The history of the First Congregational Church and Ecclesiastical Society of Woodbury extends back to around 1660, when a small but vocal minority of members of the First Church of Stratford had a difference of opinion regarding church leadership. This group called their own pastor, Reverend Zechariah Walker, to lead this little band of congregants, but the majority establishment of the church did not afford the same church privileges as had been promised. So in the spring of 1673, with the blessing of the General Court of Connecticut, the Second Church of Stratford, as it was known, traveled north along “The Great River” – and promptly got somewhat lost. Given the vague descriptions of the landmarks, this was not particularly surprising, but after much back-tracking, the new church members arrived at Good Hill in Woodbury. It is reported that Deacon John Minor fell to his knees, invoking the blessing of heaven upon their new settlement and enterprises, and praying that “their posterity might be an upright and Godly people to the latest generations.”
The original settlement of Woodbury extended south to the Housatonic River; north to Litchfield; west to New Milford; and east to Waterbury.
The first three pastors of what was renamed the First Congregational Church and Ecclesiastical Society of Woodbury led the congregation for 143 years, from its infancy in 1670 until 1813. The first settlers were joined by increasing numbers of their brethren; land was cleared, crops planted, cabins built, and a plantation established. The first meeting house was built in 1681 and was a simple building which served the congregation for 60 years.
During this time, the population of Woodbury continued to grow and expand, and certain sections of the town claimed their own identities. The first four “daughter” churches of First Church were Southbury (1730); Bethlehem (1739); Judea (later rechristened Washington, 1741); and Roxbury (1743).
In 1747, having outgrown the original meeting house, a new building was erected on the site. The congregation and the settlement of Woodbury was still growing and thriving.
The Revolutionary War period was a time of great growth for Woodbury, as the town provided supplies and over 1000 soldiers, including First Church member Colonel Benjamin Hinman, and another Woodbury-born commander, Ethan Allen, who lead his band of Green Mountain Boys at the Battle of Ticonderoga in a bloodless victory.
By the turn of the 19th century, it was clear that the First Congregational Church had again outgrown its building, and a new site was recommended by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1814. Not all agreed upon the new site, however, and thus the last daughter, North Congregational Church, erected their own building in 1816. Construction on First Church’s current building was completed in 1818 and dedicated on January 13th, 1819.
The members of First Church remain passionately committed to our church through good times, and through times of challenge and growth. We strive to live up to Deacon Minor’s prayer of 1673; that we might be “an upright and Godly people to the latest generations.”