by David Driessens
Branford’s people are now served by more than a dozen
churches. The oldest, and the church that literally
founded the town, is the First Congregational Church.
Gathered at the time of the settlement in 1644, it
continues to play its role in the life of the town.
and fifty years ago, some of the inhabitants of Puritan
Wethersfield, Connecticut, led their settlement of nine
years, and took possession of newly purchased lands on
the Long Island shore. The area called Totoket, acquired
some six years earlier by the new settlement of New
Haven, was offered to the dissident members of the
Wethersfield church, who repaid New Haven the purchase
price, said to be “betwixt 12 and 13 pounds”.
One of the first priorities of the new settlers was to
build a place of worship. A meetinghouse was erected for
worship and to conduct the affairs of the plantation.
The meeting house served the town for nearly sixty years
and was located in what is now Center Cemetery, where an
ancient millstone marks the spot.
A second meetinghouse was built in 1701 on the site of
John Taintor’s home lot, which he bequeathed to the town
This new meetinghouse stood in front of the present Town
Hall, and was the first building on the Green. The
present Congregational Church, its fourth building, was
erected in 1843.
society was active in town, as a result of disagreement
within the Congregational Church. A permanent Episcopal
was organized on Dec.11th, 1784 when some 52
persons signed a petition to Branford’s First
Ecclesiastical Society, indicating their intention to
form themselves into a new Society based upon Episcopal
form and rite. They also petitioned for relief of the
town’s authorized tax for the support of the
Congregational Church, and its minister’s salary.
Ecclesiastical Society rejected the appeal, and the
Episcopalians sued. The General Court rejected their
suit, and they were required to continue their support
of the Congregational Church. By the year 1818, the
toleration Act had become law throughout Connecticut,
and discrimination against any religious tradition was
of many of the town’s original settlers were
instrumental in the organization and support of the new
Episcopal Society, and so the names appear in the
records of both churches now occupying the Green. Their
original edifice was a simple white frame building which
stood on a small knoll behind the present building and
was the early site of George Baldwin’s blacksmith shop.
The present Trinity Church was built in 1852, in the
Another denomination became a force in town when the
Baptists built their church in 1838 on the site of the
Puritan’s old whipping post hill. Though the Baptist
Church was the third denomination to be established in
town, theirs is the oldest church building on the green.
And so three churches stand side by side by side in a
town that was once so Puritan, that none but Puritans
were permitted to reside here.
In 1854, some 210 years
after the first Puritans erected their meetinghouse in
the colony, the Roman Catholic Church was established.
Their first church was a white frame building on
Montowese Street next to the Philemon Robbins House. The
site of the building was, for many years, the grocery
store of Charlie and Vernie Baldwin whose families were
early settlers of Branford and Stony Creek. It is now a
picture frame shop. Because of the small Catholic
population in the town, services were held about every
three months by a traveling priest. In the meantime,
many of Branford’s Catholic families rode horse and
wagon…or walked to New Haven’s St. Mary’s Church.
As the town’s
population grew, it became necessary for the Catholicss
to build a larger church. In 1900 their new church, of
cathedral like proportions, was built on Main Street
where the present church now stands. It was damaged by
fire in 1904 and rebuilt the same year. The large,
Romanesque, yellow brick church served the congregation
for some 70 years. In 1972, a disastrous fire struck the
church, and damaged it so badly that ir had to be razed.
In its place rose the present brick church of colonial
It is interesting that, even as the fire consumed was
consuming the building, the Rev. Roger Manners, Pastor
of the Congregational Church called St. Mary’s Pastor
and offered the meetinghouse to the parishioners for as
long as necessary. The offer was accepted, and many of
St. Mary’s people attended their Saturday evening
services there for about a year and a half.
Beach Union Chapel, a small non-denominational church,
was built in 1883, situated appropriately on Pentecost
Street. Though its membership is small, it is a
dedicated group of people who continue to be a vital
presence in the village. Perhaps its most famous member
was the renowned poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who attended
the Chapel when she resided in Short Beach.
chronology of the churches, the next to appear is one
that serves he large Swedish community. Tabor Lutheran
Church, founded by the Scandinavian community in 1888,
held its first services in the Congregational Church.
Their first church, built on Hopson Avenue was damaged
by fire in 1892, and rebuilt the following year. They
built their current brick and glass church in classic,
modern Scandinavian design in 1957 on a tract of land
adjacent to their cemetery on Tabor Drive. The Hobson
Avenue building became the home of the Evangelical Free
Church whose members later built a new house of worship
in Stony Creek. The church on Hobson Avenue is now the
home for the Congregation of the Good Shepard.
Stony Creek Congregational Church was a small wooden
chapel erected in 1866, which burned to the ground in
1900. The present church constructed of Stony Creek
granite, built in the Norman Gothic style, was built in
After World War I, in response to the needs of
Branford’s black community, St. Stephen’s African
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was dedicated, and their
small wooden church was erected on Rogers Street in
1919. It served until their growing congregation
necessitated a larger building and they built a new,
modern, brick church in 1970, adjacent to their first
church. St. Stephen’s has, for many years, maintained a
pulpit exchange with the Congregational Church, twice
yearly. St. Stephen’s continues to serve the community
as they celebrate their 75th anniversary.
A small group
of Methodist’s built a church on South Main Street in
1875. The church disbanded in 1878 and the building was
later used as Gaylord’s Opera House, and is now an
apartment building. A new Methodist congregation
gathered in 1966 with 40 members and erected a church
building on the eastern side of the town, near the
Guilford line. Today their membership is more than 200
persons, and they built a large addition to the original
church building to accommodate a growing membership.
recent religious group to locate in Branford, the
Jehovah’s Witnesses, dedicated their newly constructed
Kingdom Hall on Aug.27th 1988. Located on
Baldwin Drive, just off East Main Street, the red brick
church of colonial design was constructed in a joint
effort of members and friends. The Jehovah’s Witnesses
congregation first located in New Haven in the 1950’s.
When they outgrew facilities their, a group, mostly
shoreline residents, built a new facility on High Street
in East Haven. When that too was outgrown, the decision
was made to build in Branford. The congregation today
numbers 120 members.
churches that once served the town that are no longer
here. Most served summer community when Branford was a
shoreline resort town, and were used only during the
summer months. The Chapel of Grace at Branford Point was
built in 1880 and last used in 1919. It was demolished
Orchard Chapel, built in 1897, was used for many years
by summer residents. The building still stands but is no
longer used for worship services. It isa maintained and
administered by a Pine Orchard Chapel committee and is
used for community activities.
on the Green, built as a “select school” for children in
1820 has often been used for worship services. Today the
Branford Bible Chapel worships here on Sundays.