The Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill is a federation between two of Haverhill’s historic churches, the First Parish (Unitarian), which was founded in 1645 and the First Universalist Church, which was founded in 1825. The two churches came together in 1950. Below is a brief history of the two churches, based on a timeline created by church member Bill Adams. For a broader history of Unitarianism and Universalism, visit the history pages on the Unitarian Universalist Association website.
In 1639 a letter was sent to colonial Governor Winthrop asking that a settlement be started on the Merrimack River so that Rev. John Ward could be its minister. Twelve men built the original buildings. Originally called Pentucket, the settlement’s name was later changed to Haverhill in honor of the birthplace of their first minister, Rev. John Ward.
In 1645 the churches of both Andover and Haverhill were finally gathered. North Parish of North Andover is the descendant of the original Andover Church. The first meeting house of the First Parish was built in what is now Pentucket Cemetery (near Linwood Cemetery, across from First Landing Park.) Previously worship had been held in homes or in, nice weather, under a large oak tree. On the grounds of the Haverhill Historical Society there is a tree that is known as the Worshiping Oak. In 1697, the second meetinghouse was built, downhill from today’s Armenian Church.
As Haverhill grew, other churches were established—the North Parish, West Parish and East Parish. The original church of Haverhill became known as First Parish. Theological differences between the Trinitarians and the Unitarians began in 1734 when the Rev. Barnard, minister of the First Parish, began preaching from an increasingly Unitarian perspective. This was the first time a theology other than orthodox Christianity was preached in Haverhill.
One hundred years later, after some years of conflict over what theology the minister should preach, the Universalists and Orthodox Congregationalists left First Parish to the Unitarians. A few years earlier, in 1825, the first meetinghouse of the First Universalist Society was dedicated on Summer Street.
In 1849, two years after the fourth Unitarian meeting house burned to the ground, the fifth meetinghouse was built. This was designed by Haverhill architect Alpheus Carey Morse and is one of the earliest examples of Romanesque architecture in the U.S. This building is now occupied by the Armenian Church.
In 1883 the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Crocker Snow began at the Universalist church. Ten years later, on January 16, 1894, its second meetinghouse was dedicated on Monument Square, and we have been gathering in this building since then. The handsome brick building is a variation of the old English village church style. The stained glass windows in honor of Rev. Joseph Crocker Snow were made by Tiffany and installed in the chancel. They were dedicated on January 10, 1904. The stained glass windows honoring the Stover family (on the east side of the sanctuary) were installed in 1922. Six year later, the Unitarian meetinghouse was sold due to dwindling attendance and membership. The Unitarian society, however, remained intact.
In 1950, after years of intermittent discussion, the First Parish (Unitarian) and the First Universalist Church became affiliated in a federation as the Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill. Eleven years later, at the national level, the two denominations merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.