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History of the Rockville Church

To understand the history of this one church, we'll need to go back quite a bit farther. 

In 1636, Roger Williams was kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for arguing that religion and government didn't mix. He traveled south and founded a new colony, Rhode Island, pioneering the wild new idea of freedom of and freedom from religion.

To be clear, he absolutely believed that his religion was one true and totally right religion, but he wanted the opportunity to convince people of that rather than scare them into obedience. He thought people who acted out of fear were not truly saved. There were quite a few other theological intricacies that made his (very strict, extremely pious) radical new ideas very different than the Puritans of Massachusetts.

Roger Williams and his sweet 'stache

There are no images of Elder John's likeness, but this is another curmudgeonly Crandall, Obediah.

Once Roger opened Rhode Island's doors to the other free thinkers of the time, more people showed up with big ideas. There were quite a few notable names, but the important one in this story is Elder John Crandall. Aside from being a very early Seventh Day Baptist, he was also a founder of the town of Westerly, Rhode Island, and my earliest American Ancestor.

He brought the religion from his hometown of Westerleigh, England to Westerly, Rhode Island and made himself quite known as a stubborn curmudgeon who started turf wars with neighboring towns and showed up to preach where he was not invited. These are traits that have carried through to current generations of Crandalls.

Rockville Church was the third of the Seventh Day Baptist churches in the area. The congregation began in 1770 in a much more modest building that was described as having exposed rafters and absolutely no warmth to speak of. In 1835, the congregation voted to officially become a separate church.

By 1844, the industrial revolution had come to Rockville, and brought several mills and many new residents. The first church was dismantled and sold for $53.00 and a newer, larger church was built to accommodate them. 

This was what became my church 150 years later.

In 1868, the largest local mill, owned by the Rockville Manufacturing Company, donated a centrally located 2 acre plot of prime road frontage for the church, which meant it had to be propped up on log rollers and pulled by horses a mile down the road to the new location. The front wall was sheared off, and a foyer, balcony, and several more rows of pews were added. 

The mill bought a second-hand bell that was cast in 1844 as a work bell at a rope mill nearby. It was far too large for the church, but nevertheless, they settled it on top, and at long last, made an attempt to heat the big building with coal for the first time. With little success. 

In 1917, a Parish House was built on a small plot across the street.

Historical photo of the church (left) and schoolhouse (right) taken some time after 1868 when the church was moved, but before the 1940s when the school was closed.

Photo of an actual post and beam barn that I actually helped make.

The Church had been constructed using a sturdy post and beam design and American chestnut timbers. The foundation was made of great granite slabs cut from the Rockville quarry nearby and the entire building was strong, well-built, and has stayed that way for more than a century.

In contrast, the Parish house was built when balloon framing was gaining popularity. Rather than sturdy beams pegged together with mortises and tenons, it used thin sticks and nails. Balloon framing tends to be cheaper and faster, but poorer quality and weaker.

The church is still standing strong after 150 years of congregants walking through, but the Parish house has started to sag and lose pieces of its foundation. Both are testament to the quality that they were built with.

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