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History of the Methodist Church at Norwich Vermont

Prior to the year 1800, Methodism had scarcely gained a foothold in Vermont. The first Methodist society in the State is said to have been formed at Vershire by Nicholas Suethen in 1796. Two years later, only one hundred church members were returned as residents in the Vershire Circuit, then including the whole of eastern Vermont. Zadock Thompson, in the first edition of his Gazetteer of Vermont, published in 1824, gives the number of preachers, traveling and local, at that time as about one hundred, and the number of societies much greater. Probably no religious body ever made so rapid a growth in the state or the country as did the Methodists during the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century. Although largely outnumbering every other at the present time, its later rate of increase is comparatively slow.

Methodist Meeting House, Norwich Vermont

Methodist Meeting House, Beaver Meadow, Norwich Vermont, Built in 1837

We have no information that fixes the time at which Methodist meetings began to be held in Norwich. The earliest preaching was by circuit preachers, and of these Eleazer Wells and Nathaniel Stearns were among the first. Both of these men had the certificates of their ordination to the ministry (as early as 1810 or 1811) by Bishop McKendree entered upon the town records, and both doubtless labored here more or less about that time. Rev. Amasa Taylor was also here some part of the time about 1813. About 1815, the first church building was erected by the Methodists, a wooden structure of modest dimensions, which stood near the forks of the highway leading from Union Village to Norwich Plain, and about two miles south of the former place. Some members of the Waterman family were among the earliest adherents to the Methodists in the north part of the town. The Johnson family also was early represented. The first church building continued in use about twenty years. In 1836, the present brick church at Union Village was built, and the old church taken down and converted into a parsonage at that place. Here Methodist meetings have been regularly supported for nearly ninety years. The organization is styled the “Methodist Episcopal Society of Norwich and Thetford.” The number of families at present worshipping with the society is about 150 from Norwich and Thetford; the number of scholars in Sabbath school, ninety. Morrill J. Walker was secretary and treasurer of the society from 1840 to December 28, 1879, when A. V. Turner was elected secretary, and still holds that office. E. M. Fullington is treasurer.

Methodist Church at Union Village, Norwich Vermont

Methodist Church at Union Village, Norwich Vermont, erected in 1836

Either the same year or the year after the building of the brick church at Union Village (in 1836 or ’37), a small church building was completed at West Norwich (Beaver Meadow), the better to accommodate the southern and western parts of the town, with adjacent portions of Sharon and Hartford. Full congregations were gathered here for many years; but deaths and removals, together with a constant decline in population, have greatly weakened the society in recent years. Stated meetings were, however, continued a portion of the time until 1884. Calvin Sawyer, Esq., a leading member of this society, died in 1883, at the advanced age of eighty-five years.

Although the strength of the Methodists has always been in the northern and western portions of the town, several prominent clergymen of the order resided at the Plain between 1820 and 1840. About 1833-35, Rev. Amasa Buck, and an associate, Moses Lewis, supported a school at Norwich Plain, which they called Franklin Academy. Rev. Zerah Colburn, the great mathematical prodigy in early life resided here for five or six years previous to his death, which occurred in 1840.

No assignment of resident preachers was made to this town previous to 1822. From that date, we have compiled out of the records of the Conference, and by the assistance of Rev. C. H. Walters of Union Village, a complete list, it is believed, of the Methodist clergymen who have since preached for any considerable time, either at Norwich and West Norwich, or (since 1840) at Union Village, as follows:

At Norwich and West Norwich

At Union Village