The Wendell Meetinghouse presides over the Wendell Town Common and Historic District, and like many other beautiful meetinghouses that dot New England, reflects the heart and soul of the town.
In the 1750s, families from the Lancaster, Massachusetts area began arriving in the Franklin County highlands east of the Connecticut River. Busy with the hard work of carving homesteads out of virgin forest, the settlers lived without any political or ecclesiastical organization for twenty years. Then, in 1774, a council of twenty men and thirteen women convened for the purpose of organizing a Congregational church, which met in private homes for the first nine years.
The Town of Wendell was incorporated in 1781 and named for Oliver Wendell, a Boston judge and banker who owned tracts of land in the area. Two years later, Judge Wendell funded the building of a Meetinghouse and gifted it with a Bible and a silver baptismal font. The Meetinghouse took almost ten years to complete and served as both a religious and civic meeting place until the summer of 1846. “Never graced with a steeple or bell,” and “uncomely and uncomfortable,” it was soon replaced with a handsome new structure.
Today’s Wendell Meetinghouse, built in 1846, is a two-story, double entrance church built in the Greek Revival style. Its design and construction are attributed to Luke Leach, a master carpenter in Wendell who is thought to have built many of the Greek Revival houses around the Common.
The church bell, still in the tower, was cast in 1846 by the G. H. Holbrook bell foundry in Medway, MA. (George Holbrook apprenticed to Paul Revere and his company cast over 11,000 bells which were sent to all parts of the US, the British Provinces, Mexico and the Sandwich Islands.)
Originally, the Meetinghouse had a steeple, but it was splintered by a bolt of lightning in the 1920s. The church building was used continuously as a church until 1972; it reopened in 1981 only to close its doors again ten years later.
Signature Found in Meetinghouse Wall
Account by Pam Richardson (resident genealogist and historian) – July 2021
“In the course of dismantling the wall between the privy and the main room of the Meetinghouse, Alistair MacMartin discovered a board on which a long-ago carpenter left his penciled signature. The name “Ed Williams” is clearly visible, written in a lovely long hand, along with “Oct. 14, 1910” and “Wendell, Mass.”
“Remembering a man I met about six years ago when I was writing my history of Wendell, I called up Bob Williams in Athol who, as I suspected, is the 79-year-old grandson of the board-signer, Edwin Williams. Interestingly, I had also just finished reading a book published by the Gill Historical Commission about Jennie Williams Bardwell, a diarist in Gill and, yes, Edwin Williams’ sister! That book (Jennie Williams Bardwell, Life in Gill 1860-1950) contains a lot of information about the Williams family and Edwin Williams in particular.”
“Briefly, Edwin Theron Williams had roots in Wendell going back to his grandfather, Drury Williams, who was born in Wendell in 1796. Drury’s son, Francis, was born in Deerfield in 1825, became a stone mason, and served in the Civil War. Francis’ son and our signer, Edwin, was born in Gill in 1865 and grew up to be a carpenter, specifically a preservation carpenter, and he worked on many antique houses in Deerfield. He was also a wheelwright and a clock maker. In 1907, when he was 42, Edwin married 19-year-old Adelma Boynton of Wendell and they lived in her father’s farmhouse on Locke’s Village Road for almost a decade. Edwin must have been hired in the fall of 1910 to do some repair work on the Meetinghouse and left his signature for posterity. Edwin and Adelma’s son, Alfred Drury Williams, was born in Wendell in 1908 and his son, Robert Edwin Williams, born in Montague in 1942, is the one who lives in Athol now. Bob traveled up to the Meetinghouse in July 2021 to have a look at his grandfather’s signature and we took a photo of him.”
Looking to the future
The Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse are actively engaged in restoring this beloved Meetinghouse to its former glory as an integral part of Wendell’s history. The windows and doors have been historically restored, along with repairs to the roof and belfry. The Historic Structures Report required for matching grants from the Massachusetts Historical Commission has been completed, and the building has been declared structurally sound and ready for final restoration.
Interested in getting involved? By offering your time or talents or by making a donation you are supporting the continuing renovations necessary to reopen the doors and the programming we anticipate in 2022.