|The plantation that became Marlborough was settled by English “Puritans”. As was the entire colony of Massachusetts Bay in New England. These Protestants differed very little in their religious concepts from the English “Pilgrims” of the adjacent Plymouth Colony. The fact that these
two colonies had separate charters from the English Kings, was their main reason for any difference at all, and that difference was in their political organizations. Yet the Plymouth people were a bit more lenient in regards to religious liberty, than those of the Bay Colony who would brook not even slight deviations from their creed, and dealt harshly with any who had religious ideas at variance with them.
At Marlborough, however, there were no discordant incidents. Even the witchcraft delusions were unknown in Marlborough. Marlborough’s immediate neighbors were the members of |puritan John Eliot’s christianized Indian community, who, having no church or preacher of their own, often came to the Sabbath services at the Marlborough Meeting House.
A requisite of the General Court in granting the English Plantation at Marlborough in 1656 was that a minister be settled there and twenty-five families be resident there within three years. Rev. William Brimsmead, was ordained in Marlborough April 7, 1659, but there was not the minimum twenty-five families until after the convening of the General Court of that year, so that it was not until May 31, 1660, that the Court could give its final approval to the plantation at Marlborough.
From this date until 1778, there was but one church in Marlborough and one parish. Over the years the policies of the Puritan Church had been liberalized and in what is the State of Massachusetts many other religious societies or sects have been allowed to establish themselves and live in peaceful co-existence. The Puritan Church and the town government continued to be hand-in-hand, although avowed members of other church bodies could not vote in Town Meeting on matters pertaining to the Puritan Church, nor were they taxed for the support of that church.
In 1711 a new Meeting House had been built on the Common, but by 1805 the inhabitants decided to build a new House and the single parish split in two over the question of where to build the new edifice, with the result that in Town Meeting it was voted to build it on the site of the present Congregational Church at the edge of the East Village of the Town. Thereupon the people of the West Village decided to build a church on the site of the present Unitarian Church (Meetinghouse Building), even though by doing so they must bear the whole expense of the West Church plus their proportionate share of the cost of the East Church, which by vote of the Town was the official church.
On April 27,1806, both churches opened for services, the West Church with Rev. Asa Pachard (who has resigned as Town Minister) in the pulpit, and a slight majority of the church members in the pews, while at the East Church all the deacons and a slight minority of the church members sat to hear Rev. Reuben Puffer of Berlin who filled the pulpit that day. The East Church had been built large enough to seat the whole town, but the West part refused to reconsider their action and rejoin the East, and soon obtained a charter from the State Legislature to become a separate Parish. Later, at an indefinite date, the West Church adopted the principles promulgated by some of the leading ministers in Boston, and became a Unitarian Church. The building has been altered considerably over the past 150 years and it
stands today, although the parish is not strong in numbers.
The East Village Church adhered to the orthodox principles of the Puritan Church, but encountered some vicissitudes. It had to be rebuilt to a smaller size to better accommodate the congregation. In 1833 a shirt-lived Evangelistic society made great inroads on the membership, but after a three year separation they were reunited and hence the name “Union Congregational Church”. The common in front of this church off Main Street still bears the name “Union Common”. In 1852, immediately after some extensive repairs, the church burned, but was soon rebuilt and rededicated, as the third church on that site within a period of 47 years. This building had a lofty spire, and stood until September of 1938, when a violent hurricane toppled the spire back on to the main body of
the building, taking roof and floors under it and leaving only the four walls standing but twisted. The next year it was again rebuilt, and in 1959 a large addition was completed for Sunday Schools and assembly hall.
These two churches, Unitarian and Congregational, the West Parish and the East Parish, are the descendants of the original single parish Puritan Church which had been in existence nearly 150 years, and each church can trace its ancestry back, not by its buildings, but by a succession of ministers for more than 300 years.
On October 14, 1740, the Rev. George Whitefield from England made his appearance in Marlborough. He had been “on tour” from Georgia to Boston preaching his new gospel to crowds in the larger cities and getting contributions for his favorite orphanage charity in England. He was a gifted spellbinder and his ability to move his listeners to tears or frenzy may have warped his sense of perspective, so he decided that even Puritan Massachusetts should be saved through his personal influence with the Lord of Hosts. Returning toward the southern colonies along the Post Road route after visiting Boston, he stopped to give the people of Marlborough the benefit of his eloquence, but was denied the use of the Meeting House, so preached anyhow on the Common, yet effected no miracles of redemption as far
as the local listeners were concerned. The Marlborough people remained stubbornly Puritan.
The music in the early churches consisted mainly of the singing of hymns by the entire congregation. Later, a choir of the best singers was formed and supplemented by instrumental music of violins and clarinets. In the late 17oos a few Boston churches had pipe organs. Probably the first church organ in Marlborough was installed at the Unitarian Church in 1824. This instrument was constructed in Marlborough by Aaron Howe, who lived where Hillside School is now situated. Constant effort in trying to bring all the pipes into tune caused the poor man to become insane, and he died at the age of 37. The organ was taken by John Clisbee, who lived at the southwest corner of Lincoln and Pleasant Streets, opposite the Unitarian Church, and completed and installed in that church when Rev, Seth
Alden was the pastor. The Clisbees, John and his son George, Manufactured other church organs after this success. John Clisbee was a man willing to experiment in new ideas. In his time that part of Lincoln Street near his home (which is still standing) was called Mulberry Street because of the Mulberry trees he had set out in an attempt (not confined to Marlborough alone) to produce silk in this climate. A fair success was achieved but not enough to compete with the silk production in France.
In 1828 a Methodist Church Society was gathered and a brick church erected near Gleasondale in that part of Marlborough that is now Hudson; its first minister was Rev. Leonard P. Frost. This church burned in 1852 and the next year a Methodist Church was erected on Church Street in Marlborough, thereby giving the name to that street, and also to Front Street that ran from East Main Street to opposite the front of the church. Because this building was nearer the center of the residential area that was formerly the “East Village” the term “Methodist Village” has been long used as the popular designation of this district. In the 1890s and early 1900s this church was used as the auditorium in which many fine musical concerts were staged, which attracted people from all over the City. These concerts were not in most instances sponsored by the Methodist Society itself, but that Society was pleased to have its church edifice used to promote culture.
On September 2, 1829 the Universalists dedicated a church building on Main Street at about where the New System Laundry now stands (Jake’s). In 1866 they built a compact and beautiful new church on Main Street at what was then the corner of Fairmount Street. In the 1870s this building was elevated to permit the construction of retail store space on the street level, and to provide by rentals, revenue for the church. The Universalists in Marlborough have since disbanded, but the building was in use until a fire destroyed that block in 1973.
In the 850s there had been a considerable influx of both Irish immigrants and French speaking Canadians who were attracted to Marlborough because of the opportunities to work in the shoe factories that has been established here. These newcomers were in general Roman Catholics, and it was not long before Masses were being held in private residences or in the open air, that they might have the benefits of their own religion. On August 7, 1855 the Irish Catholics dedicated their first church structure, a wooden building, on the eastern slope of Mt. Pleasant Hill, on what is now Charles Street. They also bought land nearby at the top of the hill for cemetery purposes. On July 16, 1868 the cornerstone of the present Immaculate Conception Church was laid on Prospect Street. The magnificent building
that now stands was erected and in 1869 the first Mass was said there with Fr. John A. Conlon as its first pastor. The original building did not have the spire and entrance vestibules, but these were added after a few years, the spire extending toward the heavens to a height of 175 feet. This however, toppled in the hurricane of September 22, 1938 and was rebuilt to a much lower height. At one time a clock with dials facing south, west and north was an addition to the spire, with a bell chimes for the hours. This church is the largest in Marlborough in number of parishioners.
The granite used in the construction of the Immaculate Conception Church was all quarried and dressed in Marlborough, the quarry being located on South Street.
In 1870 the French Catholics formed St. Mary’s Parish and erected a wooden church on Broad Street. Fr. Francis Gouesse was its first pastor. This church too, suffered great damage in the hurricane of 1938, and when repaired it was faced with brick and greatly improved architecturally on the exterior.
The Italian population in Marlborough organized St. Anne’s Church about 1925, under the direction of the Franciscan Fr. Marcellinus Sergenti. At first they occupied a small church that had been erected in the 1880s by a French Protestant Society. On this site they later erected a beautiful small church at the corner of Lincoln and Gibbon Streets and continued as a prosperous and growing parish. Many Italians came to Marlborough at the building of the Boston water supply reservoir here about 1900, although there were few families in the City previous to that time. The opportunities for employment in the factories as well as in construction, made Marlborough attractive to them.
The Baptists in Marlborough organized as a church society in 1868 with Rev. M.R. Deming as first minister, and the first baptisms were at Lake Williams that same year. In 1869 the town voted to build a new town hall, and the old Town Hall building was put up for auction and purchased by the Baptist Society. The Baptists moved the building across Main Street to a site nearly opposite Florence Street. Here it was remodeled for their purposes, and also raised up to permit two retail stores on the street level. The building as a church was named Fulton Hall for a Baptist clergyman of Boston who was of assistance in getting the Marlborough Church organized. This building served for twenty years as a church until, in 1899, the edifice now the church of the First Baptist Society was dedicated, at
the corner of Mechanic and Witherbee Streets, a prominent site facing east so that the building is visible the full length of Main Street.
The Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is on Main Street at the corner of Cotting Avenue and facing the “Union Church” common. It was built in 1887, and Rev. George S. Pine was its first Rector, although the church society was established some years before, under the guidance of the Episcopalians of St. Mark’s Church in Southborough, which church is a sort of adjunct to the famous St. Mark’s School for boys in that Town. The Marlborough Church is a low-roofed building of the “Brookline” residential type of architecture conceived by the noted architect, H. H. Richardson, famous for Trinity Church at Copley Square in Boston.
The First Church of Christ Scientist is at the corner of West Main and Winthrop Streets and on the site of the William Arnold house that was there 160 years ago, at least, and parts of that house are incorporated in the church building. The Christian Scientists have been active in Marlborough for the past fifty years.
The Greek Orthodox Society erected St. Anargyroi Church at the juncture of Cashman and Central Streets in 1925 with Very Rev. Theophilos Spyropoulos as Pastor. It is a very pretty building of the Byzantine style or architecture finished on the exterior with white stucco plaster and surrounded by a masonry wall with wrought iron gates. Fifty years ago there were very few of Greek origin in Marlborough and they were then traditionally engaged in restaurant and candy store businesses, but work in local factories has given security to an increasing number of these good citizens.
The first of the Jewish people mentioned in Marlborough was Simon Louis, who advertised his clothing business in the Marlborough Mirror in the Civil War Years of the 1860s. Since that time there have been a great number of Jews engaged in mercantile pursuits, and as owners of manufacturing establishments, as well as in medical and legal professions. About fifteen years ago those who were in permanent residence here purchased and remodeled a residence on Newton Street as a synagogue – Temple Emanuel (now located on Berlin Road). Previous to this they had traveled to Worcester or to Boston to observe the Sabbath and seasonal Holy Days.
In 1959 the Jehovah’s Witnesses dedicated a new church building – Kingdom Hall – on the Lakeside Avenue part of the Post Road, where members from Marlborough and nearby communities attend services (Kingdom Hall is now locate din Northborough near the Marlborough line).
Whereas from 1660,to 1806 there had been but one church in Marlborough, there are now twelve edifices dedicated to religious worship. This does not include the Evangelists, Universalists, Spiritualists and some others who in times past have been active here, nor does it included those who have never been here in numbers sufficient to organize churches – Lutherans, Presbyterians, Adventists, Mohammedans, Confucians, etc. to cite a few who have lived here.