By Dan Shine
The Hurricane of 1950
Note: This week, we defer to a past First Church Historian, Marjorie Phelps, and part of a narrative she gave to the Vacation Bible School in August, 1960:
Now, the front of the church where the steeple is looks very much as it did a hundred years ago; but the front of the church isn’t exactly as it was a hundred years ago, because something happened here ten years ago.
On Nov. 25, 1950, I happened to be at a wedding at the church here. It was the wedding of someone whom some of you children had for a first grade teacher up in the old gymnasium. Do any of you remember Mrs. Jones? Well, it was her wedding day. And such a rainy, windy day it was. In fact, it was a day when we had a real hurricane here in West Haven. Now, I only live two blocks from the church, but I took a bus to get to the church, because it was raining so very, very hard—I knew I would be soaked if I didn’t. And I couldn’t drive my car.
Well, after the wedding was over, we all went into the parlor for a lovely reception. And we were having a nice pleasant time visiting around when the sexton, whose name was Mr. Duncan, came in; and he said, “Anybody who has his car parked outside the church better move it. The shutters are beginning to blow off.” And we looked out, and it was raining harder than ever, and sure enough the trees were bending down, almost touching the ground, and shutters had blown off the church. Well, you never saw a building empty as fast as that parish house did. Soon, everyone was gone from the wedding reception. And I couldn’t get a bus back to my home—I walked; and it was so windy it was just like pushing against a wall to get up the street; but I finally got home. I turned on the radio and they were telling about trees coming down and different things happening during the storm; and then all of a sudden came a News Flash! And it said “The steeple on the First Congregational Church on West Haven Green has just blown over”.
Well, the next morning, it was sun-shiney and quiet and calm and all the people went to church. And the steeple lay in ruins on the steps and to the side—but there was a sign on the front of the church which said, “Church as usual”. But we had to go in through the parish house doors.
And the people had a meeting right after the church service that morning and they decided they would rebuild the steeple. They would raise the money and they would put up another steeple just like the old one. And so they did and they made the church a little bit larger while they were doing it, so there would be room for even more people.
And the bell that was in the old steeple was not broken so it was put in the new steeple and that’s the bell that you hear sometimes on Sunday mornings calling the people to church.