The history of the Rochester Historical Society’s hallowed home

Nov 30, 2021

As New England eases into winter and Christmas quickly approaches, Connie Eschbach of the Rochester Historical Society dug into the history of the former church that has become the home of the Historical Society museum and the secrets that have been discovered within it.

To anyone who lives or has lived in an old house knows, there is a need for constant upkeep. With our museum, a church built in 1857, the same is true. It often seems that as soon as one repair job is done, another appears. We replaced the roof about10 years ago — paying for it one cupcake at a time and with help from George Church — but just this past year, more roof work needed to be done. Then there's the woodpecker who has no respect for an historic building and keeps Art busy patching holes.

One job that had been put off for years was cleaning out the heating vents. Several years ago a company was hired to blow them out. They did a great job and in the process made an interesting discovery in the cold air return grate in front of the pulpit. The find included documents from the church's early days prior to 1880; a small (almost locket sized) picture of J. Madison Mayall and his personal hymn book labeled "Meth. Prot. Hymn Book ".

Our building was first organized as a Methodist Church with 50 members. It remained as such for about a quarter of a century and Mayall was the third pastor. In the 1880's a schism occurred among the congregants, causing most to leave to start a new church at a different location.

The remaining 6 members reorganized as the East Rochester Congregational Church in 1887. It remained that way until, with a dwindling population, the building was sold to the Rochester Historical Society in 2003 for $1. Under the care of the Society, it has become a museum with the upstairs unchanged from its days as a church that was built in the Greek Revival style , popular in New England in the 19th century. In 2007, after a lot of hard work on the part of Betty Beaulieu, the church was placed on the National Register of Historical Places (the woodpecker hasn't been impressed by that).

Two other items were also found in the grate. They were election flyers from the 1800's. On one titled the Union Ticket, James Ruggles was running for Town Clerk and Theophilus King was running for Treasurer and Collector. On the 2nd one King was then running for Town Clerk. The records show that both men did serve as Town Clerks for Rochester.