Orwell church a national treasure

ORWELL-You can't miss Orwell's First Congregational Church. It's a classic Vermont church that's visible to all who pass along this community's MainStreet - it is the heart of Orwell village.

Distinguished by its imposing architecture, the church, built in 1843, is now graced by placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Thanks to the effort of church and other community members, the structure is now being recognized as a national treasure.

The original church was an independent Christian congregation organized in 1789, a few years after the end of the American Revolution. There's little detail about church members in those early days, but when the congregation grew in size during the early 1800s, it was decided that a new structure was needed.

The brick building, designed along classic Greek lines, was built by the hands of the congregation and it still retains its original 19th century lines.

The sanctuary windows, originally clear glass, were replaced by stained glass windows during the late 1800s.

The so-called children's window, easily seen inside, is unique in New England; it was paid for by the children of the Orwell Sunday School. These stained glass windows illustrate Bible stories, Jesus teaching the children, the Trinity, and other themes of the Christian faith.

The church's sanctuary, which seats approximately 350, still has its circa-1840s wooden pews, many of which were originally family pews purchased or rented by members of the church when the building was built. As recently as the late 1900, some members still sat in their family's traditional pew, although the seating is now open to all worshippers.

The excellent acoustics of the church are ideal for organ concerts, congregational singing. Ministers enjoy giving sermons from the large Victorian pulpit.

Music has long been a hallmark of the Orwell church with organists serving for many years at the fine Hook-Tracker organ (built in the 1860s and restored in the early 1990s). This small instrument of only 16 stops two keyboards - including the pedal board - is a rare and versatile instrument.

The church's parsonage, which stands at the corner of Main and Church streets, was built in 1825. It originally in the shape of a cross, but the two additional wings have since been removed.

With inclusion on the national register, Orwell's keystone structure is a star in the constellation of Vermont's historic architecture.

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