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The East Village Church Belfry (1909)

Welcome back, Monroe history lovers. This week’s history takes us to the East Village District of Monroe, specifically to the southwest corner of East Village and Barn Hill Roads. It is here that we find the East Village Church, one of the Monroe Historical Society’s most cherished properties, the quintessential small New England country church.

In 1974, when Monroe’s two Methodist Churches united into one, the Methodist Conference donated the meetinghouse, the oldest Methodist church building in Connecticut, to the Monroe Historical Society. Since then, the 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 today.

Those of you with a keen eye for detail will notice a rather glaring difference between the early Fred Sherman photo and its contemporary. There now appears to be a rather large tower and belfry missing from the south-facing entry to the church. These features were removed during the church’s restoration as they were deemed not period correct to the 1811-1812 original date of construction. I suppose that was the right decision, but the tower and belfry did add a certain charm to the church.

There has always been an interesting local lore behind the addition of the tower and belfry. As the story goes, the project was funded by an East Village resident named Warren W. Bliss, and once built, there was never a bell installed in the belfry. The lore states that Warren deliberately built the belfry in such a manner that it wasn’t strong enough to support the weight of a bell. This was to appease his wife who was said to be rather difficult at times and apparently had a very strong aversion to bells. So, let’s get this straight. You went to all the trouble of funding and building a tower and belfry with no intention of ever installing a bell? Does that make sense?

I’ve always found this story to be somewhat of a stretch. After all, there was already a bell perched atop the village hoopskirt factory and there was surely another at the schoolhouse diagonal from the church. These bells served their purpose but surely they weren’t being rung all day or even enough to be an annoyance. Although the lore is charming in a sense, I think it’s now time we can share the details of the actual history that inspired it. I find that more often than not, the reality is equally if not more interesting.

For generations, each district in Monroe was fully responsible for its own education. The districts collected funds to maintain their one-room schoolhouse, employ a teacher, and purchase necessary supplies. They also had authority over the curriculum taught. All that changed in 1909 when the town took charge of all seven of its district schools, and in time the schools would be standardized at the state level. When the town took charge in 1909, the Eastern District had treasury subscriptions and cash amounting to $17.38 which was voted unanimously to the Methodist Church toward the building of its tower and belfry.

Ground was broken for the project on November 1, 1909. The carpenter was the aforementioned Warren W. Bliss (See his supporting portrait photo). Warren must have done a fine job of it for he was voted in as Monroe’s First Selectman in 1911. But what of the bell? Surely there was a bell, yes?. No, unfortunately there was not. The Church simply didn’t have the funds to purchase one. The Eastern District school windfall only covered the construction of the tower and belfry. For the years leading up to WWI, the church’s Thimble Club held numerous fund-raising events for the benefit of the church bell campaign. Then came the Great Depression immediately followed by WWII. These were challenging times for all, and as best we know there were never sufficient enough funds raised to purchase and install a bell.

I hope you appreciate this week’s history spotlight on the East Village Methodist Church and the somewhat obscure history behind its tower and belfry. I’m speculating, but I suspect the lore is the result of humility and pride and I can certainly appreciate that. I expect you can as well. Please share this post with your family and friends to keep them up to date on Monroe’s rich district history and thanks for your continued interest and support. Until next time. Don’t be late for school - or for church!


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present 

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