Pilgrim Congregational Church, 540-544 Columbia Road


Image: No. 10048 Postcard: Pilgrim Church, postmarked November 12, 1913.

Pilgrim Congregational Church,  540-544 Columbia Road also known as Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church

A well detailed Romanesque Revival and Victorian Eclectic church, Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church, 540-544  Columbia Road, Dorchester/Boston (1888-1893, MHC #BOS.5796), also known as Pilgrim Congregational Church or Pilgrim Church, has been an important presence in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston for more than a century. The red-brick and brownstone church is the congregation’s third location in north Dorchester since its establishment as a nondenominational church in 1862, and its reception into the Congregational fellowship in 1867. The church occupies a prominent location at Upham’s Corner, contributing to the area’s transformation from a burial ground location for the town of Dorchester in the mid 17’h century, to a primary commercial center by the late 19th century. Dorchester was annexed to the city of Boston in 1870. Though a 1970 fire in part of the building necessitated some modifications to the interior, Pilgrim Church retains architectural significance for its design by Stephen C. Earle of Worcester, and for the remarkable survival of its 1896 organ, Opus 404 of the Boston firm of George S. Hutchings. Retaining integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, the Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church meets Criteria A and C, and Criteria Consideration A, of the National Register of Historic Places at the local level.

Architecture — Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church is architecturally significant for its integration of Romanesque Revival and Victorian Eclectic detailing, in a church design that allowed for phased construction from 1888 to 1893. In size, scale, and materials, the l’/2-story, multigable church, constructed of pressed red-brick and brownstone, is typical of late 19th-century churches in Boston. With a chapel at the northern end (completed in 1890), and the auditorium-main sanctuary at the southern end (built in 1893), Pilgrim Church derives much of its architectural significance from the phased plan developed by architect Stephen C. Earle and is one of few identified Earle buildings in the city. Earle’s design for Pilgrim incorporates elements of the Akron Plan of Sunday School design, first used in Ohio after the Civil War. Akron Plan features at Pilgrim Church include upper- and lower-level rooms adjoining the chapel that provided overflow seating for large worship services, and separate grade-level classrooms for Sunday School instruction once interior windows and doors overlooking the chapel were closed. A 1970 fire in the attic over the auditorium-sanctuary led to the conversion of the auditorium-sanctuary to a multipurpose fellowship hall, retaining, in a side chamber of the room, the Hutchings Opus 404 organ (1896), a very early example of the electro-pneumatic playing action developed by Ernest M. Skinner. Surviving stained-glass windows in the chapel and auditorium-sanctuary contribute greatly to the building’s historic integrity and merit additional study.

Community Development and Planning — Among the oldest buildings extant in the business district at Upham’s Corner, Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church is an important example of 19th-century institutional development in north Dorchester. Occupying its third site, Pilgrim Church is associated with shifting centers of institutional construction in north Dorchester, from the Edward Everett Square vicinity to Stoughton Street and finally to Columbia Road, the principal avenue through Upham’s Corner by the turn of the 20th century. The church is a prominent element in the urban streetscape, its detached construction and landscaped parcel maintaining an early pattern of development at Upham’s Corner, which was supplanted in the second decade of the 20th century by new construction of largely attached buildings defining a continuous street wall lining the public way. With a congregation formed in 1862, Pilgrim Church has historic associations with the town of Dorchester before its citizens voted in 1869 in favor of annexation to the city of Boston, which took effect in 1870.

Religion — Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church maintains its historic associations with the Orthodox (Trinitarian) Congregational Church, associations that were established in 1867 and affirmed in 1929 when the congregation adopted its current name. The oldest Congregational church in north Dorchester, Pilgrim Church represents the community activity typical of the Congregational Church and other Protestant denominations present in the wider area, which encompassed Sunday School instruction, youth ministry, fellowship and benevolent organizations, and fundraising efforts. The congregation’s association since 1961 with the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination reflects historical developments in the organization of the Congregational Church and is part of Pilgrim Church’s history during the period of significance.

Developmental history/additional historic context information (if appropriate)

Established as a Massachusetts Bay Colony town in 1630, Dorchester encompassed approximately 9.7 square miles along Dorchester Bay and the lower Neponset River, occupying a relatively level plain interrupted by about fifteen drumlins of somewhat higher elevation. Formal English settlement on Dorchester Bay was in the vicinity of Edward Everett Square in Dorchester’s northern end, including a meetinghouse at Allens Plain (Pond and Pleasant Streets). The First Burying Ground in Dorchester (Dorchester North Burying Ground, 1633, MHC # BOS.809, NRIND 1974, LL 1981, PR 2002) was established to the southwest, at what later became the intersection of Stoughton Street and Columbia Road. The burying ground is two blocks north of the present Pilgrim Church. In 1679, the town center shifted south to Meeting House Hill (Bowdoin, Hancock, and Adams Streets) as the new meetinghouse location. Agriculture dominated the local economy through the Colonial period, with industrial activity concentrated along the Neponset River at Lower Mills at the southern end of Dorchester.

Known in the 18111 century as Cemetery Corner, the burying ground vicinity acquired a commercial focus beginning in 1804, when merchant Amos Upham (1788-1879) opened a dry goods store diagonally across the street, on the site of the present Columbia Square Building, 578-588 Columbia Road (1895, MHC # BOS.5802), at the corner of Dudley Street. Three generations of the Upham family kept the store in operation into the mid-1890s, and the intersection of Stoughton Street, Columbia Road, and Dudley Street came to be known as Upham’s Corner. While serving as Dorchester’s primary commercial center by the late 19th century, the Upham’s Corner Area (MHC # BOS.DH) also emerged as a municipal and institutional focus for the northern end of Dorchester, which took shape following the city of Boston’s annexation of Dorchester Neck in 1804 and the Andrew Square vicinity (now South Boston) in 1855 [MHC Recon. Report; Gordon].

Early Years of Pilgrim Church (1862 to ca. 1882)

The congregation now known as Pilgrim Church was described as “unsectarian,” or not affiliated with any denomination, in its early years. On 2 November 1862, sixteen individuals met at the Dorchester home of the Rev. Edmund Squire to organize the Church of Christ. The Rev. Squire (1815-1889) was a native of Taunton, England, and studied theology with the Rev. James Murch of Bath, England. Upon arriving in the United States, he was installed in 1853 as pastor of the Second Hawes Congregational Society in South Boston, later serving as minister of a Unitarian congregation at Washington Village in South Boston from 1856 to 1862.1 His Dorchester pastorate continued, with some gaps, from 1862 to 1867 [Congregational Year-Book (1890), 37]. During this period, the congregation considered associating with either the Methodist or Congregational denominations. In May 1867, church members voted to move into closer relation with the Orthodox Congregationalists. The church was received into the Congregational fellowship as an Orthodox (Trinitarian) church on 21 July 1867 [“Our Pilgrimage,” PTCC web site; Manual, 7-8].

Always associated with north Dorchester, the congregation occupied two sites during its early years, before construction of the present building on Columbia Road began in 1888. A wood-frame church was built on a parcel at the northwest corner of the (East) Cottage Street intersection with Pond Street and Pleasant Streets. Though the date of construction is unclear, this seems to have occurred by 1865, when the church was known as Cottage Street Union Church. The congregation then became known as the Cottage Street Congregational Church, after a society of that name formed on 17 November 1871 [1874 atlas; 100th Anniversary, n.p.; Public Records (1898), 27].

The Cottage Street congregation moved its church building to another site, on Stoughton Street near Columbia Road at Upham’s Corner, by 10 November 1877, at which time the congregation voted to change its name to Pilgrim [Congregational] Church. As the location of the Dorchester North Burying Ground (see above), Stoughton Street was a longtime institutional focus at Upham’s Corner. Other churches present in the immediate area included Stoughton Street Baptist Church [Second Baptist Church], Stoughton Street at Sumner Street (ca. 1866, MHC #BOS.6272), and the first building of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (1849, burned 1887, new church at 14-16 Cushing Avenue, 1888, MHC #BOS.5840, NRIND 1998). Pilgrim Church’s building on Stoughton Street was demolished by 1904 and replaced with a post office [1874, 1889, and 1904 atlases; 100th Anniversary, n.p.; Taylor, 93; Dorchester Athenaeum; MACRIS database].

Pilgrim Church is the oldest Congregational church in north Dorchester. Three other Congregational churches operated in Dorchester in 1867, when the congregation later known as Pilgrim was received into the Congregational fellowship. Located about two miles southwest of Upham’s Corner at Codrnan Square was Second Church of Dorchester, 600 Washington Street (1806, MHC #BOS.6359, NRDIS 1983), which had separated from Dorchester’s First Parish when the latter associated with the Unitarian church. Three miles south of Upham’s Corner at Lower Mills (Mattapan), the Village Church was organized in 1829 on River Street near Temple Street (building no longer extant). At Neponset, approximately 21/2 miles southeast of Upham’s Corner, was Trinity Church, 51 Walnut Street (ca. 1860, MHC # BOS.6354), organized in 1859 [MACRIS database; Dorchester Old and New, 63-67].

Growth of Pilgrim Church (ca. 1882 to ca. 1915)

Growth in the membership of Pilgrim Church and its associated activities by the early 1880s revealed the “serious disadvantages of an over-crowded church edifice, [with] no chapel or Sunday-school room in which to carry on the steadily enlarging work.” Due to space constraints at the Stoughton Street building, Sunday School classes were held nearby at Winthrop Hall, a brick block later replaced by Dorchester Savings Bank, 570-572 Columbia Road (1929, MHC # BOS.5801). The congregation also operated its own chapter of the nondenominational Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, organized on October 18, 1885, and devoted to youth ministry activities. On April 6, 1886, Pilgrim Church had its first social and supper, with about 80 in attendance. This event was held down the street in the vestry of the Stoughton Street Baptist Church (Second Baptist Church), a building reportedly designed by Stephen C. Earle, who would design the building constructed by Pilgrim Church in the years immediately following. Pilgrim Church held its first church fair in 1888 [Manual, 12; 100th Anniversary, n.p.; Historical Resume, 7; “Our Pilgrimage,” PTCC website].

Under the direction of the Rev. John Winthrop Ballantine, pastor of Pilgrim Church from 1882 to 1888, the congregation voted on March 14, 1884, to build a new church. Twenty persons were named to the building committee, moderated by Deacon A. J. Castle. The congregation selected the present site on Columbia Road, and paid for the property in installments from the autumn of 1884 through the autumn of 1887. The building site was largely undeveloped in 1874, with only a small building of undetermined nature adjacent to an outbuilding at the northern end of the site, where Anion Street meets Columbia Road [Dorchester Beacon (May 6, 1893), 1:6-7; Historical Resume, 3; 1874 and 1889 atlases].

Born in Norwalk, Ohio, the Rev. Ballantine (1851-1932) was a graduate of Amherst College and Union Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1879 at the Congregational Council held in Taunton, Massachusetts. After a brief pastorate in Taunton, he was called to Dorchester, where he supervised the early activity associated with the planning and construction of a new church. Stone foundations were built and paid for in the summer of 1888. Membership in Pilgrim Church had grown to 154 individuals by the time the Rev. Ballantine submitted his resignation in November 1888. He went on to pastorates at churches in Connecticut and western Massachusetts [Year Book of the Congregational and Christian Churches (1932), 45; Manual, 12; Historical Resume, 3].

The building committee engaged architect Stephen C. Earle of Worcester to design the new church. Though constructed in phases during a period of just over five years, Pilgrim Church was designed by 1888, when an architectural rendering of the building exterior was published in the congregation’s manual and catalogue of members. Incorporating a chapel at the northern end, an auditorium (main sanctuary) at the southern end, and smaller spaces for church administration, the church was constructed largely as designed, with the exception of the spire on the tower, which was planned but not built. The chapel reflects the Akron Plan of Sunday school design, named for the Ohio city where the plan was first seen in a Methodist Episcopal church built in 1866-1870. Thousands of Akron Plan Sunday schools were built in the United States between 1870 and the First World War. The principal feature of the Akron Plan is a worship space with adjoining smaller classrooms on one or two levels. Separated from the main chapel by interior windows, the classroom spaces on three sides of the chapel at Pilgrim Church opened onto the chapel interior for overflow seating, and were easily closed off to create separate classrooms for Sunday school activities [Manual; Odams interview; Jenks, “The Akron Plan”].

Stephen Carpenter Earle, FAIA (1839-1913), was born in Leicester, Massachusetts, and apparently moved to Worcester while still attending high school. After taking a short course in architectural design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he was employed as a bookkeeper for five years, and also served eleven months in the Union army during the Civil War. Earle returned to the study of architecture by working in offices in New York and Worcester, and travelling on a seven-month tour through Europe that concluded early in 1866. He opened an architecture office in Worcester in February 1866, and the following month established a partnership with James E. Fuller that continued for ten years. Earle worked independently from 1876 through 1891, during which time he designed Pilgrim Church in Dorchester. From 1872 to 1885, he maintained a Boston office in addition to his Worcester location. Earle worked in partnership with Clellan W. Fisher of Worcester from 1891 onward [Withey, 186-187; Men of Progress, 196-297; MACRIS database].

Earle designed a large number of revival-style, public and private institutional buildings in Massachusetts, among them churches, schools, libraries, town and other meeting halls, and buildings on the campuses of the Westborough State Hospital, the Lyman School in Westborough, the Massachusetts Agricultural College (later University of Massachusetts) in Amherst, Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, and Clark University in Worcester. His body of work also included residences and commercial buildings. At least four dozen Earle buildings have been identified in Worcester alone, among them ten churches built from 1877 to 1908. In addition to Pilgrim Church in Dorchester, Earle designed Central Congregational Church, Salisbury Street, Worcester (1884, MHC #WOR.371); Pilgrim Congregational Church, 909 Main Street, Worcester (1887, MHC #WOR.1318, NRIND/MRA 1980); and the First Congregational Church, 1 Washburn Square, Leicester (1901, MHC #LEI.115), along with churches for Episcopal, Lutheran, Universalist, Swedish Baptist, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Friends congregations and parishes [MACRIS database].

Due to difficulties in the pastorate of Pilgrim Church following the departure of the Rev. Ballantine, construction of the church’s superstructure did not proceed until 1890, when the Rev. William Hervey Allbright (1849-1907) accepted the call to be the next pastor. By that time, the church society had dissolved, and the church had reorganized as a corporate body, incorporating on 26 February 1890. The Rev. Allbright was born in Blisworth, Northamptonshire, England, and came to the United States about 1872. A graduate of Hamilton College and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1879 in Auburn, and earned a Doctorate in Divinity from Hamilton in 1895. While his early pastorates in Auburn and in Stillwater, Minnesota were with Presbyterian congregations, it was not uncommon for ministers to lead congregations of different denominations during their careers. The Rev. Allbright remained at Pilgrim Church until his death from appendicitis at age 58. He also served as president of the Boston Congregational Club, trustee of the Congregational Board of Pastoral Supply, director of the Boston City Missionary Society, secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, member of the Sabbath Protective League, and vice-president of the New England Federation of Men’s Clubs [Public Records (1890), 27; Congregational Year-Book (1908), 10].

Both the chapel and auditorium-sanctuary were constructed during the pastorate of the Rev. Allbright (known as the Rev. Dr. Allbright from 1895 onward), beginning with the chapel, which was completed fewer than eight months after his arrival at Pilgrim Church in 1890. Deacon Edwin S. Woodbury was chairman of the building committee, reconstituted that year. The church’s Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor (Y.P.S.C.E.) and Sunday School formally opened the building on December 28, 1890, and the first worship service followed on January 1, 1891. Before the service, the Rev. Allbright led a procession from the old chapel on Stoughton Street to the new chapel on Columbia Road. The chapel had a seating capacity of about 300, which included the seating in adjacent Sunday School spaces [Dorchester Beacon (December 20, 1890), 5:1; Historical Resume, 4].

According to period newspaper accounts, Woodbury & Leighton of Boston was the contractor of Pilgrim Church. Whether there was a family connection between the chairman of Pilgrim’s building committee and one of the principals in the contracting business has not been established. Isaac F. Woodbury and George E. Leighton established their firm in 1875. They were specialists in masonry construction, and also maintained a carpenter shop and yard on Malden Street in Boston’s South End, where employees manufactured woodwork for the buildings under construction. Woodbury & Leighton built the second St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 14-16 Cushing Avenue, Dorchester (1888, MHC #BOS.5840, NRIND 1998), a short distance from Pilgrim Church. In addition to private residences and educational buildings, the firm’s commissions included Allston Congregational Church, 41 Quint Avenue, Allston/Boston (1891, MHC

#BOS.8297, NRIND 1997); and the First Church of Christ Scientist Mother Church, 250 Massachusetts Avenue, Fenway/Boston (1894, MHC #BOS.7520, LL 2011) [“Corner Stone Laid” (1893): Commerce, 175; MACRIS database].

One stained-glass window on the north wall of the chapel, depicting Ruth and Naomi, provides a connection to the Rev. Allbright’s birthplace in England. The window reportedly was a gift to the Pilgrim pastor from the Rev. Dr. Hallowell and Sunday school workers in Northamptonshire, England [PTCC website]. Little information has been located about the nature of this gift, and it is not clear whether the window was sent from England or commissioned in the United States by English patrons. Further study of this and other stained-glass windows in the church is necessary to determine the makers.

On May 3, 1893, the congregation laid the cornerstone for the auditorium-sanctuary. The Rev. Dr. Arthur Little, pastor of the Second Church of Dorchester at Codman Square, gave the principal address, in which he outlined the history of Congregationalism and described the cornerstone of the Trinitarian Congregational Church (Pilgrim Church) as standing for “both Christian and secular education, of correct government and the highest form of liberty.” The first service held in the new auditorium, on October 8, 1893, incorporated the baptism of two infants and ordination of two young men as deacons. The auditorium, with a seating capacity of about 700, served as the main sanctuary or principal worship space at Pilgrim Church until 1970 [Boston Globe (May 4, 1893), 5:4-5; Dorchester Beacon (May 6, 1893), 1:6-7; Dorchester Beacon (October 14, 1893), 1:6-7].

Perhaps due to its spacious new facilities, as well as the action and interest of Dr. Allbright and the congregation, Pilgrim Church was one of the two Protestant churches in Dorchester selected to host delegates of the Christian Endeavor Society convention on July 10-11, 1895. Fifty thousand delegates (“Endeavorers”) from around the nation converged in Boston and attended simultaneous meetings at nineteen churches in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. The Second Church of Dorchester at Codman Square also participated in the event [New York Times (July 11, 1895)].

A significant intact feature of the auditorium-sanctuary space at Pilgrim Church is the organ, Opus 404, built by George S. Hutchings in 1896. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, George Sherburn Hutchings (1835-1913) was trained as a cabinetmaker, and in that connection came to the attention of Salem furniture maker William Hook, father of Elias and George G. Hook, then pre-eminent organ builders in Boston. Hutchings began working for the Hook organ company in 1857, quickly becoming foreman of the case makers and ultimately superintendent of the factory. In 1869, Hutchings joined with former Hook employees Dr. J. H. Willcox, M. H. Plaisted, and G. V. Nordstrom to form the Boston organ-building firm of J. H. Willcox & Company. Hutchings had acquired the interests of the other men by 1884, renaming the firm George S. Hutchings Company. About 1890, he hired Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960), “a young man who was to exert a powerful and lasting influence on the American organ,” and who “claimed credit for developing the electric [playing] action that appeared with increasing frequency in Hutchings’s larger organs in the mid- and late 1890s.” The organ at Pilgrim Church is an early example of the electro-pneumatic organ. A more widely known example of an electro-pneumatic organ built by the Hutchings firm is Opus 410 (1897) at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church), 1525 Tremont Street, Boston (church 1876, MHC #BOS.7984, LL 2004). Skinner worked successively as a tuner, voicer, draftsman, and factory superintendent for the Hutchings company, and was vice-president in 1901, when the firm merged with Votey Company. Skinner established his own firm in 1903 [Ochse, 233-240; PTCC website; OHS Pipe Organ Database].

Dedication exercises for Pilgrim Church were conducted over three days in early October 1903, after the congregation paid off its mortgage on the property. Expenses for the land, foundation work, combined chapel and auditorium, and fixtures, including the organ, totaled $85,175.42. By this time, church membership numbered 505 individuals, among them 168 families [Annual Statement (1900)].

More social and benevolent organizations were established at Pilgrim Church in the late 19’1′ and early 20`h centuries. The Pilgrim Fraternal Association held its first meeting in February 1893. A membership organization, the association organized both for social fellowship and to dispense sick and death benefits. By 1908, nearly three-quarters of the membership dues were paid into a fund to aid members, in case of sickness, or their families, in case of the member’s death. The church’s Women’s Missionary Society and the Ways and Means Society joined in 1902 to form the Women’s Union, and reorganized in 1906 as the Women’s Society for Christian Work. The Young Ladies’ Class, an auxiliary group, organized in June 1906, and reorganized in May 1912, after Dr. Allbright’s death, as The Allbright Circle [Historical Resume, 7; Farwell, 547].

Continued growth of the Congregational ministry in north Dorchester by 1900 necessitated construction of a separate chapel to serve the Savin Hill neighborhood, located east of Upham’s Corner. The congregation of Pilgrim Church established a fund for building the Romsey Chapel, later known as Romsey Congregational Church, at 33 Romsey Street (1898; Alfred L. Darrow, architect). Romsey Congregational Church organized here in 1903, but declining membership would cause the congregation to reunite with Pilgrim Church in 1930 (see below). The Romsey chapel subsequently served as an Odd Fellows Hall and, more recently, a local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars [Dorchester Old and New, 65; building permit for Romsey Chapel].

Improvements and Celebrations (ca. 1915 to ca. 1963)

Upham’s Corner maintained a mix of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings into the 1910s, when the last historic single-family dwellings were redeveloped with masonry blocks. The Pierce Building, 592-598 Columbia Road (ca. 1910, MHC #BOS.6496) and Boston’s “first movie palace,” the Strand Theatre, 543-553 Columbia Road (1918, MHC #BOS.5800, Funk and Wilcox, archt.), replaced signature Federal-period dwellings, the Samuel Bowen Pierce House (1804) and the Clapp-Dyer House (1810), respectively. Construction of banks and other commercial buildings followed. Anchoring the southern end of the commercial and institutional streetscape, where the business district transitions to residential development near Hancock Street, the City of Boston had constructed the Municipal Building, 510 Columbia Road (1902, MHC #BOS.5799), which also housed a branch public library. At the northern end of the business district, the Cifrino brothers built the Upham’s Corner Market, 600-610 Columbia Road (ca. 1919, MHC #BOS.6499, NRIND 1990, PR 2004), as a self-service grocery store, a prototype of the modern supermarket. Boulevard improvements made to Columbia Road in 1897, including construction of a park like median strip as part of the road’s incorporation into a regional parkway system, were reversed in the 1950s, and additional traffic lanes replaced the turf-covered median [Gordon; MHC Reconnaissance Survey Report].

Membership at Pilgrim Church increased rapidly after the first World War, from 726 members in 1917  to 994 members in 1925.  Gifts and improvements to the church often coincided with anniversary celebrations, or took the form of memorials for departed members.  Pilgrim Church observed its 50th anniversary in 1917; at that time, the congregation counted its anniversary ears from 1867, when the church was received into the Congregational fellowship.  By the time of the 75th anniversary, celebrated in 1937, the church counted anniversaries from 1862, the year the congregation first gathered in Dorchester [Odoms interview].

During the tenure of the “war pastor,” the Rev. Dr. Edward Dickinson Gaylord, from 1916 to 1923, Pilgrim Church received gifts of national flags, a church flag, and two bronze memorial tablets (ca. 1920) mounted on the wall at the back of the auditorium-sanctuary. One tablet was dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Dr. Allbright, and the other named the members of the congregation who served in the First World War. On October 31, 1920, a cast-concrete baptismal font was presented to the church and dedicated in memory of Corp. Gordon E. Denton, who was killed in action during the First World War. The bronze tablets survive in the auditorium-sanctuary, and the baptismal font survives in the chapel. Later in the 1920s, chimes in the belfry were donated by the Pilgrim Fellowship and dedicated in memory of seven men (William J. Ashmore, Alonzo Bickerton, Jr., Roy E. Brown, Robert Calderbank, William W. Cook, Jr., Robert E. Naylor, and Miner G. Robertson), all of whom lost their lives during the First World War. These chimes were replaced with a recorder system at an unknown date [Historical Resume, 5; 100th Anniversary, n.p.; Odams interview].

Pilgrim Church established a Parsonage Fund by 1917, and in 1924 purchased a house at 46 Bellevue Street, located about eight blocks southeast of the church. The Rev. Dr. Clarence Wells Dunham, pastor from 1923 to 1945, was the first occupant, along with his family. The church still owns the parsonage property today [Annual Statements (1917­1925)].

The Rev. Dr. Dunham (1874-1946) was the longest-serving pastor of Pilgrim Church in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he was a graduate of Williams College and Auburn (New York) Theological Seminary, and undertook additional graduate studies at New York University. The Rev. Dr. Dunham was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1901, and his early pastorates were with Presbyterian churches in New York. He entered the Congregational fellowship in 1914, serving as pastor of Phillips Church in South Boston (1914-1920), and as dean and professor of Greek and the New Testament at Gordon College of Theology and Missions in Boston (1920-1923), before accepting the call to Pilgrim Church in Dorchester. During his tenure at Pilgrim Church, Dr. Dunham also served as a trustee of the Massachusetts Missionary Society, director and later vice president of the American Congregational Association, and president of the Boston City Missionary Society [CCC Yearbook (1946), 44].

Improvements were made to the building and grounds of Pilgrim Church from 1919 to ca. 1930. The chapel interior was renovated, and the gallery on the south wall was enlarged, with the balustrade moved forward (northerly) into the space from its original position. The present interior windows and doors on the south wall of the chapel, with oak surrounds and diamond-pane leaded glass, may have been installed during this renovation. Re-grading of the grounds and construction of an iron fence surrounding the church property were undertaken in the late 1920s and completed in 1930, using funds from an anonymous donor. A segment of this fence survives on the Columbia Road frontage and is counted as a contributing resource [Historical Resume, 5-6; Annual Statement (1931); 100th Anniversary, n.p.; Odams interview].

Closure of the Romsey Congregational Church at Savin Hill in 1930 reunited the congregation with Pilgrim Church and also contributed to various improvements at Pilgrim. When the Congregational Church Union of Boston sold the Romsey chapel that year, three memorial stained-glass windows from the chapel were relocated to the back wall of the auditorium-sanctuary (Columbia Road side) at Pilgrim Church. These stained-glass windows were destroyed during the 1970 fire (see below), though the inscription panel from one was saved, reading MARY ELLEN CASTLE 1838-19.15.2 This panel is stored in the pastor’s office. Pilgrim Church also received proceeds from the sale of the Romsey Street property, which may have facilitated other improvements at Pilgrim during the Dunham pastorate. Two additional memorial windows on the back wall of the auditorium were dedicated in 1930. One, in memory of William D. Henderson, a member of both the Pilgrim and Romsey churches, did not survive the fire. The other, depicting Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane, was dedicated to the memory of Linford G. Wilson (1906-1930), a member of the church who died in a swimming accident. The Wilson window survives on the Columbia Road facade [Annual Statement (1931); Odams interview].

On the occasion of Pilgrim Church’s 75th anniversary, celebrated in 1937, the anniversary committee commissioned a model of the building and coordinated construction of a miniature “symbolic church,” encouraging members of the congregation to sponsor specific parts of the model, such as the tower, main entry, windows, a wall, or part of the roof. The committee issued participation certificates to sponsors, and the model church was assembled following a turkey supper on February 25, 1937. Arthur H. Merritt, a longtime superintendent of the Pilgrim Sunday school, chaired the anniversary committee, which raised more than $10,000 through almost 250 pledges. The model is not known to survive [“If Bricks Could Talk;” 75th Anniversary Committee Final Report].

In May 1961, the congregation of Pilgrim Church voted to join the United Church of Christ (UCC). The United Church of Christ is a denomination formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. However, Pilgrim maintains the name formally adopted by the congregation on May 15, 1929: Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church. The name recalls Pilgrim’s longtime associations with the Orthodox Congregational, or Trinitarian, Church [100th Anniversary, n.p.; “Pilgrim Welcomes You”; “Historical Overview”].

Pilgrim Trinitarian Congregational Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1962. A week of anniversary events included worship services, entertainment, and a “birthday party banquet,” held at Whiton Hall on Centre Street in Dorchester [100th Anniversary, n.p.].

Pilgrim Church After the Period of Significance

A fire in the attic of the auditorium-sanctuary in October 1970 resulted in the loss of multiple stained-glass windows and a rooftop cupola, and caused water and smoke damage in that section of the building (see Narrative Description). In the aftermath of the fire, the interior of the auditorium-sanctuary was renovated for use as a multipurpose fellowship hall, and worship services at the church were returned to the chapel.

Since the end of the period of significance, Pilgrim Church has housed a number of important social services for the community, including a summer camp established in 1963, a day-care center in the 1970s and 1980s, and an overnight homeless shelter for men, established in 1990. The homeless shelter, with a capacity of 120 persons, continues to operate today, along with food pantries, free community lunch on Saturdays, a thrift shop, and the office of an organization that sends 300 inner-city children to summer camp. Approximately 1,400 people use the building weekly. The congregation, currently numbering about 25-30 persons, continues weekly worship services in the chapel, with a part-time pastor coordinating this urban ministry.

North Dorchester, including Upham’s Corner, is a densely populated and ethnically diverse community today. From the 1960s through the 1980s, urban neighborhood commercial districts saw increasing vacancies as suburban shopping centers and malls were built to cater to consumers with automobiles. Lack of widespread investment in aging commercial buildings and housing stock, during a period when suburbs were flourishing, exacerbated urban decline. Dwindling congregations of long standing, in downtown Boston as well as in the outlying neighborhoods, struggled financially with declining attendance. Building on the congregation’s origins as an “unsectarian” church, unaffiliated with any particular denomination, Pilgrim Church briefly blended a Sunday morning worship service with that of a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregation that has since disbanded [Pilgrim Church web site].

The congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2012 with a fundraiser and dinner at Florian Hall on Hallett Street in Dorchester. Preservation needs include stabilization of the building’s tower to combat prolonged water infiltration that has weakened the church’s walls and foundation and damaged historic interior finishes. Repointing and waterproofing of the masonry also is needed. Further study and preservation is recommended for the remaining stained-glass windows and Hutchings Opus 404 organ. The church maintains a collection of scrapbooks containing significant primary source materials of archival merit.

Archaeological Significance 

Historic archaeological resources described above have the potential to provide detailed information about the late history of the Davenport estate. The barn, stable, or some other non-domestic structure that once existed on the northern edge of the property is located in close proximity to two Davenport heir-owned houses, and may have been used by the Davenports or leased to one of the other adjacent property owners including Ed McKechnie, A.P. Wheelock, the Dyer family, and Jeremiah Sanbourn. Archaeological deposits relating to this structure would provided information on this structure’s function that would then aid in understanding the social, cultural, and economic patterns of this important center of commerce and development in Dorchester, as well as significant information on the use of the property by the Davenport family.

Many stained-glass windows were lost in the 1970s as a result of fire. While the exact design of these windows may not be reconstructed through archaeology, archaeological survey in close proximity to the building may provide samples of glass lost in the fire. These samples, coupled with surviving black-and-white photography of the windows, may provide color references that could aid in the accurate reconstruction of these significant archaeological features.


Posted on

April 10, 2020