Save the First Parish Meetinghouse

Towering over Town Square in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the site where a meetinghouse has existed since 1622, stands a historic treasure, a symbol of our country's origin, a tribute to the Pilgrim's journey to America, and a cornerstone of our history. Today, it's in desperate need of repair.

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Courtesy sdowen on Flickr

Tours Resume at First Parish! - 5/22

May 22, 2014 is the opening day for tours of historic First Parish Meetinghouse. Our tour days are every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until the end of October. For a donation of $5.00 (children under 16 are free), you will receive a customized tour of First Parish and all of its riches.

Come and see some of our best kept secrets such as: a stone plaque, sent from the Delftshaven church, as a gift to acknowledge the building of “The National Memorial Pilgrim Church.” This threshold piece is from the church’s entryway, and the Pilgrims would have stepped over or on it on their way out of Holland en route to Plymouth.

When was the First Meetinghouse Built?

It is interesting to note that during these early years, Plymouth’s First Church and the town were really one entity. Drawing on Bradford’s writings and on Plymouth’s early town records, Fred A. Jenks concludes that“as freed men they taxed themselves to pay town charges to build and keep in repair a meetinghouse used for meetings of the townsmen and as a place to worship God.” This purpose was served first by the common house and then the fort “until 1637 when their first meetinghouse was built on common land on the north side of Town Square.”

There is some debate, however, concerning the actual date of construction. According to Reverend Cuckson, “In 1648 the first church was built. It was situated behind Bradford’s lot, and facing Leyden St.. . . ” Built on common land, “the lot was actually carved out of the (Burial) hill.” In the words of Arthur Whitney and George Marshall, it was “a square house of unpretentious lines. It obviously and significantly was a house of God, not a temple.”

The Robinson Window: A Sermon

The John Robinson window slid gracefully to the floor revealing an infinite cloud grey sky. Robbed of backlight, Robinson appeared murky lying against the wall. I looked out the window where Robinson had stood lo these last one hundred and eighteen years dressed in his blue silk suit with his arms up, his cape stirring in the sea breeze welcoming us to leave or arrive. It was grey and windy. I could imagine the Mayflower stealing away on return voyage to England and Saints and Strangers standing by the sea or on the very hill, waiting for Mayflower to cross below the horizon and then waited some more--stood there in their loneliness held only by their hope, God, and the sandy shore of the new world.

What did those Saints and Strangers imagine as they stood alone after that wicked winter when almost half perished. We can hardly place ourselves in their space and time; hardly imagine life without cars, electricity, running water and indoor bathrooms. I can hardly remember anymore getting up to adjust the volume on the TV.

"Transcendentalism in Plymouth" - 3/16 @ 4:30

The campaign for the restoration of the First Parish Meetinghouse cordially invites you to an informative afternoon lecture by Patrick T.J. Browne, Executive Director of Pilgrim Hall Museum and the Pilgrim Society, entitled "Transcendentalism in Plymouth".

The event will take place Sunday, March 16 at 4:30 p.m. at the First Parish Meetinghouse, 19 Town Square, Plymouth, MA.

Complimentary refreshments will be served following the lecture. Sponsored by BF Architects, Plymouth, MA. This is the first in a series of four free lectures in 2014 offered by the First Parish Meetinghouse Restoration Committee.

"This program is supported in part by a grant from the Plymouth Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency."

Three More Windows Head Out for Restoration

On January 7th three men from Serpentino Stained Glass Studios spent four hours removing most of the windows on the South side of the Sanctuary, as well as two stained glass door windows in Kendall Hall. They will be restored and returned in early spring. Upon their return, the North side windows will be removed for restoration.

Caring for a Treasure Rooted in Plymouth History

Be sure to check out a great article by Boston Globe correspondent Robert Knox, who wrote a great story about the campaign to restore the First Parish Meetinghouse.

First Parish Church, the seat of the oldest continuous congregation in New England, is seeking funds for a long-overdue repair and restoration of its 115-year-old stone building in Town Square.
The building stands on the site where the congregation’s meeting house has been located since 1622, when the Mayflower Pilgrims built their first public building for worship and town business. Significant moments in Pilgrim history are recorded in the church’s Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Read the full article!

Help Us Turn $5,000 into $15,000!

Don't wait! For every donation that you provide to the Committee to Restore the First Parish Meetinghouse, First Parish member Charles Tarbox will match on a 1:2 basis.

If you donate $50, Charles will donate $25. If you donate $100, he'll donate $50, and if you give $1,000, he will donate $500. He'll give up to $5,000, but only if we can raise $10,000 by December 31, 2013.

No gift is too small or large. All proceeds will go toward restoring and preserving the historic First Parish Meetinghouse facade.

Donate today!

Thank You for a Wonderful Tour Season!

Our weekly scheduled guided tours (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) are over for the winter. We are still open to scheduling private tours by contacting the office at (508) 747-1606 or emailing us at

The 2013 tour season brought 1,167 people who took guided tours, and 200 people who took self - guided tours. I want to take this time to thank all of the tour volunteers. Without
them we would not have been successful. Through heat, humidity, cold wind and rain, my wonderful guides came and spent 1055.50 hours in service to this cause, raising awareness of our presence, raising awareness of our need to restore and protect this building.

We have, as always, found out new information about the building from books, visitors, and each other. It is always a pleasure to see the church through visiting eyes.

The 2014 tour season begins on Memorial Day weekend. I hope all of my guides have a safe, warm winter, so that they will be ready to come back and do it all over again!

Pilgrim's Lost Fort Found?

As the work of restoration unfolds, and as we do research into the history of the building and the site, we will share bits of information that we think will be of interest to you.

Even as we begin to restore the fifth meetinghouse, archeologists from the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project in conjunction with the Friends of Burial Hill are looking for the Pilgrim’s lost first meetinghouse/fort on the hill in back of our church. On October 12, 2013, Craig Chandler reported their first findings. Using ground penetrating radar, archeologists explored the hill looking for outlines of the fort, hoping to determine the size, materials used, and exact location. They have not yet found the fort but will continue to search.

An Unforgettable Tour

It was supposed to be the last tour of the day since it was going on three o’clock in the afternoon. I was finishing up my tour, talking about the Tiffany stained glass window, my favorite part of the tour.

I began to hear people coming into the sanctuary through the heavy oak doors. They were quite loud! Someone had even begun to sing. I turned to look and found people pouring in – 20, 30, 40, a seemingly endless outpouring of people. They were speaking in a language I was not familiar with. (I later learned it was Korean.)

Rick McDonald was downstairs, and he was as surprised as I was! He told me that he had been approached by a minister who had asked to let his group inside to see the church. Rick thought there might be 20 – 30 people. He thought wrong. The total was over 100 people! They had travelled from N.Y. in two LARGE buses!

Once they were all upstairs, they sat in the gallery under the Robinson stained glass window. There was no space left for another person in the pews. It was standing room only. They sang three hymns, in English.