Our Church's History
| The oldest parish
in New Hampshire began in 1633 at Dover in the area between the Bellamy and
Salmon Falls Rivers at the head of the Piscataqua River. The First Parish
Church of Dover was organized in 1638 at Dover Neck. Between 1675 and
1700, about eight miles farther up the peninsula, another settlement was started
in the Rollinsford area but the residents attended church at Dover Neck, and
later, after the church was moved three miles closer in 1713, at Pine
Hill. Another settlement began at the falls on the Salmon Falls River and
those residents also had to travel to Dover Neck (by land and boat across the
Cocheco River) for services.
In 1727 a congregation was organized and meetings held (mostly in the Summer) in homes or out-of-doors in what is today Rollinsford. The services were led by the minister from Dover (Pine Hill) Church. Thus, the area became known as Summer Town, or Summer Heath, denoting its most frequented time. However, in 1729 the permanent residents of Rollinsford-Salmon Falls area petitioned for and received from the General Assembly the establishment of a new parish, to be cut off from the northeast corner of the Dover Parish and to be known as Summersworth. (The spelling was later corrupted to Somersworth.) Thus, a newly built meetinghouse in what is now the Rollinsford Junction area became the Old Parish Church of Somersworth and the center of town. Residents of the Salmon Falls River villages also became a part of the new parish.
In 1729 the new meetinghouse was built, and was taken down in 1773. The second meetinghouse, erected in 1772, was destroyed by fire in 1779. The third meetinghouse was erected in 1780, and stood until 1848, at which time it too was destroyed by fire. The second and third meetinghouses stood in the enclosure of what is now the Old Town Cemetery in Rollinsford Junction.
A new meetinghouse (the fourth) was built at Great Falls (as then named) in 1827, known as the First Congregational Church of Great Falls. The earlier members of the church at Great Falls had been meeting across the river, in Berwick, Maine, with the Pastor of the Rollinsford Church; until the Greek-revival edifice was built at High and Prospect Streets. This church grew rapidly as the old church at Rollinsford had been abandoned after 1827 and the center of the town's population shifted to the falls area.
In 1934 the Congregational Church became federated with the High Street Methodist Episcopal Church, meeting alternately in both churches. The High Street Methodist Episcopal Church had previously absorbed the Main Street Methodist Episcopal in the late 1800's. The federation continued until 1937, when it was voted to dissolve the Federated Church and to become the First Parish Church, Congregational, but occupying the former High Street Methodist Episcopal Church building. In 1961, the First Parish Church voted to become a member congregation of the United Church of Christ, and so changed its name to read: First Parish United Church of Christ, (Congregational).
For a variety of reasons, the High Street building was sold in 1983, the decision being made two years previous to seek out another location and to build a new church building that would better meet the needs of a changing congregation. The new church building on West High Street has been a focal point of our life together. Here we have gathered as a church family, as a worshipping community, as a witness for Christ in the City of Somersworth.
This short historical sketch would be incomplete without a mention of the saints who have gone before, and the saints who are here now, preparing, believing, sacrificing, and loving so fully in preparation for the generations to come. It is the life and love of these many individuals who have lived out the prayer of our Savior, "... that they may all be one." (John 17:21)
May this community of faith called First Parish continue as a beacon of hope, that the world may see and hear of the steadfast love of the Creator, and that we may live together so as to express that love in our work and worship, inspiring the seeker to fullness of faith in Jesus, the Christ.