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History

The first settlers to come to the area now known as Sunderland arrived in 1673.  In order to establish a town, these settlers petitioned the General Court and were granted seven years to attract enough settlers and hire a minister. The land was surveyed, registered as a plantation, the land purchased from the Indians, and was named Swampfield.  Unfortunately, the settlement was abandoned because of the Indian (King Philip’s) War, and the settlers moved to Hatfield and Hadley, which were fortified.

By 1713, the war had been reduced to small skirmishes and the settlers petitioned the General Court to reestablish Swampfield.  They were given three years to have forty families occupy their land, including a minister in residence, and build a meeting house/church.  By 1716, most of the thirty-nine families had arrived.

The first meetinghouse (church) building was completed in June of 1717 along with a parsonage, and soon afterward, a minister was secured.  This first church building, 45 x 30 feet, a wooden building with two doors (one facing north and one facing south), was set in the roadway (Main Street), rather than at the side of the road.   It had no vestibule, cupola, steeple, nor clapboards, and was only roughly finished on the inside.  The only indoor lighting was what came through the windows, which were made of diamond panes of glass set in lead.  Improvements were made over the ensuing years.

With completion of the requirements–settlers occupying their land, a church building, and a minister– Sunderland was officially established as a town in 1718.

A second meetinghouse (church) was built in 1793 (with the original, first meetinghouse being demolished in 1794) and included a steeple, bell, and clock, with galleries along the north, south, and east inside walls.  The pews on the floor were raised one step above the aisle.  This new church was not occupied by a pastor for 10 years.  A new bell was added in 1800.

During this period (the Federal period), town and church functions were still firmly bound together. In 1831, even before the commonwealth moved on this issue, the townspeople voted to separate church and state.  The church then created its own parish.  With property now separated from the church, residents who were not members of the church were no longer required to pay taxes to the church.

A third, and current, church building was built in 1836 on the same site as the second church, at 91 South Main Street.  This building was constructed in the Greek Revival style.  It was renovated in the 1870’s and again in the 1950’s.

The Chapel (next door to the church at 93 South Main Street) was built in 1849 to hold church meetings and has been used continually since then, and to this day, for town functions.

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