A Historical Sketch
by C. W. Wallace, 1910
From "A Souvenir of Berwick Methodism 1810-1910"
School Street Methodist Episcopal church, of Berwick, goes back to the year 1810 for the initial impulse to which it owes its origin. Bishop Francis Asbury frequently passed through this town before this date, and on one occasion May 26, 1807, preached in Berwick. But no effort was made to establish Methodism here until 1810. That year the Norway Plains (now Rochester) circuit was formed, and preachers from there came into Berwick. During the conference year of 1810-11 a class was formed. Among those who are mentioned as coming here are Hezekiah Field, Abner Clark, Leonard Frost, John Lord, and others. About 1816 quite an extensive revival occurred in this section on both sides of the river, under the preaching of John Lord. Again in 1824, according to Zion's Herald of Oct. 20 that year, a revival was in progress in Berwick.
Rev. Lindsay Wallace (or Wallis), a Methodist local preacher, came to Berwick to live in 1820. He associated himself with some Methodist people residing at Cranberry Meadow, and seems to have been responsible for the continuance of Methodist services from 1820 to 1830. He continued to be actively indentified with the society until 1861. Holding a commission as Justice of the Peace, he served the community very helpfully. His sons became prosperous business men of Rochester, N.H.
In 1829 Berwick with all the towns on either side of the river as far as Portsmouth witnessed an intense revival of religion. According to Zion's Herald of that year, which reports the matter, it began at a camp-meeting, probably the one held that year in Eliot. Methodism in all that section was greatly stimulated by this revival. The following year Berwick appears for the first time as an appointment in the Maine Conference, Paul C. Richmond and M. Rollins being appointed. They labored also at South Berwick, where Methodist meetings had begun in 1828. For ten years Berwick was connected either with South Berwick, or Eliot and Kittery.
The erection of a church was delayed by the difficulty of deciding upon a suitable location. During this period "Reformation" John Adams, who had been a circuit preacher for twenty years, located and lived in the vicinity of Great Falls [now Somersworth], N.H. He became more closely identified with Methodism in this section of the town than the appointed preachers. Under his leadership a church was erected just to the west of Cranberry Meadow, not far from where the Brick Schoolhouse now stands. This was in 1837. December 24 of that year was set for the dedication. But during the preceding week, it took fire from an overheated stove and burned down. A Mr. John Manning, who had advanced quite a little money on the building was a heavy loser. The people apparently were not united on the erection of this building, the location not being satisfactory. But the next year under the leadership of John W. True, stationed at Berwick, a beginning was made for the erection of a church about a mile to the west of the former. [This location is directly across Cranberry Meadow Rd. from Noble Middle School - for many years the Amazeen family property] In 1839 Paul C. Richmond and Mark R. Hopkins were sent to Berwick. The building was completed and a parish association was formed to secure the building to the Methodist Episcopal church, and the society was placed on a firm footing. That same year a revival took place.
After 1841 Berwick became a separate appointment and for the next few years the society enjoyed a fair degree of prosperity. The year closing, May 1853, 79 members were enrolled. During the next ten years, though some very excellent men were appointed here, the interest seemed to decline, the records showing 68 members in 1864. The close of the war period found Berwick Methodism quite prostrate, and after 1864 no preacher was appointed here until 1867. During these years Joseph H. Downs, the father of J. H. Downs, now a trustee of the church, who was a local preacher living on Pine Hill, served the people very acceptably.
That services were kept up during this period is due chiefly to the income of a ministerial fund, the history of which is as follows: In the old town of Berwick there were certain ministerial lands. In 1749 the town was divided into two parishes, North and South, the North parish comprising practically what is now Berwick. The North Parish Church (Congregational) was erected in 1753 at Blackberry Hill. An act of the General Court of Massachusetts, passed Dec. 11, 1816, named a self-perpetuating board of trustees and authorized the sale of the ministerial lands, that the income from the proceeds of the sale might be annually appropriated for the support of preaching in the parish. The society at Blackberry Hill became extinct in 1828 and the income of the fund was voted to the Methodist ministers, who came there to preach. The old church was burned down May 4th, 1848 and the fund became available for support of preaching at the Methodist church, known as Cranberry Meadow Meeting House. The first chairman of this board of trustees was Joseph Prime and the first treasurer was Mark Libby. The records of every annual meeting from 1816 to the present are in the hands of J. O. Gowell, the present clerk.
John E. Baxter was appointed to Berwick in 1867, and interest in the society revived. He was followed by A. Turner, who was succeeded by Isaac Lord. These men each remained three years. The latter began to hold services in Berwick village.
April 22nd, 1876 a meeting of great interest was called at the church at Cranberry Meadow. It was a legally authorized meeting of the trustees, pew owners, and proprietors of the meeting house. This meeting voted to tear down the church, remove it and rebuild at Berwick Village. That important undertaking was carried through that same year and on Jan. 4th, 1877, the new church was dedicated by Bishop R. S. Foster. Though the dimensions of the old church were preserved, a vestry was provided beneath the auditorium and a tower was added. From this time the history of School Street Church proper begins.
D. B. Randall was appointed in 1877, and from that year to the present the society has had thirteen different pastors. The church has maintained a steady growth, performed a helpful ministry to the community and been a generous supporter of all benevolent interests of the denomination. The pastorates of E. W. Simons, '83 - '84, S. Hooper, '87 - '90, Francis Grovenot, '91 - '94 and T. P. Baker, '05 - '09, were fruitful in marked revivals, giving to the church in this period a really noteworthy history in this respect. Since 1883 461 persons have confessed conversion, whose names appear on our own church books. The pastorate of W. P. Merrill '95 - '98 made possible the enlargement of the church and extensive repairs.
The centennial year of 1910 will go on record as an eventful one. Sunday morning March 20, the church took fire, just as the people were getting ready to attend the morning worship. The fire started from the furnace, burned through the floor of the auditorium, damaging the whole of the interior of the church and vestries including the organ. The official board was called together the same day by the pastor, T. P. Baker, and a committee was elected to adjust the insurance and make repairs on the building. The committee elected were: J. W. Shaw, J. H. Downs, D. H. Horne and E. F. Gowell. April 24th the vestry was ready for occupancy, T. P. Baker preaching his farewell sermon. May 1st C. W. Wallace, the new pastor, began his work. June 12th was fixed upon as the date of re-opening the auditorium. But on Tuesday afternoon, May 31st, the people of Berwick were called to the second fire. This time the fire started in the organ where a workman was making repairs. This was more disastrous than the former, destroying the organ, the steel ceiling of the auditorium, and burning the roof of the church over the organ, besides damaging the vestries. The committee, however, had taken the precaution to reinsure and increase the policy somewhat. The same men consented to serve once more, and after adjusting the insurance, proceeded to put the church in shape again. Mr. Harry Cochrane, the well known fresco artist, was secured to put up a new ceiling, and decorate the auditorium. A new pipe organ was purchased from the Hook & Hastings Co. and the pews were varnished and fitted with new cushions. The outside received two coats of paint and was shingled. Practically a new church was turned over to be re-opened Dec. 4th., the occasion being observed as a centenary service. For the repairs the society was not called upon to raise any money. The committee, Messrs. Shaw, Downs, Horne and Gowell, for their painstaking work, excellent judgment and economical management have placed the society under great obligation.
Berwick Methodism enters its second century with a society well housed, centrally located, and well organized. The community affords it an excellent opportunity for growth and helpful ministries. Wise leadership, progressive management and proper development of its constituency, will insure a future to School Street Church, and give to the town of Berwick a moral, spiritual leadership adequate to its needs.
NOTE: For this historial statement I have consulted all the old church records, the records of the trustees of the North Parish Fund, the minutes of the early sessions of the New England and the Maine Conferences, History of Rochester, N.H., Journal of Bishop Asbury, Journal of "Reformation" John Adams and early issues of Zion's Herald.
C. W. WALLACE.