History of the First Congregational Church of Marietta, Ohio

Rufus Putnam_5x4“On December 6, 1796, the Christian people in the various settlements banded themselves together in a Church under a simple but comprehensive confession of faith and covenant.” So runs an account in the handwriting of Rufus Putnam (right) concerning the first organized church in Marietta and now the oldest continuous worshipping fellowship west of the Alleghenies began. Putnam arrived at the mouth of the Muskingum River on 7 April 1788, with a company of men to found a settlement and survey and allocate the land.”  Soon named Marietta, the settlement was the first organized one in the Northwest Territory.

Since the beginning, the unusual exterior architecture of the church has included two “bell cones,” as the twin towers were often referred to, patterned after the Hollis St. Congregational Church in Boston that Rufus Putnam attended. The “two horned” church (a name given by rivermen who watched for the lights of its tall twin spires against the sky) was remodeled in 1901-1902, but completely destroyed by fire in 1905. A new building along similar lines but of brick veneer was erected on the same site one year later.

As part of its 190th birthday celebration, the congregation of First Church undertook a major restoration program. Included in this project were a replacement of the heating plant, demolition of the 80 year old carriage house, expansion of parking facilities, and rebuilding a three-manual 36 rank Austin Chancel Pipe Organ. A recent and important renovation was the installation of a motorized lift to provide accessibility to all people.

The sanctuary of the church has a very New England look, with polished wood pews, white-painted trim, a wide center aisle with red carpet, and converted gas lights along the walls. The beauty and peacefulness of First Church has made it a favorite place for weddings, festivals, and other special occasions. First Church celebrated its bicentennial — its 200th anniversary on the same site — in December, 1996, and the history of the church continues. In 1997 the congregation called its first woman minister to the pastorate, the Reverend Linda N. Steelman.

The Marietta Area Community Food Pantry, an important asset in Marietta and Washington county, originated and is still housed here at First Church.

Adapted from “History of Marietta” by Thomas Jefferson Summers. Church historian Scott Britton is executive director of  The Castle, another historic Marietta landmark.

Preface to “A Century of Church Life”

The First Church in Marietta should have been the first church of any denomination in the state of Ohio. Here was the first settlement, the first stated service, and the first settled pastor, but for reasons over which we had no control, the church was not organized until more than eight years after the inauguration of regular preaching services; meanwhile two churches of other denominations were organized in the settlement at Cincinnati. Since we were not permitted to advise the pioneers in this matter, we must accept the facts and give to this First Congregational Church the rank of the third Church in Ohio.

The introduction of separate chapters on education, Sunday Schools and the First Religious Society in Marietta, has made some slight repetitions necessary. A considerable portion of the first chapter appeared in the Ohio Archeological and Historical Quarterly, September, 1888. The chapter on the First Religious Society in Marietta was printed in Vol. I of the papers of the Ohio Church History Society, and a portion of the chapter on Sunday Schools in the Report of the Ohio Sunday School Union for 1891.

“We acknowledge obligation to Hon. R. M. Stimson for the free use of his extensive private library; also to Miss Mary C. Nye and several others for assistance in collecting materials.

It has been a real pleasure to collect the materials for this history, and it is now given to the public in permanent form, in the confident hope that this record of a century of Christian work may be an inspiration to those who come after us.”

Preface from “A Century of Church Life” by Cornelius Evarts Dickinson. Additional information about the early history of churches in Marietta may be found in this book.

The greatest and most potent men in Marietta’s history have been thoroughly Christian, and have received from the church an inspiration for the political and civic as well as moral work which they have accomplished.”

Excerpt From: Cornelius Evarts Dickinson. “A century of church life.” iBooks.

Rev. John W. Simpson, D. D., LL. D.