A Brief History of St. Michael’s Parish
by Martha Babbitt
St. Michael’s Parish owes its beginning to John Davies, who was born in Hertfordshire, England, in 1670 and who settled in Litchfield in 1735. For many years he was the only Episcopalian in the town.
On November 5, 1745, John Davies and twelve other men, all of whom were Congregationalists, gathered in the home of John Griswold in the western part of town, to discuss worshipping in conformity with the Church of England. An official affiliation with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts soon followed.
In 1747, John Davies leased a large tract of land in the western part of the town to the group for the construction of a church. The lease was for 999 years and the rent was one peppercorn per year to be paid on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. According to a contemporary narrative, the church was “raised April 23, 1749” and was named St. Michael’s in reference to the lease of the land. There were 44 families involved with the church.
Little is known of that first church, not even its exact location. All we know is that the land on which it stood was about a mile west of the present church.
In 1791, the First Episcopal Society (i.e. the Parish) voted that “This Society will build a new church for the public worship of God,” However, lack of funds delayed the process until 1808, when Samuel Marsh, brother of the Rector, Truman Marsh, donated the land on which to build the new church. The land was part of the site of the present church.
The building was “raised, covered and closed,” but due to lack of funds it was not completed until December of 1812.
By 1845 the parish had grown to 100 families and the Rector, The Rev. Samuel Fuller, wrote that “the congregation can increase no more until the present building be enlarged, or, better, a new church be erected.”
In 1851 a new church of wooden Carpenter Gothic design, 40 by 80 feet and costing $6,500, was erected on the site. It had a west tower with four pinnacles and a tall spire. Stained glass windows by Tiffany and LaFarge were given as memorials. These were preserved and still exist in the present St. Michael’s building. The 1858 census counted 150 families.
In 1919, Mr. Henry R. Towne offered to build a stone Gothic church in memory of his wife, Cora White Towne, who had died in 1917. His offer was accepted and the cornerstone of the present church was laid on June 6, 1920. The building was designed by Rossiter and Mueller, New York city architects. The church was consecrated on July 13, 1921.
At St. Michael’s 250th Anniversary Celebration on the Day of Pentecost, 1999, the Parish back rent was paid in full in peppercorns to a direct descendent of John Davies.
Today, St. Michael’s Parish continues the vision of its first parishioners as we look forward with faith and hope to the future in this place set apart for prayer and praise. The buildings may have come and gone, but the people of St. Michael’s Parish in Litchfield faithfully continue God’s work. Guided and led by our new Rector, the Reverend Bevan Stanley, we are “called to live and proclaim the transforming love of God.”