In 1683, Reverend Samuel Shiverick preached in a small meetinghouse near Minister’s Rock in the present town of Marion. At that time Rochester encompassed the present town, all of what is now Marion and Mattapoisett as well as part of Wareham. In 1687, Shiverick moved to Falmouth and Reverend Samuel Arnold was invited to “settle” and was offered a “proprietor’s share in the lands of Rochester”.
In 1697, the Common, the Burying Ground and the “Ministry Lands” were laid out at Rochester Center and on October 13, 1703, the First Church of Rochester was organized. Eight men signed the original Church Covenant and since that time the church has had a history of continuous worship for nearly 300 years. The present sanctuary, built in 1837, is the fourth to stand on church land at Rochester Center. It was erected by architect and builder Solomon K. Eaton of Mattapoisett at a cost of under $5,000. The church reflects the Christopher Wren style popular at the time, modified by a square belfry rather than the usual pointed spires. Eaton also designed and built four other local Congregational churches of note: North Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, and Wareham, which burned in 1904.
In 1850, the Ladies’ Sewing Circle purchased a “Sweet tone bell with the sound of ‘A’ ” which still rings at 9 and 10:15 a.m. every Sunday. In 1866 a pipe organ was purchased and installed in the gallery in the rear. It was later moved to the front but is now back in its original location. The original pew doors were removed years ago during a renovation when the beautiful chandelier was added.
In 1993 a new Fellowship Hall was dedicated, the first new building for the church in over 150 years. This handicap-accessible addition is frequently used for many kinds of receptions, suppers, church, and community events.
The Vestry Building
Next door to the church, and almost as old, is the Vestry, originally called “Rochester Academy”. The Academy opened its doors to students in May 1839, having been founded at the urging of Rev. Jonathan Bigelow, Pastor of the First Congregational
Church, “to be devoted exclusively to purposes of education.”
A prospectus issued at the time notes the following: “…The locality of this institution for health and morality is not surpassed by any in New England. The trustees confidently assure the Public that a thorough course of instruction will be given in this school in all English studies, Latin, Greek and French languages. Term of tuition, Common English branches, $4.; Higher English $4.50; Languages $5. Good board in private families may be obtained from $1.75 to $2. per week. Great attention will be paid to the moral conduct, general deportment and intellectual improvement of scholars sent to this school.”
The Academy declined in the early 1860’s due to shortage of funds and the proliferation of academies being built in this area. In 1865, older students from the then called Rochester Center School attended the Academy. The original building included a Vestry area which has been used for church purposes since its beginning. In 1905, the Church permitted the Town to utilize two upper rooms as school classrooms. This use continued until the early 1950s. The second floor has now been converted (by Old Colony Vocational Students) into seven religious education classrooms. The church office and pastor’s study are now located on the first floor of the Vestry.