Celebrating 250 years

Rich in history, St.Andrew's Church in Marble Dale looks to the future

Garth Collins delights in telling the history of St. Andrew's Church.

Especially he loves recounting how his father, Albert, cracked the church's bell, ringing it on a freezing cold winter's morning.

"It was below zero. The bell just cracked. It never sounded the same again," Collins recalled. "My father was a sexton at the church. He used to stoke the coal stove winters to keep the church warm."

This year, St. Andrew's, on the corner of Route 202 and Wheaton Road in the Marble Dale district of Washington, is celebrating its 250th anniversary.

The Episcopal parish was founded in 1764 with the permission of the Church of England.

The original circuit riding clergy who oversaw services -- the Rev. Thomas Davies and the Rev. Richard Clarke -- would be just two of 61 clergy members who have officiated over the years.

"This church has a dedicated corps of members," said the Rev. Dr. Max Myers, who came to St. Andrew's in 2006. "We've gotten quite a few new families as a result of the musical chimes we recently restored. They had heard the music playing and were drawn to the service."

St. Andrew's was first established in New Preston, and moved to the Quaker Meeting House near the cemetery in Northville in 1796.

The move caused a split in the congregation. The northernmost members never returned.

"During the Revolutionary War, they boarded the windows up to keep rocks from being thrown through them," Collins noted. "The Episcopalians were members of the Church of England here in the colonies and were believed by many to be Tory sympathizers."

By 1822, chestnut timbers from Aspetuck River sawmills, marble from Marble Dale's quarries and brick from a local kiln were fashioned to build the Gothic Revival style church that stands today in Marble Dale.

The edifice is one of the earliest Gothic Revival churches in New England, built during the rectorship of the Rev. George B. Andrews.

The present stained-glass windows were installed in 1833. The original nave windows were replaced in the 1880s with Tiffany glass.

A transept and chancel were added in 1855 under the direction of the Rev. Nathaniel Wheaton.

Wheaton had been the president of Trinity College in Hartford before retiring to Marble Dale. His home, at 12 Wheaton Road, became the church's rectory in 1853.

For present day members like Tom Coons, St. Andrew's draw has been the open arms welcome they received. Coons joined the church in 2009.

"We were looking for a family-oriented church closer than Lime Rock, where we had been going," Coons said. "My cousin, Ken Conn, talked about St. Andrew's, so we gave it a try. The church family welcomed us graciously."

Like many a New England church, St. Andrew's is known for its chicken barbeques and roast beef dinners.

The 1960s and 1970s were the dinners' heyday. Charley Miller and Don Duffy cooked chickens over a grill set on cement blocks and Bette Collins and her mother, Mabel Kyle, cooked the roast beef.

St. Andrew's has not always been filled with laughter and gaiety.

The building was threatened with demolition as recently as the 1990s. It had serious structural problems and, in 1992, was condemned by the town of Washington.

Services were held in the church's parlor and the Diocese of Connecticut announced the building would be closed and torn down.

"The Diocese put St. Andrew's in a regional ministry, pairing it with churches in Bethlehem, Sandy Hook and other parishes from 1991 to 1995," said the Rev. Myers, who has researched the church's history.

"They brought in one rector whose appointment included closing the church," recalled Elaine Barksdale, a church member since 1968. "I remember a news article at the time in which he said he would be riding the bulldozer when the church came down."

That prediction never came to pass.

The Friends & Neighbors of St. Andrew's Church was formed and, led by George Ward and Laura Duffy, raised funds and found contractors to donate their time.

By 1995, a rededication service was held by Bishop Clarence Coleridge in the newly refurbished church.

"We didn't know what we would do," Barksdale said. "Then Harry Wright brought George Ward to one of our meetings. The rest is history.

"George was very quiet, very non-assuming. But once he put his mind to something, it was going to happen.

"George petitioned the Diocese, and the Diocese said maybe St. Andrew's could raise $30,000 toward work on the church. George raised well over that, with money left over to put in a trust."

Like many churches today, St. Andrew's has an aging parish membership. Attracting young families in is one of its goals.

"We need to understand that young people like the nondenominational churches like Faith Church and what they have to offer," Barksdale said. "We have to start doing things in that realm and we'll attract those young families."

For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

For more information about the church, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/parish/st-andrews-episcopal-church-marble-dale-ct or call 860-868-2275.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322