Development of the Meeting House
Puritans developed an early government that did not distinguish
between civil and ecclesiastical law. The philosophy of the English
settlers was manifested in the design of the early meetinghouses.
The first New England meetinghouses were square, hip-roofed buildings
with a central pulpit to ensure that the participants would be actively
involved in worship. Congregants were expected to be able to hear
and see the worship service clearly. Deerfield's first meeting house,
built in 1675, was similar to the post office building, which presently
is next to the fifth Meeting House. Later meetinghouses were house-like
in appearance, and the pew benches were placed lengthwise in the
building. Eventually, a steeple was added either on the building
itself or on a small addition that was designed solely for that
purpose. Deerfield's second Meeting House, built in 1682, supported
a steeple, but nearly spread apart from its weight. During the Federal
Period, meetinghouses were often colored with contrasting trim on
the windows. Colors ranged between shades of orange, blue, yellow,
or brown. In 1729, the third Meeting House was constructed, a far
more elaborate structure than the first two houses. Measuring 40'
by 50', it featured an elaborate doorway, a cupola, paneled boxed
pews, a gallery with carved posts, and an elaborate pulpit. The
Meeting House also featured a sounding board, often placed above
the pulpit to improve the carrying of the minister's voice. In 1768,
the cupola was removed and replaced with a square steeple tower
with an open octagonal belfry with a spire. The Meeting House was
painted "a dark stone color, the window frames white, the doors,
a chocolate color." The seating eventually changed from pew benches
to box pews to provide warmth. Small "heating boxes" were brought
by families to warm the enclosed space. More affluent parishioners
brought their own cushions and robes as well.
Eventually, the Meeting House pews were once
more turned with the pulpit at one end of the edifice, opposite
the entry doors. These were often sold to individuals to help with
the cost of constructing the building. A seating committee was established
that apportioned the benches and pew, based on social status, piety,
and age. Documents from Deerfield's fourth Meeting House illustrate
these seating plans.
Taking communion is one of two Protestant sacraments.
Once more the sense of community is underscored, as the members
remain seated while receiving sacrament. Early communion vessels
varied in size and shape, according to the user. Later communion
cups of the same size and shape were used, moving away from distinguishing
social order in the taking of the sacrament. The addition of lighting
and heating was delayed until the early 19th century, when candles
in chandeliers, followed by kerosene lamps were introduced. Heating
was not introduced until the woodstove with long stove pipes extended
throughout the church to radiate heat.
In the Connecticut River Valley, Asher Benjamin,
known as the first American-born architect, published from Greenfield.
One of his most influential books was, The Country Builder's Assistant.
It greatly influenced the architectural style of the New England
Meeting Houses during the Federal Period. These churches were either
painted white or were built of brick. Deerfield's fifth Meeting
House, built by Winthrop Clapp in 1824, is in the Federal Style.
The meeting houses were centrally located in a community, and used
to connote wealth and refinement, each town often striving to build
a grander edifice than the other. Over time, following national
trends, new denominations came into Deerfield and brought new building
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