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[p. 56]

Local history in a barber's shop.

‘In hell there are no barber's shops.’ Such is a remark attributed by historian Brooks to the Medford minister of a century ago. We fancy the assertion to be the result of a course of reasoning as to ‘human depravity,’ rather than of any personal search, by Doctor Osgood. Per contra, it would be of interest had the good doctor made note of the number of such shops then in Medford. As the town's minister for fifty years, he had been something of an autocrat, and was not particularly noted for soft speeches. We wonder a little what would have happened had he been in his prime when Rev. Josiah Bracket came up from Charlestown to preach to some people, not of ‘the standing order,’ in a building called ‘the college.’ Considering his sermon against the Malden Baptists, we fear it would have been ‘Let him be anathema, and the house that they shall build come to naught.’ Meeting in various places for over five years, those people succeeded, in 1828, in erecting a house of worship on the ‘lane leading from Malden road to the ship yard.’ In 1922 their successors, the First Methodist Episcopal Church, will observe its centennial and in its fourth house of worship, while the first still remains— dwelling-house, and now contains a ‘barber's shop.’ Changes made to fit it for such use revealed features of construction, and started search into its history. Prior to this, the only allusions to it we have seen in print are in the Register, Vol. XII, p. 2, and an occasional paper (1878) called The Half Century. Neither of these contain any account of the dedication, though the same was unique in its features and a novelty in Medford.

People are wont to think of the predecessor of the Mystic Church as the Second Church of Medford. It was the Second Congregational, but the First Methodist Episcopal is the second church in Medford, its beginning was fifteen months the earlier. To the edifice built by Galen James and his associates, Second (or First Trinitarian) Congregational, must be accorded the record of [p. 57] the first dedication on September 1, 1824—about three and one-half years prior to that of the Methodist structure.

In the library of the New England Conference Historical Society, in Christian Advocate, February 22, 1828, we find—

On Thursday, Feb. 7, the first Methodist Episcopal Church in Medford, Mass., was dedicated to the worship of God. The order of exercises commenced with select music; which was followed by the introductory prayer by the Rev. Enoch Mudge. Select scriptures were read by the Rev. Bishop Hedding—Dedicatory Poem—The dedicatory prayer was made by the Rev. Bishop. The dedicatory sermon was by the Rev. J. [ohn] N. [ewland] Maffit Two original hymns written for the occasion by the Rev. J. N. Maffit, were sung with great propriety and musical effect, one previous to the address and the other following—Concluding prayer by the Rev. T. C. Pierce and benediction by the Rev. Mr. Bracket.

The concourse of people was too great to find accommodation in the new church: and after the above services had been attended in it, the Congregational church of which the Rev. Mr. Warner is pastor, in a spirit of Christian fellowship politely offered the accommodation of their meetinghouse in which the Rev. Mr. Maffit delivered the sermon that had been prepared as the dedication sermon. The text was in Haggai 11, 7. ‘And I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.’ The services were solemn, appropriate and affecting. Union of feeling and heavenly charity mingled in the notes of prayer, and animated the skilful and harmonious strains of praise.

The following is one of the original hymns:—

The gorgeous temples, Lord, are thine,
That bow beneath a thousand years;
Whose walls dark ivy wreaths entwine—
Whose aisles are worn with mourners' tears.

And there are towers that rise to thee
Beyond the sapphire arch of heaven—
The temples of eternity
To thy redeemed children given.

Yet from the starry halls of light
Thy spirit wings its viewless way,
And comes in power and glory bright
To fill these humble walls today.

Today as if in heaven we sing
And raise the song of sacred praise
Until his hallowed court shall ring
With our triumphant grateful lays.

[p. 58] We praise thee, Jesus, that thy name
Hath waked a feeble echo here,
And kindled in our souls a flame
To burn through heaven's eternal years.

Oh, triumph in the Holy One,
Whose hand hath led us safe along,
Until these temple walls were done,
Oh, raise to heaven a glorious song.

It certainly was an event worth recording, though ‘a day of small things’ in the beginning of Medford Methodism, but the fine courtesy of that long-ago day is pleasant to read. John Newland Maffit was the Boston minister, and a wonderful pulpit orator and poet of no mean ability. Enoch Mudge was also a prominent preacher, and T. C. Pierce was presiding elder.

But what a contrast there must have been in the appearance of the two houses of worship. Stately and grand, with imposing colonnade and steeple, the equal of any for miles around, was the one by the river's side; the other, twenty by forty feet and fourteen feet high, utterly devoid of any ornamental finish, with no roof cornice, its walls, as well as roof, shingled, with two tiers of small windows for light and ventilation, and one door for entrance in the end.

It was probably innocent of paint, also. The interior was just one bare room, and may have been plastered. If it was heated at all (remember there never was any stove in a Medford meeting-house till 1820 or 1821) the stove was in the corner near the door, and fifty feet of necessary funnel hung under the ceiling entered a little chimney in the rear end of the roof. The seats were plain wooden benches extending from the aisle to either wall. The pulpit, very plain, with perhaps a hinged shelf in front for communion table, was on a low platform, around the sides of which was a rail, at which the communicants knelt, this last an innovation in Medford. It was one of the ‘ten idols’ the standing order of theocratic New England had been combating for two centuries. Two others were church government by bishops [p. 59] and dedication of churches. Here was Medford invaded by three, the advance guard of the ten. Historian Brooks is careful to state that the house of the Congregationalist was dedicated ‘to Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ They seemed to thus have admitted the ‘seventh idol,’ but the others they had no use for.

But the historian makes no mention whatever of this old church building of 1828, and would have the reader think there was no Methodist church in Medford until 1843. Just how long this building was used we cannot say, nor yet with certainty when it was moved to its present site, but let us see what the barber's shop alteration reveals.

Made into a ‘double house,’ the entrance doors were in the sides, with a large room in either corner. In the recent change the front and floor of one front room was removed. This revealed the fact that the building had been cut in two lengthwise, one half moved aside, and twelve feet built in, making its present width thirty-two feet. Like the old-time framing, the side sills are ten inches square, the cross timbers (about four feet apart) are nine inches square and all of hewed pine timber. These support the floor joists of oak, and all sound and good for another century. (Those just removed were replaced at a lower level, that of the addition in front forming the barber's shop.) A second floor was put into the building when enlarged, also two chimneys, three by four feet, containing fireplaces. The old windows of eight by ten glass were all utilized, but in the change from church to dwelling the front was covered with clapboards. To an observant builder there was much of interest in its examination, but one thing was especially noticeable. The frame of the original building, so far as could be seen (and perhaps the boards), was of lumber that had been used in some earlier construction. We have mentioned its plainness and lack of ornament. The Methodists of that day had not ‘money to burn,’ and. this once-used material is proof of it. Those old timbers [p. 60] told us something of the efforts of those few men and women of a century ago, and the privations they endured and sacrifices they made to obtain the same liberty that the fathers sought two hundred years before. We learned something in the prospective barber shop on Salem Street near Washington Square.

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