Image: No. 575 Postcard. Pilgrim Congregational Church, Dorchester, circa 1910.

On November 2, 1862, sixteen persons met at the home of Rev. Edmund Squire in Dorchester and adopted resolutions and articles of agreement under the name “The Church of Jesus Christ.” The organization was declared non-sectarian and without ecclesiastical relations with any denomination. The question often arose in the following years as to the advisability of connecting with either the Methodists or Congregationalists, and on May 6, 1867, it was voted to bring the Church into closer relations with the Orthodox Congregationalists. In July, a group of representatives of Congregational Churches of Boston and vicinity voted to recognize the Pilgrim as an Orthodox Congregational Church.

Postcard. Caption on front: Pilgrim Congregational Church, Dorchester. Postally unused. On verso: No. 289. Published by Boston Post Card Co., 12 Pearl St. ca. 1910

A church building was constructed on Cottage Street in 1862, and this building was moved to Upham’s Corner in 1878. In April, 1871, the legal name “The Cottage Street Congregational Society” was accepted. The parishioners changed the local name several times before settling on the name “The Pilgrim Congregational Church” in November, 1877. Rev. Edmund Squire, who originated the movement to form the church became the first pastor, serving until September, 1865. For two years, the church was without a settled pastor after which time the church recalled Edmund Squire to serve until December 1868. Dr. Henry M. Dexter then served as acting pastor from February, 1869, until August, 1870.

The foundations of a new church were begun in November, 1888, at 540 Columbia Road, but following Rev. Ballantine’s resignation, there was a delay in the construction until Rev. Allbright began his pastorate. Finished in 1892 to a design by Stephen Earle, the Pilgrim Church is in the Romanesque Revival style.

The pastors and their periods of tenure were:

Edmund Squire, 1862-1865, 1867-1868
Henry M. Dexter, Acting Pastor, 1869-1870
F. R. Abbe, 1871-1873
F.A. Hand, 1873-1875
John L. Harris, Acting Pastor, 1876-1877
Harrison A. Shorey, 1878-1879
John Winthrop Ballantine, 1882-1888
Charles H. Smith, 1889
William Hervey Allbright, 1890-
Clarence Wells Dunham

Once the church was provided with its own home, it brought the Romsey Chapel into existence, completing the building in February, 1899, under the leadership of Rev. Frank L. Luce.

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 congregations 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 Uphams Corner, contributing to the transformation of the area from a burial ground location for the town of Dorchester in the mid 17th 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.

For more information, consult:

Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. Dorchester: Chapple Publishing Company for the Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tercentenary Committee, 1930.

Manual of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, Dorchester, Boston, Mass. Compiled and published by vote of the Church, May, 1891. Boston, 1891.

Shand Tucci, Douglass. The Gothic Churches of Dorchester. Issued by the Dorchester Savings Bank. Boston: Tribune Publishing Company, 1972.


Posted on

April 15, 2020