About Us / History and Building
Congregational History Begins ~ 1848
- FUSN's renovation efforts were honored with a Newton Preservation Award, Nov. 19, 2009.
Edited by Gayle Smalley and Noreen Kimball
Unlike many Massachusetts UU congregations that trace their origins to Puritan foundations, First Unitarian Society in Newton (FUSN) began as a Unitarian church. This society owes its beginning to the progressive social reformers who moved to West Newton at a time of the area’s rapid development in the mid-nineteenth century.
The year 1848 marks the church’s official organization, although its story began several years earlier when a group of West Newton “vigorous liberals” began to hold sporadic Unitarian services. They met in the red brick Davis Tavern, which still stands in the fork of the intersection of Watertown and Washington Streets.
With the opening of the Boston and Worcester Railroad in 1834, West Newton had a direct link to downtown Boston, and rapid development followed. Nearby West Newton Hill and the surrounding area saw the construction of new homes, many owned by wealthy business people who commuted by train to Boston offices.
During the informal period, various ministers were asked to preach for a Sunday or two, in some cases for as long as a three-month period. The formal organization that took place in October 1848 followed the process dictated by Massachusetts law. At its core was the written application of ten persons seeking to form a new religious society.
FUSN’s nineteenth century founders were well known for their commitment to the progressive values of their time. Among the ten incorporators appear the names of William P. Parker, Superintendent of the Boston and Worcester Railroad and abolitionist/educator, Nathaniel Allen. Nathaniel Allen operated a gender integrated and racially integrated school that drew students from all over the world. At his death, the obituary for Nathaniel Allen noted “He was for many years a member of the West Newton Unitarian Church, and adopted his views upon religious matters at a time when such an avowal required great moral courage.”
Other early participants included education reformer, Horace Mann, and lecturer/champion of women’s rights, Caroline Wells Healey Dall.
Immediately following its organization, the society engaged its first called minister, Rev. William Orne White, who would serve only one year. The congregation ordained Rev. White, and, two months later, he led the society in its first communion service. Both events marked the society’s new status as an the established church.