History matters, and Barre is very fortunate to be rich in history. Much of the information contained in this op-ed is taken from Corinne Eastman Davis’ book, “One Hundred Fifty Years of Methodism in Barre, Vermont” (1948), and from Eleanor Bailey’s pamphlet titled “One Third Century of Hedding United Methodist Church History 1947-1981.”
On March 30, 1801, Henry Gale and his son Thomas Drury Gale conveyed a triangular piece of land bounded westerly by North Main Street, southerly by Church Street and northerly by Washington Street to the trustees of Hedding Methodist Episcopal Church, Reuben Carpenter, Ansell Patterson, Samuel Doane Cook, Joseph Baker and John Baker.
In 1801, the Methodists began building a church on its newly acquired parcel, but it was not completed for nearly two decades. However, on March 1, 1802, it was sufficiently usable for Barre to hold its town meeting. Apparently, those present were pleased with the building, and they voted to hold future town meetings in the “Methodist Meeting House.” With one or two exceptions, this custom was followed for almost 20 years.
At the time the Gale deed was filed, there was a primitive log cabin schoolhouse on the same plot of land near where the war memorial is today. In all kinds of variable Vermont weather, these two buildings, the church and the school, stood staunchly, symbolizing and giving substance to three of the basic priceless principles on which American democracy was built: the right to worship, the right of individual participation in town affairs, and the necessity for free public education. Over time, this triangular piece was called the Barre City Common. It is now known and referred to as the Barre City Park.
In 1820, the Methodist Meeting House was moved to a site on Washington Street between the present Baptist and Methodist churches. In 1837, the Methodists decided to build a new church, and the meeting house was sold and became part of the Reynolds and Son Hardware Store on Main Street. Sometime later, the Reynolds family gave the Methodists a section of a third-floor window casement from which a calvary cross was made. That cross is prominently displayed in the sanctuary of the present Hedding United Methodist Church.
Fast forward to Nov. 1, 1947. On behalf of the trustees of the Hedding Methodist Church, Deane C. Davis, a former Barre alderman and future governor of the state of Vermont, conveyed the Barre City Park to the city of Barre. In 1957, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a bronze plaque in the park, which replaced one made of wood. Sometime during the late 1990s, the wooden post holding the plaque disintegrated and the plaque was placed in storage. Thanks to Dwight Coffrin, director of cemeteries and parks, the plaque was recently rediscovered. Arthur Dessureau, of Dessureau Machines Inc., graciously had it attached to a metal post and, on Nov. 21, it was re-erected by Reg Abare and his staff from the city engineers’ department.
The plaque reads: “Site of Methodist Meeting House built in 1800-1801. For some years it was used for town meetings. It was the first public framed building in Washington County. Erected by Rebeckah Hastings Chapter D.A.R. 1957.”
History has been preserved.
Stephen B. Martin is the historian for Hedding United Methodist Church.
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