of the sites. The videos will be available free to the public by the end of the year.
The West Hartford House Tour – Houses of Worship is a fundraiser for the non-profit museum, and a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will also be donated to participating places of worship. The museum thanks main sponsor Deb Cohen of Coldwell Banker Realty West Hartford and gold sponsor JP Carroll Construction for their support.
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