2018-04-06 / Community

A Window on the Past

Constructing First Congregational Church
By Craig H. Skelton
South Portland Historical Society

Construction of the new sanctuary at the First Congregational Church took place from 1959 to 1960. (Courtesy photo) Construction of the new sanctuary at the First Congregational Church took place from 1959 to 1960. (Courtesy photo) We love the accompanying photo that shows construction taking place at First Congregational Church.

Your eyes may have been drawn to the church in awe of the sheer size of the building under construction, or to the steel framework for the base of the steeple, or you may have focused on the Civil War monument. Perhaps you noticed the small gray building in the lower left where Dr. Harris Hinckley stitched me up after a bicycle accident in the nearby piggery.

Notice though, far to the right, the 1956 Oldsmobile parked at the curb. This car played an important role in this story and the collection of many other photographs recently donated to the South Portland Historical Society. The car belonged to Clifford W. Tupper who worked at Megquier & Jones from 1957 to 1992 and was vice president and chief engineer.

His daughter Sue-Ellen shared this and several other related photos from her dad’s collection. You may see one or two in future columns and the South Portland Historical Society will make the others available through its online museum (link to it through www.sphistory.org). I hadn’t written in a while when these photos came in, and you could say the picture donation inspired me to write again.

Sue-Ellen reports that she, two sisters and a brother were probably in the car in the photo because her mom and dad were in the practice of loading up the kids on the weekend and driving around to construction sites to take photos. Any of their cars appearing in future photos would have been bigger as the family grew to a total of eight children. I dare say Mr. Tupper would be pleased to see his pictures have generated a bit of excitement for me and folks at the museum.

History of the church dates back to 1734 when the first meetinghouse was built almost directly across the street on the grounds of what is now Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. A marker now stands to the left of the main gate of the cemetery commemorating that location. The original meetinghouse stood for 100 years. According to the book “A Pilgrim People Still,” the inhabitants of the parish met in 1834 and agreed that the church building had reached the end of its life.

“The parish agreed to take down the old building and construct another one on the same site. When the building was torn down, the workmen found the stumps of the old trees beneath the flooring. All usable material salvaged from the building was sold at public auction. The new church was dedicated on July 15, 1835.”

In 1891, the church building was moved across the street to its current location.

During the time that the Rev. Nathanael Guptill served as minister of the church, from 1943 to 1951, attendance surged from 100 to approximately 1,000. This was due in part to the large influx of shipyard workers and their families. With the larger congregation came the need for expansion. Shortly after World War II, the parish hall that contained the church offices and Guptill Hall was added. Increased attendance again led to formation of a building committee in 1955 to address the need for an expanding congregation.

Ground breaking for construction of the new sanctuary for First Congregational Church took place in September 1959 and work continued through the winter as evidenced by snow in some of the photos. A little more than a year later, dedication of the new sanctuary took place in December 1960.

We would love for you to share your own photos of historical interest. If you have images of South Portland’s past, please give the society a call at 767-7299 or email sphistory04106@gmail.com.

Craig H. Skelton is a member of South Portland Historical Society.

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