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Connecting link in Medford Church history.

At various meetings of the Historical Society, papers have been read relative to the church history of Medford, and all such have been preserved in pages of the Register. They tell the story of the various religious societies, seven in number, that were first of their order in the old town. These have been succeeded by four others of the same order, later organized. There are still others, perhaps a dozen, whose history should be a matter of printed record, that as yet have not been thus presented. As a matter of record, we take occasion here to mention, ere facts are lost sight of, the

West Medford Christian Union.

Mr. Hooper, in his brief ‘History of Medford,’ is the only author that mentions it as a society under this caption, giving its meeting place, and names of four ministers.

Mr. Usher (on page 276) in treating of the West Medford Congregational church, said, the ‘Union was formed for the support of public religious worship; and preaching services were held Sunday morning and evening in Mystic Hall.’

Mr. David H. Brown (in Vol. XI, p. 24, Register) said, ‘December 1, 1907, was the fortieth anniversary of public religious services in West Medford,’ named Mystic hall as the place, but did not give the name of the [p. 83] preacher. This makes the date specific—December 1, 1867—agreeing as to the year with Mr. Hooper, but placing it earlier than Mr. Usher, who is correct in his statement that ‘there was no church organization.’

As this Christian Union formed a connecting link between the earlier and later organized churches of various orders in Medford, it is of interest that its brief history be preserved.

In 1865 Medford had a population of 4,839; in 1870, 5,717; it is safe to assume that in December, 1867, a little rising 5,000. Its outlying villages were East Medford (now called Glenwood) and West Medford, the latter the larger, more residential, with possibly 500 people, and with the advantage of a hall where public gatherings could be held.

For some two years there had been a neighborhood Sunday school, and from this effort for the children grew that of a public service for their elders. It is a matter of doubt if there are still any residents living who attended that first gathering in 1867. Mr. Brown must have had some data from which to make his statement, but he was not a resident in 1867.

The present writer first attended its services on July 9, 1870, and thereafter was conversant with facts and writes from personal knowledge. He has already (some years since) given in our pages an account of that occasion in a paper on ‘West Medford in 1870.’ The Union was a neighborhood affair which was expected in time to grow into a Protestant church of some order, or possibly a ‘Union church,’ hence the appropriate name in some way adopted. It may be that sometime records that must have been kept may be found, and give more accurate information. We have been told that such were deposited in the office of the town clerk, but recent research among the city records therefor has been fruitless.

Up to April, 1870, Rev. Melville B. Chapman, a student in Boston University, supplied its pulpit. He was of the Methodist Episcopal order, was much liked by [p. 84] the people, and at the above date was, by his bishop, appointed minister of his church in Wakefield, Mass. He in later years achieved success and prominence in the Christian ministry, making a good beginning with the ‘Union’ in West Medford. He was succeeded by Rev. Louis E. Charpiot, a French gentleman of much ability and many excellent qualities, who had been pastor of a Congregational church in Stratfield, Conn., but was just then engaged in journalism upon the Nation, published in Boston by James M. Usher. The latter, recognizing his ability, was instrumental in bringing him to West Medford.

Mr. Usher, in the history above quoted, says truly of the ‘Union,’ ‘As there was no church organization the arrangement was not wholly satisfactory.’ Mr. Charpiot preached twice on Sunday, attended and conducted a class in the independent Sunday school in the afternoon, and for some time tried the experiment of a mid-week prayer service on Thursday evening. This latter was but slightly attended, as the more zealous church members attended the like gatherings in the Medford churches with which they were connected. The Sabbath gatherings made a good showing (for the capacity of the hall) and were a convenience for the older people and those not actively engaged in church work.

In 1870 some building operations commenced and new comers were in evidence. A weekly paper in Medford began publication in December, and the following, clipped from its issue of February 11, 1871, shows that interest was being taken in the matter of a village meeting-house:—


We announced, two weeks since, that if the ground could be secured and the material furnished, Mr. John H. Norton would do all the work for the erection of a meeting-house, to be located in West Medford, without charge-all as a free gift.

This week we are happy to be able to inform our readers that the gentlemen who have recently purchased the Smith estate, and who are making many improvements which all rejoice to see, have [p. 85] authorized us to say that they will give the land for a meetinghouse. That's noble! Messrs. Story, Judkins and Holton never were behind hand in good deeds. Three cheers for the friends that make this generous offer! Now who will have the honor of giving the stock? Who? We shall be glad to announce the name next week. Three cheers and a tiger for the man, whoever he may be!

The following month there appeared in the same Medford Journal a communication that was both history and appeal, under date of March 18:—

editor of the Journal:—Will you allow me to say a few words in relation to the West Medford Christian Union Society:

That organization has now been in existence for about three years, and from the start it has done well, the last year, especially, being of unusual interest. Mystic Hall has been filled every Sunday with attentive audiences, and the Sunday school embraces nearly all the children in the place. In fact the Hall has become altogether too small for the purposes of the Society, and for some time past the question of building a suitable house of worship has been seriously agitated by the people in West Medford.

The annual meeting of the Society is to be held next Monday evening in Mystic Hall, and my object in sending you this communication is, through your valuable paper, to remind the people in the neighborhood of that fact. There should be a full attendance at that meeting, and decided measures should be taken about erecting a suitable place in which to hold religious services. Now is the time to act. West Medford is growing, the people are a churchgoing people, and this part of the town would be greatly helped by having a meeting-house. Aside from the influence which it would have upon the people themselves, every property-holder knows that the value of his property would be thereby enhanced, and a good church would help much towards attracting, in the neighborhood, the right kind of people that would truly build up the place.

Let me say again that never was there a time more propitious than the present for such an undertaking. Besides the fact that the land and the labor of the builder have been offered free of expense, the Society never was in a better situation than now. Both the Sunday services and the Sunday school are full, and the pastor, Rev. Louis E. Charpiot, has been very faithful and remarkably successful.

Will not the people turn out on Monday evening next, and let the Society's business be promptly done?


This was immediately followed by an editorial notice: [p. 86]

An important meeting in West Medford.

We gladly publish the above communication about the West Medford Christian Union, to which we call the earnest attention of our readers in that growing part of our town.

The people in West Medford have done remarkably well in establishing and keeping up religious services in their neighborhood, and they deserve much credit for it. By that means many have attended church who would not have done so otherwise, and the foundation has been laid for a large and prosperous society. The time is come, however, in which they should do the next thing, that is, build a church, and we shall be much mistaken in the enterprise and earnestness of the West Medford people if they do not take measures for the accomplishment of that project at their meeting next Monday evening. We understand that all in West Medford who are interested in the matter are entitled to take part in the meeting and earnestly urged to attend it. A church in West Medford would be just the thing for that part of the town, and we hope to see its spire and hear its bell before long.

The writer attended the annual meeting thus alluded to, and can witness that the Journal man's report of the same, which followed on March 25, is correct:—

West Medford Christian Union.

The annual meeting of the West Medford Christian Union was held in Mystic Hall last Monday evening. Mr. A. B. Morss was elected Chairman, and S. S. Leavitt served as Secretary. The report of the Clerk and Treasurer was presented, showing the society to be in a sound condition financially. The report was unanimously accepted. Messrs. Farwell, Stevens, McLean, Mann and Ritchie were elected to serve as an Executive Committee for the ensuing year.

It was voted that the thanks of the society be presented to the Pastor, Rev. Mr. Charpiot, for the able and faithful manner in which he has discharged the duties of his office, and that he be invited to remain with us another year.

The Executive Committee were instructed to confer with the proprietors of the ‘Smith Estate’ in regard to the land which they had kindly offered to donate to the society to build upon, and to report at the adjourned meeting. Mr. John H. Norton repeated his munificent offer to build a church provided the materials were furnished, and there seem to be good grounds for believing that this much needed enterprise will now go forward to completion.

Messrs. J. W. Wilson, E. W. Cross, and S. S. Leavitt were [p. 87] selected as a committee to solicit subscriptions to maintain preaching during the coming year. Mr. Leavitt was re-elected Treasurer. The meeting was adjourned to next Monday evening.

We recall that Mr. Leavitt began his duty at once by asking each one present, ‘How much will you do for the cause of the Lord this year?’ and made note of their replies.

There was considerable interest manifested at first in the project. Several meetings were held, and the executive committee went to view newly erected church buildings in Everett and Stoneham as models for the one proposed. The land owners put no condition of denomination upon their proposed gift, neither did Mr. Norton upon his. The land owners selected and offered the site of present Trinity church, but there were those that wanted a location ‘on the other side of the railroad,’ regardless of the fact that the village was to grow in the other direction.

Just at this time the Baptists and Methodists at Medford began new church building plans, and as the modern summer vacation had just come in vogue, the project was laid over till autumn. The executive committee found that in the raising of funds people were not ready to accept the idea of a ‘Union church’ with no recognized denomination to sustain it. Mr. Usher, in the history already quoted from, said, ‘several plans for a church (meaning organization) were considered and given up, when a few citizens thought a Congregational church could be supported if an organization was effected.’ Some others, of the Baptist order, went so far as to issue a warrant calling ‘a meeting of the First Baptist church in West Medford,’ but nothing came of it.

During the summer Mr. Charpiot became the victim of some unscrupulous persons who took advantage of his inherited tendencies and brought him to West Medford in a helpless and pitiable condition. Feeling this disgrace deeply, he resigned his ministry and left town. It should be said here that he later rallied from the evil [p. 88] effects of the same, went into work for others thus afflicted, achieved success therein, married again, and until his death, some years later, was much respected and beloved.

Directly there was a ‘sociable’ held in Mystic Hall to forward the enterprise. It was largely attended, and probably the first gathering of the kind in that part of the town. Refreshments were lavishly provided, and the following afternoon a similar gathering was held for the children.

With Mr. Charpiot's removal several families withdrew both attendance and support, and the congregation gradually decreased. The committee supplied the pulpit by clergymen of various denominations—Unitarian, Universalist, Methodist, Baptist—but there was the feeling that the continuous service of some one preacher was desirable. With this in view, in November, the Rev. William Edwards Huntington was secured by the committee which, by the resignation of Mr. Ritchie and election of Mr. C. E. Hippisley, consisted of one Unitarian, one Baptist and three Methodists.

With the prevailing feeling that a ‘Union church’ would be impracticable, and that an active church of some denomination should take up the work, this action was a logical and natural sequence.

Mr. Huntington was about to graduate from Boston University, of which he was in after years the honored president. He served as his predecessors had done, by preaching twice each Sabbath, but as the so-called Christian Union was not a church, did not enter into pastoral work. Though the Methodists began in October to hold class meetings, organized by the pastor of the First M. E. Church of Medford, Mr. Huntington was in no way connected with them.

Thus the year continued until the time of an annual meeting, which was held in the evening of April 1, 1872, twenty-two persons being present. By this time the class meeting of the Methodists had resulted in the organization [p. 89] of a church of that order, and steps had been taken in the same direction by the Congregational people, both expecting to begin their services in Mystic hall. It is somewhat significant of existing conditions that at this meeting, after the former committee had been reelected but declined to serve, a new executive committee was chosen for six months. The use of Mystic hall had at first been given the Union, and on change of ownership the same condition continued, the new owners saying, ‘You can have it as long as you wish it.’1

The minority voters in that last annual meeting ceased regular attendance under the new management, and on June 12 the West Medford Congregational church was, by a ‘Council,’ recognized.

The election of committee for six months may be readily understood when we read a subsequent statement—‘The organization was continued till October, 1872, when the West Medford Congregational Society was ready to do business.’ (Vol. XIII, p. 28, Register.) That there was some feeling over said action is indicated, as we read, ‘Years have passed away. . . . Any difference or unpleasantness that may have been then are outgrown.’ (Register, Vol. XIV, p. 33.)

A few words concerning the Union's meeting place may be of interest. Mystic hall was also the rallying place of the Lyceum and Library Association, and had been the home of Mrs. Smith's somewhat famous seminary (1854-1858). For public use its furnishings were simple. The platform (two steps high), said to be enclosed by the panel-work of the seminary organ, was laid with a red carpet, and had upon it a haircloth sofa and a chestnut pulpit with walnut mouldings, the work of some village carpenter. There were two large cases of [p. 90] similar construction at the rear of the room, filled with books of the association's library. In the other corner was a cylinder stove of the 1850 style. About six feet high, it was famous for its heating qualities, and now, after forty-eight years more, for its longevity, as it is still in commission ‘at the old stand.’ Wooden settees, some painted, perhaps relics of the seminary, with others of later introduction, stained with the umber of human contact, seated the attendants. An ornamental chandelier, originally with glass prism pendants, held four kerosene lamps. There was also a shaded lamp for the pulpit. As there were no collections (this was before the days of ‘weekly offerings’) there were no ‘contribution boxes,’ as the term used to be. A cabinet organ, loaned by some interested one, completed the furnishings of the room, which was well finished and lighted by six large unshaded windows.

It would be interesting to trace the fate of such of these articles as are not there still in use. Suffice it to say, that the ‘pulpit’ was in later years in evidence as a desk or counter in a West Medford paint shop.

Four West Medford churches, Congregational, Universalist, Baptist and Shiloh, have been served by these and similar in this same Mystic hall.

Reference has been made to records of the Christian Union. Could such be found, more accurate statement of its final dissolution might be written. Till then, Mr. Hooper's statement is fitting:—

This Society retained its organization until 1872, when its leading members took measures to form themselves into separate organizations.

The records of such show Trinity (Methodist Episcopal), April 1, 1872; West Medford Congregational, June 12, 1872. These are the first of the new order. Their half century mark is nearing. The West Medford Christian Union prepared the way.

M. W. M.

1 That the land owners, who also owned Mystic hall, made their offer in good faith is shown by the fact that in the following years, when the two resultant churches were erected, the company, in the persons of the two latter named, assisted in the purchase of land to the extent of $2,860.00. Mr. Norton was the largest contributor to the erection of the Congregational church edifice, and later the donor of its parsonage and land.

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