In the beginning…Native Americans lived in what is now Barrington. European settlers moved in to the area by way of Plymouth, MA not long after the arrival of the Mayflower. When our Confirmation Class does its history tour they visit various places around town: the site of the 1st church in 1667 (which was Baptist) up near 4 Town Farm, the Prince’s Hill Cemetery where some of our early ministers are buried, the old graveyard down at Tyler Point where a church was built before it was taken across the river in 1717.
And we visit our own building, now on this site over 200 years with some of the same foundation blocks to prove it. From Native American land to Barrington town much has changed but our church has weathered it. The building has changed, the people inside have changed, but the commitment to providing God’s word and encouragement remains the same.
We now have an office and education building that was added in the 1950’s and we joined a national denomination called the United Church of Christ but we still worry about flooding storms causing the river to rise.
Barrington Congregational Church, United Church of Christ – affectionately known as “The White Church” – has been a landmark on this site for almost two centuries. However, the congregation dates back even further. In the 1660’s, John Miles, a fugitive from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, gathered a congregation of Baptists and Congregationalists north of One Hundred Acre Cove (just north of the present church). The congregation was later scattered by King Philip’s War but came together again about 1678 and built a meeting house on Tyler Point. Following the death of John Miles, the congregation split under its new leader, and the Baptist contingent moved (together with their meeting house!) to North Swansea, and the Congregationalists remained. In 1711 the first Congregational Meeting House was built on what is now Jenny’s Lane in Barrington. In 1717 the township of Barrington was recognized by the Colonial government, as “the parish of the Barrington Congregational Church”, and in 1737 the Meeting House was moved to its present site.
In 1797 the church was incorporated as the United Congregational Society of Barrington, Rhode Island, and was thereafter no longer supported by the Town. Some years later, because of the “ruinous condition” of the meeting house, plans were made to build a new one to be financed by a lottery and the sale of pews. The building was finally erected in 1806 on the site of the old one. It is said that some of the beams and boards from the original meeting house, dating back to the 1711-1717 period, were incorporated into the new building. The new building consisted of a large two-story sanctuary, with balconies along the south and north walls and a high pulpit from which the pastor preached, over which was a sounding board. The church had a short tower over the front entrance.
In 1850-53, without changing the outside appearance of the building, the high pulpit and balconies were eliminated and the sanctuary was raised to make space for a vestry below. A few years later a steeple was added to the short tower and in 1868 the ladies sewing circle raised sufficient funds to put a bell in the steeple. In 1888 an addition was added at the east (river) end of the building to make room for a pipe organ. Prior to 1890, when the first bridge was built, church members from New Meadow Neck crossed the river in boats, landing at a wharf attached to the church property.
The 1938 hurricane blew down the steeple and flooded the vestry to a depth of several feet (a plaque on the stairs marks the flood level). Due to generous contributions from the entire community, the spire was rebuilt within a year. In 1944 the house south of the church was purchased to provide more room for the Sunday school. Ten years later, the congregation voted to raze the house and a new education building, dedicated in January 1956, was built on the site.
In 1951 the heavy wooden pulpit, Bible stand and chairs were replaced by the colonial chancel with pulpit, lectern and communion table that we have today. The organ console was moved from the east end to a place near the northeast corner of the north wall. Two big projects were undertaken in 1961-62 – a new organ was installed in the choir loft, and the east wall of the chancel was moved back through the space where the pipes and bellows of the old organ had been.
1987 saw the installation of an elevette in the rear of the sanctuary for those unable to climb the stairs and in 1991 the church crossed the gender barrier when a woman was called as associate pastor, and again eighteen months later when a woman interim minister was called. 1996-1997 saw the renovation of the choir loft and installation of a new Rodgers combination electronic organ with 17 ranks of pipes. In 2001 a new handicap ramp, terrace and landscaping was installed behind the education building and in 2003 new landscaping was planted in the front of the education building.
Recent work to the buildings has included installation of a new fire alarm system in both buildings and installation of handicapped doors in Fellowship Hall in 2005, and the refinishing of the sanctuary ceiling in 2006.
In the summer of 2007, work was done on the foundations of the river end of the church building – replacing the old stone foundations with new concrete foundations. In addition, work was done to bring the sanctuary up to the new fire code by installing a new interior stairwell from the front of the sanctuary down to the lower level. The work included removal of the old winding staircase, relocation of the sacristy, changes to the music office and an update to the vestry kitchen. However, the only visible change in the sanctuary was the addition of a door on the wall to the right of the pulpit that provides access to the new staircase. The old metal fire escape on the river end of the church building was removed, improving the exterior look of the church building. The work was completed in October 2007.