Sights ~ Old Narragansett Church ~ Wickford
The Old Narragansett Church
60 Church Ln.
We don't get to Wickford often, so I was happy to see the Old Narragansett Church was open for tours when we were in town.
When coming from the main part of town, the church sits well back, at the end of a path of carved slate stones.
Two very nice and knowledgeable docents/church members (the church is still used for services in the summer) pointed out some of the features of the building. It was built in 1707 as an Anglican church (St. Paul's), and is the oldest Anglican church building north of the Potomac.
The focal point as you walk in the main door is the elevated "wine glass" pulpit that overlooks not only the pews, but also a gallery, originally for servants and enslaved people.
Along the right wall as you enter is the altar, complete with a gilded inscription of the Ten Commandments.
Opposite and up in the gallery is the organ, with its own storied history.
The organ is not original to the church, but was found and restored by Richard Hedgebeth, of Stuart Organ Company. According to their site, "the organ was most likely built by George(?) Dallam early in the Restoration, was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666... then rebuilt by George Dallam c1680-85." He believes it is the oldest organ in use for church services in the United States. It's also rumored that the organ may have been built by Charles II after the restoration of the monarchy, but this is currently unsubstantiated.
The story of how he researched and rebuilt the organ is well worth the read.
The church served local Anglicans until 1774, when it was shut down. As you might imagine, being a member of the Church of England wouldn't win you any popularity contests in the America of the 1770s. However, the pastor, Rev. Fayerweather, continued to preach in private homes until his death in 1781. During that time, the church building was used as a barracks for troops.
The church re-opened in 1787, led by Rev. William Smith. In 1800, in response to a need for two meeting houses, each more centrally located to the parisioners, the building was disassembled and moved to its current location. At that point, the interior was still unfinished. Subscription pews were built, and the gallery was added. In 1811 a steeple was erected, but it wasn't designed to support the bell that was installed, and collapsed in 1866.
In 1847 the congregation outgrew the building and built a new church in Wickford, which is also still in use today. The congregation owned and maintained the original building until 1915, when it was taken over by the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, who maintains it today.
You can read more detail about the history of the church (and see a drawing of it with the ill-fated steeple) at Historic North Kingstown's website.