|Soon after taking up residence in their new dwellings, although still less than forty families in number, the community applied to the General Court to become a separate precinct. This would offer them a degree of autonomy with the privilege of keeping their own records. Their wish was granted February 1713 on the condition that they raise £50 for the support of a "Learned and Orthodox Minister" and to "have a schoolmaster to learn our children to read and write". This first schoolmaster was a Mr. John Sherman, and in 1714 Rev. Stephen Williams arrived. After two years preaching, Rev. Williams was ordained to a pastorate which he would lead for the next sixty-six years. The diary which he began in 1714 continued to the end of his life; and it provides probably the finest primary source of information about the formative years of our town.|
In April 1714, the community resolved to build its first meeting house, to be "set-up, claborded, and Shingled by ye 1st of January next". With "parcels of timber" donated by fifteen men, a meeting house was subsequently erected, standing just thirty-eight feet square. While a second-story gallery was added in time, there is evidence that the meeting house was used while still under construction. Rev. Williams began preaching to a "church" which consisted at first of just nine individuals, all men. Within a year, the assemblage had grown to between thirty and forty. Although voting for the raising of "not more than fifty pounds in mony" for a meeting house bell was initiated in the spring of 1728, it would be many years before a very, very famous patriot would cast this bell. But that's another story in itself, which I will cover in the next chapter.
So, we have a meeting house sitting right in the middle of the Main Street, which as you may recall was over three-hundred feet wide. The land immediately to the south of the meeting house was of the nature of a sandy drift, almost a sand dune. These dunes were several in number in the forest eastward. Beginning around 1740, this parcel of land was transformed, over the next few years, "by a process of enrichment and cultivation" into what is now the Town Green. This venture was undertaken more or less single-handedly by Capt. Calvin Burt, who was granted permission to enclose a long section for the street for this purpose. The northern section of this space was occupied for many years by a number of shops, stores, and "manufactories" .all with forty-year leases. The front part of the burying ground [site of the present church] was occupied by a blacksmith's and a wheelwright's shops.
The Old Meeting House stood for over fifty years. In need of extensive repairs and now probably too small to accommodate the growing congregation, the "Old Church On The Green" was built. The raising, in June 1767, occupied a full week. During this week, somewhat of a Holy Week, the pastor assembled the people for prayer every morning and every evening in the old meeting house, which stood just to the north. The church was fully finished and dedicated in April, 1768.
NOTE: Dr. William's tenure spanned a most vital period of Longmeadow's history. Indeed, his arrival happened just one year after the community had received status as a separate precinct; and his death at age ninety, occurred just a year before Longmeadow became a town. As his extensive diaries show, his was a life of indefatigable energy and purpose. At his last service, unable to walk, he had to be carried to the church. After giving his farewell words of "blessing and admonition", he baptized three children. He died a few days later, with his funeral sermon being delivered by Rev. Robert Breck of Springfield to "a great assemblage".
The fascinating life of Dr. Stephen Williams could occupy an entire book, and indeed it has! Interested readers are encouraged to hasten to Storrs Library and retrieve "The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield", by Mary P. Wells Smith.