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A copy of their "Rules for Visitors” is subjoined, to show the precision with which the "United Believers” conduct their minutest affairs :
" First. We wish it to be understood that we do not keep a public house, and wish to have our rules attended to as any would the rules of their own private dwelling.
"Second. Those who call to see their friends and relatives are to visit them at the office, and not to.go elsewhere except by permission of those in care at the office.
Third. Those who live near and can call at their own convenience are not expected to stay more than a few hours; but such as live at a great distance, or cannot come often, and have near relatives here, can stay from one to four days, according to circumstances.
This we consider a sufficient time as a general rule.
" Fourth. All visitors are requested to arise and take breakfast at half-past six in summer and half-past seven in winter.
" Fifth. At table we wish all to be as free as at home; but we dislike the wasteful habit of leaving food on the plate. No vice with us is less ridiculous for being in fashion.
Sixth. Married persons tarrying with us over night are respectfully notified that each sex occupy separate sleeping apartments while they remain. This rule will not be departed from under any circumstances.
"Seventh. Strangers calling for meals or lodging are expected to pay if accommodated.”
Universalist Society-Rise of Universalism-Formation
of a Society—Mecting-Houses — Ministers — Church and Sunday-School-Ladies' Aid Society, etc.
In the year 1812 the ecclesiastical unity of the town was again disturbed. At this period the minister's salary was a part of the town tax, and by a large portion of the people was as cheerfully allowed as any assessment that could be made. Owing, however, to the inability of Mr. Whitney to supply the pulpit, while he yet had a claim upon the town for his salary; to the fact that, if a colleague should be settled, an increased amount of taxation would be laid upon the people; to the desire of several families that a meeting-house might be located in the South Village—which had then assumed considerable importance through the manufacturing interests ; and more, perhaps, to the predilections of several influential individuals in favor of the doctrine of universal salvation, a society of that faith was organized on the 21st of September of the above-named year. It bore the title of the First Universal Christian Society in Shirley.*
The doctrine of Universalism was first preached in Shirley by Rev. Isaiah Parker, of Still River Village in Harvard. It was a lecture delivered in a private house
a factory boarding-house—on a Sunday evening. Mr. Parker was a doctor of medicine as well as a minister of the gospel. He commenced his ministry in the Baptist denomination, but was eventually converted to the faith of the Universalist, which he retained through life. Joshua Flagg, an early advocate of Universalism, was the second
*See Appendix 2.
preacher of this faith in Shirley. He preached in the west part of the town, in the house of John Davis, an active supporter of the new doctrine. From this beginning the faith gradually progressed, until its adherentswith the assistance of some who joined them on account of local position-became a separate religious organization.
For a few years the Universalists maintained religious worship in private houses-occasionally, occupying the town meeting-house when not otherwise engaged—and enjoyed the services of some of the ablest preachers of the time. But as private houses are always inconvenient places for public meetings, and as denoniinational, partnerships in pulpits are calculated to breed disturbance and unchristian alienation, the Universalists determined to set up an independent altar. Operations were accordingly commenced to build a temple of worship in 1816. John Davis, the veteran Universalist before alluded to, entered into a contract with the society to furnish material for the frame of the house and to put it in order to be enclosed and finished. And Daniel Kilburn contracted to find materials for its completion, and to prepare the structure for occupation. It was made ready for consecration by the close of the year. It was a humble structure, neither neat, tasteful, nor convenient. It was fashioned, in part, after the ancient New-England mode of church architecture, and yet failed in all the essential qualities of its model. Its high box-pews and angular aisles were not made to contrast with the ornamented mouldings and fretted cornices that had distinguished even the puritan temples of worship of that period. It had but one door of entrance, which opened into a narrow porch leading to the body of the church. A singers' gallery extended along the western wall, and was entered by flights of stairs located within the auditory of the house. It was covered by a hip-roof, and furnished with a numerous array of windows not protected by blinds. In fine, the cheap and unartistic properties and proportions of this religious temple marked the care and frugality of the age in which it was erected. That age projected no more in the way of church-building than could be effected without imposing the burden of debt ; a precaution that has not generally prevailed at a later period, much to the detriment of religious as well as secular corporations.
On the ninth of January, 1817, this new meetinghouse was set apart, by solemn consecration, to purposes of social and religious worship.
Prayers were offered by Rev. Edward Turner of Charlestown, and a sermon was preached by Rev. Hosea Ballou of Boston; which was printed at the request, and for the use, of the society. Mr. Ballou took for a text the passage from I Kings viii, 20, "I have built a house for the name of the Lord God of Israel.” The purpose of the sermon was to set forth and elucidate the peculiar doctrines of Universalism, which was done with the characteristic force and clearness of its author.
Subsequently an elegant quarto bible, in two volumes, was presented to the society for the use of the pulpit, by William Parker, Esq., of Boston. Mr. Parker was native of Shirley, and took a generous interest in the success and prosperity of the town.
For the space of twenty-nine years this house was continued for purposes of worship in its original, unattractive form ; and, without a doubt, as faithfully secured the designs of its establishment as a more costly and imposing structure would have done. It had at least the honor of sowing the seed of what its abettors have called "the Abrahamic faith,” in this vicinity ; it being, for a long time, the only place where the doctrines of Universalism were statedly preached. Hence, it reckoned among its early supporters many who resided in the adjacent towns.
In the year 1846 the Fitchburg Railroad, leading through the South Village in Shirley, had been completed, giving promise of a large increase of population in that locality. The leaders of the Universalist Society, in consequence, considered themselves justified in an attempt to
improve their place of worship. They accordingly made a thorough revision of their meeting-house, both externally and internally. It was changed from its original uncouth form, and made to present the proportions of a graceful structure, combining neatness with utility. It contained forty-four pews, and a gallery for the choir. It was surmounted by a tower, in which was hung a fine-toned bell. It was ornamented with a pulpit of choice mahogany, and supplied with an elegant communion table and chairs. It was also furnished with a small organ, which was afterward removed to give place to a larger and better instrument-the gift of N. C. Munson, Esq. It had fixtures for illuminating the interior, when required for evening services. The aisles and floors of the pews were uniformly carpeted, and the pew seats were furnished with comfortable upholstering.
In the attic a commodious hall for the use of "Fredonia Lodge” of Odd Fellows was constructed, and there they held their weekly meetings. The entire cost of the new house, with all its accompaniments, was about seventeen hundred dollars.
It was dedicated August 28th, 1846. Prayers were offered on the occasion by Rev. M. E. Hawes of Fitchburg and Rev. Varnum Lincoln of Westminster; a sermon was preached by Rev. Benjamin Whittemore of Lancaster.
The location of the Universalist church is unusually pleasant. It stands upon the table-land that rises precipitously from the valley of the Catacunemaug, and commands a view of the railway station and most of the mills that are situated along the glen. Indeed, from the porch of that church the eye can take in a large portion of the entire village. The surrounding farms present a picturesque view of natural scenery, which, when clothed with the robes of summer, rises before the beholder a landscape of varied richness and beauty. Descriptions of this enchanting scenery have appeared in some of the poems of the late Mrs. Sarah C. (Edgarton) Mayo.