In the early 1790s, Jesse Lee, a Methodist circuit rider, introduced his religious beliefs to the hills of New Stratford (now Monroe). He first preached on numerous occasions diagonally across the street in the East Village – Barn Hill schoolhouse which has since been moved to Wheeler Road at Monroe Center. In 1811 a local farmer, businessman and Methodist convert, John Wilcoxson, donated the land to the Methodist Society of the Eastern District of New Stratford for a “House of Public Worship”. Tradition says Mr. Wilcoxson did so, providing his fellow parishioners had the framing and much of the building already to erect.
The structure was of a simple, puritanical architecture. The first floor had plank-style pews with two side aisles. The second floor consisted of two side balconies and one rear balcony and the ceiling was a typical Federal vaulted or arched type so popular during that period.
Over the years the meetinghouse (all Protestant houses of worship were known by this name – only Catholic and Episcopal structures were known as churches) underwent many changes depending on the economic condition of its congregation. About 1840 it was decided to install a heating system “two wood burning stoves” to replace the earlier individual foot stoves which warmed the parishioners’ feet by use of hot coals. In order to add the two chimneys, the two side balconies were removed.
The next major change came in the early 1900s. By then it was commonly known as the East Village “church”. Money was raised by donations, church dinners and socials to fund the construction of a steeple and to replace the original 12-over-12 sash windows with windows of a more modern design with larger panes of glass to better illuminate a number of commemorative stained glass windows. The pews were also rearranged to create a center aisle and the last renovation was to cover the arched ceiling with a flat tin ceiling.
In 1974 the Methodist conference donated the meetinghouse, the oldest Methodist church building in Connecticut, to the Monroe Historical Society, Inc. when Monroe’s two Methodist Churches united into one. Since then the Monroe Historical Society has endeavored through fund-raising concerts, flea markets, antique shows and donations to restore the building to its original beauty and simplicity as you see here today. The Monroe Historical Society hopes that the restored meetinghouse will be of continued service to the Monroe Community for generations to come.