Meriden's founders and our Universalist Heritage
The City of Meriden is a relatively young town in the state of Connecticut. Whereas Hartford and New Haven date back to the early part of the 17th century, even in 1800 what is now Meriden was largely unsettled woods with a few farms clustered around a small parish house in what was known as the North Farms area of Wallingford. Where the center of community life once stood is today a quiet neighborhood near the corner of Ann Street and Dryden Drive. The parish house, built in the mid 1700s so that the farmers would not have to travel all the way to Wallingford to attend services, was replaced by a new meetinghouse in 1780 located near the corner of East Main and Broad Streets. The Town of Meriden was established at that parish in 1806. Incidentally, that original parish continues to this day as Center Congregational Church. The 1780 meeting house was replaced in 1830 and remains the oldest standing church in the city to this day.
Traveling down East Main street near the junction of Interstate 91 you will pass by the light at the intersection of Pomeroy Avenue, named for Noah Pomeroy, who moved here in 1818. Pomeroy had grown up in Old Saybrook. His father, a veteran of the American Revolution, had died shortly before Noah was born in 1786, and from an early age Noah found whatever work he could and saved for his education. He began his career as a salesman of tin wire and other metals, and in his travels throughout the New England area he became introduced to and fascinated by a novel theological idea known as "Universalism". Pomeroy settled in Meriden and by 1821 was already established as an inventor and manufacturer of metalware. It was around this time that Mr. Pomeroy invited a Universalist preacher, the Rev. Mr. Brooks, to hold a service at his home, which was located near what is now the corner of Pomeroy Avenue and East Main Street. The meeting was attended by thirty or so of his friends and business associates.
Like much of New England during the period, the predominant religious doctrine in the area was Calvinism as inherited from the Puritans, and so what Rev. Brooks preached was largely regarded as heretical. Three years later Mr. Pomeroy invited another speaker, the Rev. Mr. Dodge, a former Baptist preacher of some renown, to speak at his home. While this aroused more interest in the Universalist idea, it is reported to have angered some of the Baptists who were in attendance.
The idea takes hold
If you have lived in the Meriden area for a while, many of the names associated with our church, particularly those of its founders, will probably be familiar to you. In addition to Noah Pomeroy, whose story is related in the main text, his son-in-law, Isaac C. Lewis (1812-1893) was one of our original founders and financial benefactors. Lewis, one of the industrialists who put Meriden on the map, along with Lemuel Curtis, and Horrace Wilcox founded the Meriden Britannia Company (precursor to International Silver) and was its president. Like many of his friends and business associates of the day (like Curtis, Wilcox, Calvin Coe, and JC Ives), he was active in charitable work. Lewis one of the founders of the City Mission Society, and a trustee of the Connecticut School for boys. He served as a state legislator, from 1848-1859, and again for two short terms during the Civil War. He also served as the Mayor of Meriden from 1870-1872. Lewis Avenue, (where Westfield Mall and the Midstate Medical Center are located) is named in his honor.
Mr. Pomeroy continued to hold very occasional services at his home, often with years in between, led by visiting preachers. By 1835 the interest in these services grew and they became more regular and held in taverns, schoolhouses, and other private homes. The ten-dollar speaking fee that was customarily paid to the preacher in those days was frequently covered by Mr. Pomeroy himself and often with the assistance of Mr. Calvin Coe, another early Meriden industrialist and progressive thinker. (who built the Coe Mansion across from Platt High School) Pomeroy, Coe, Isaac C. Lewis, (father of Meriden's silver industry) J.C. Ives, and many of the other founders of the congregation were outspoken advocates for the abolition of slavery, and other progressive ideals of the day.
Meriden remained a small agricultural community until the coming of the railroad in 1836 which resulted in moving the downtown area to its present location. The growth of the community and the influx of people from outside the area led to a more fertile ground for the small progressive group. In the spring of 1853, at a time when Rev. Abraham Norwood was leading services attended by 60 to 80 persons, a committee was formed to investigate the construction of a permanent place of worship. The following year sufficient money had been raised, and in April of 1854 The First Universalist Society of Meriden was established. Rev. James Gallagher was its first called minister. When Mr. Gallagher moved to Ohio three years later, the services continued being led by members of the congregation or visiting preachers who "settled" for a short period of time.