Editorial: Milestones mark area’s rich history

  • Beverly Thomas, chairwoman of the 150th anniversary committee for Our Lady of the Hills in Haydenville, talks about the church’s history. Members of her family have attended the church since 1873.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, June 08, 2018

Two churches and a town are marking significant milestones this weekend with events that showcase Hampshire County’s rich history.

Our Lady of the Hills in Haydenville, the oldest Catholic church in the county, will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a Mass and banquet Saturday; music will be a theme at the First Congregational Church in Southampton on Sunday when it wraps up 10 months of 275th anniversary activities; and the annual Granby Charter Days will have special significance this weekend 250 years after the town was incorporated.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Diocese of Springfield is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. Saturday, and then Our Lady of the Hills parishioners will enjoy food and fellowship at the banquet in the church hall.

Beverly Thomas, of Goshen, fittingly is chairwoman of the church’s 150th committee. Members of her family have attended the church since 1873, five years after it opened. “I’ve been a member of Our Lady of the Hills for over 70 years,” she says. “My children grew up here in the church, my father grew up in the church, and my grandfather.”

It began as St. Mary of the Assumption in Haydenville, and has been called Our Lady of the Hills since a merger in 2007 with St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic Church in Leeds.

Thomas is optimistic about its future. “The parish is feeling rejuvenated and is looking forward to something good happening, especially with all the parishes closing around us,” she says.

In Southampton on Sunday, residents will have no trouble knowing when the celebratory service is starting at the church in the center of town. Its bell will sound 275 times for the call to worship at 10 a.m.

Led by its pastor, the Rev. Jennie Valentine, the First Congregational Church will continue the anniversary theme of “Honoring Our Heritage, Visioning Our Future.” She says, “It’s extremely edifying. It’s encouraging and it’s hopeful because if the church has been able to stand that long, it should be able to stand that long again.”

Music during the service will include the premiere of an anthem, “Turning Towards Grace” composed by Donna Butler Douglas to mark the church’s founding on June 8, 1743. The anthem’s title recognizes that the church, which originally faced Maple Street, was turned 90 degrees in 1840 to face Route 10, which had become the town’s main street.

More special music during Sunday’s service will include “How Clear is Our Vocation, Lord,” which was written by Hal Hopson in 1996 to mark the ordination of the Rev. Miriam Howland. On Sunday, she will play the piece on the church’s new organ.

In its earlier days, the First Congregational Church housed town offices and records, and space today is still used by organizations, including the Boy Scouts, and for the church’s “Community Cupboard” that distributes food.

Anticipating Sunday’s service, Valentine says, “I’m looking forward to being able to proclaim the successes that the church has had, the strength of the community and to be able to — the word that comes to mind is revel.”

There also will be plenty of revelry in Granby as its Charter Days celebration continues Saturday and Sunday, with many activities at Dufresne Park. Among the highlights will be a parade at noon Sunday.

As part of the 250th anniversary celebration, the Granby Preservation Society has begun restoring Kellogg Hall, which it acquired from the town for $1 five years ago. The 130-year-old building at 250 East St. has served as the Town Hall, police station, library and schoolhouse.

Now the preservation society has its office there and began the restoration by painting the exterior. Eventually, the goal is a historically authentic restoration of the entire building, which features a bell tower, spiral staircase and full-size stage on the second floor.

“Our real focus was to get the front of this building painted for the sestercentennial, just so it would look nice for the celebration,” says Gary Phelps, 75, president of the preservation society. “Certainly we want to have this hall be a proud part of Granby’s future. If we don’t preserve what we have in the past, our children won’t understand there was anything prior to their birth.”

That worthwhile goal helped inspire the festivities this weekend in Haydenville, Southampton and Granby.