by Douglas H. Parkhurst
During the past year it has been this writer’s pleasure and privilege to relate bits and pieces of the history of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD) on the occasion of the Congregation’s 200th Anniversary. Articles have appeared in each of 2022’s eleven issues of Comment, the UUCD’s monthly newsletter. Many thanks to Sherry Kyriacou, church congregational administrator and Comment editor, for editing and fitting them in.
I minimized footnotes and source references in the articles to make reading friendly and as a way to save space. This month I will share some of the sources I used in preparing “Notes.” I emphasize “some” as this is not an all inclusive listing.
The archives of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury are indispensable. These include, but are not limited to, meeting minutes along with membership and financial records, some dating to 1850. Unfortunately, there are many gaps in these records both before and after 1850 and much information is missing.
A most valuable resource is the 132 page book The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Northern Fairfield County 1822-1995. This history was written by Reverdy Whitlock, a New Haven bookseller and writer on local Connecticut topics. Prepared in time for the UUCD’s 175th Anniversary, this book surveys people and events in the church’s long history. Of special interest are chapters on Rev. Harry Adams Hersey (the UUCD’s longest serving minister) and on the first twenty-five years (1970-1995) of life at “the Barn” in West Redding. Copies are available through the UUCD.
The book From Heresy Toward Truth was researched and written by Donald Watt. Published in 1971 to detail the first 150 years of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, it also touches on the development of Universalism in Connecticut.
A comprehensive two volume history of American Universalism titled The Larger Hope was researched and written in the 1970s and early 1980s by Professor Russell E. Miller of Tufts University. This history traces the development of the Universalist denomination from the time of John Murray to consolidation with the Unitarians in 1961. A one volume much abbreviated version of The Larger Hope and titled The Larger Faith was prepared by Rev. Charles A. Howe, parish minister and UU historian, in the early 1990s.
What might be considered a companion volume to The Larger Faith is a study of American Unitarianism edited by Professor Conrad Wright of Harvard University and titled A Stream of Light. This one volume study portrays the history of American Unitarianism from 1805 to 1961. Both The Larger Faith and A Stream of Light are interesting and useful short histories.
The Unitarians and the Universalists by David Robinson is another recent account of the development of the two denominations which became one Association in 1961. This title is part of the Denominations in America book series and was published in 1985. There has been a copy available at the UUCD, check the bookshelves near the fireplace in the meeting room of the house.
Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People’s History was published in 2011. The author is Rev. John A. Buehrens, writer and now retired parish minister who served as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1993-2001.
Harvard Square Library (www.harvardsquarelibrary.org) is a digital library of assorted Unitarian Universalist topics.
Harvard Divinity School Library (https://guides.library.harvard.edu/hds/uu-congregations) has digitized versions of Unitarian and Universalist and UU registers and yearbooks along with links to a variety of UU biographies, histories, and other resources.
Two recent Danbury histories may be of interest to those seeking information about the geographic cradle of our present-day Unitarian Universalist Congregation. These are As We Were….A Pictorial Remembrance of Old Danbury edited by Evelyn S. Durgy and We Crown Them All: An Illustrated History of Danbury by William S. Devlin. Both books were sponsored by the Danbury Museum and Historical Society (Scott-Fanton Museum). Each includes images of the UUCD’s previous buildings in downtown Danbury.
Two books from the nineteenth century contain short histories of Danbury churches, including the Universalist. These are D. Hamilton Hurd’s 1881 History of Fairfield County, Connecticut and the 1896 History of Danbury, Conn. 1684-1896 by James M. Bailey and Susan B. Hill. Both books can be found in digital form on the internet. The Danbury Museum and Historical Society (Scott-Fanton Museum) (https://DanburyMuseum.org) has a Universalist Church file among its archival subject collection, along with microfilms of Danbury newspapers dating to the 1800s. The museum is located at 43 Main Street. Brigid Guertin is executive director and Patrick Wells is research associate. Telephone 203-743-5200.
Enjoy your reading and researching!