Our History

Margaret “Maggie” McClellan Tourtelotte wrote a historical account of events in the life of the First Congregational Church of Woodstock in 1976, as part of the national bicentennial celebration.  In her opening paragraph, she says:  
Like countless Congregational churches in New England, [the Hill Church] has never had an interruption in its existence.  Though its life at times has been turbulent, at others languishing, yet to have let it die away would at all times have been unthinkable.
  1620 The Mayflower lands at Plymouth, Mass.   1674 John Eliot of Roxbury, Mass., visits the area that became Woodstock and preaches to the Wabbaquassets at Pulpit Rock.   1686 The thirteen “Goers” arrive  from Roxbury after King Philip’s War and the departure of the native population, and build Wabbaquasset Hall.   1690 The name of the town is changed from New Roxbury to Woodstock by Judge Samuel Sewall.  Woodstock is still part of Massachusetts.   1694 The new meetinghouse is built on Plaine Hill.  Josiah Dwight, age 20 and a graduate of Harvard College, is named the first minister.   1721 A new, unheated meetinghouse is erected on the site of the present church at considerable cost to the town.   1730 Reverend Dwight is dismissed in an atmosphere of discord.  Amos Throop takes over the pulpit, though he dies at age 34 in 1735.  His grave is located in the Hill Cemetery.   1743 West Woodstock becomes a new parish with its own building.   1749 Woodstock becomes part of Connecticut, along with Somers and Enfield, the other so-called indented towns, the “teeth” along the otherwise straight Massachusetts border.   1760 Under Reverend Abel Stiles, lengthy and heated squabble over the Cambridge versus Saybrook Platforms results in the establishment of the North Parish.  Both churches call themselves “First.”   1775 The first choir is formed.   1776 Reverend Abiel Leonard is granted a leave of absence to become chaplain in Washington’s Continental Army.   1779 “Priest” Eliphalet Lyman begins his pastorate, which is to last until 1824.   1801 Woodstock Academy is founded.   1816 The first women’s group is established.   1820 The third, and present, meetinghouse is built.   1830 North and East Woodstock churches are established.   1835 Heat is installed in the Hill Church for the first time.   1855-85 The church has interim ministers, but no settled pastor.   1858 The church interior is remodeled.   1861 The Civil War begins.   1889 The meetinghouse is again remodeled, this time in high Victorian style with stained glass windows.   1894 The church poll tax is discontinued.   1905 The church purchases the house next door to the south as a parsonage.   1924 The church is incorporated.   1926 The town legally transfers ownership of the church to its body.   1937 First Board of Deacons is formed.   1938 In the devastating Hurricane of 1938, the steeple is blown off, to be rebuilt the following year.   1949 Boy Scout Troop No. 27 begins meeting in our church.  The Hill Church is named its Chartered Sponsoring Organization in 1958.   1965 After the removal of Victorian elements, the Colonial restoration of the sanctuary is accomplished.  The John Eliot window in the balcony is the only remnant of the previous era of decoration.   1986 Rev. Harrison serves as chairman of the Town Tercentenary Celebration Committee.  The mayor of Woodstock, England, and his wife visit as part of the festivities.   1990 The addition at the rear of the church is dedicated, including the new Great Room, now named Harrison Hall after the Rev. Dr. James Shepherd Harrison, who served in the second-longest ministerial tenure from 1975 through 2010. Eliphalet Lyman served 45 years, ending in 1824, when he was “invited” to leave the pulpit.   1992 The Children’s Center daycare facility opens in August.   2003 The church becomes an Open & Affirming Congregation.   2004 In an attempt to decentralize and streamline the inner workings of the church body, the church adopts a team approach to ministry, a format abandoned soon after.  UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams win the national championships, and the Red Sox win the series.   2006 New furnace and hot water system are installed.  Elinor Donahue introduces the Rotational Workshop curriculum for Church School.  Charles Bottieri wins the “Kiss the Goat” contest, a fundraiser for Silver Lake scholarships.   2009 The Children’s Center closes its doors.   2010 The Rev. Dr. James S. Harrison retires after 35 years of ministry in Woodstock.   2013 After a three-year interim period and search, the Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer is called to become the first female minister of the Hill Church.   2014 Solar panels are installed on the south roof of Harrison Hall.