It is presumed that Canterburians in the upper most part of Canterbury at Hill’s Corner (Hillville) – an area just north of the Shaker Village – were wanting a convenient place to worship. So the Freewill Baptists began an effort to build a church up there, were able to frame it and board it but eventually used up their funds before finishing it. A proposition was made to the Congregationalists that they make it a union church for all denominations which was also an answer for those remaining Congregationalists in the Hackleborough District. The Congregationalists accepted then contributed to the completion of it, selling pews to defray some of the costs and finishing in 1839.
The Second Congregational Society of Canterbury was formed with members departing from the center church for the purpose of establishing this new one. As part of his will one member, Gideon Ham, left all of his belongings to be sold to create a fund to support the preaching here. Preaching was supported for a while and with donations and with the Congregationalists and Baptists sharing the space. Baptist preachers were more plentiful as their work was always considered missionary work done without pay and included many from the other two Baptist churches in town such as Elder Joseph Clough and Rev. Edmund Fairfield. However, the hired ministers at the center Congregational Church also preached here.
In 1853 the Baptist church voted to designate 1/5 of their annual “parsonage fund” to the church as long as it maintained preaching half the time. But by 1869 the services were being held less than 1/2 the time so they cut the funding.
Soon after the Chicago fire, when many people throughout the country were making contributions for the victims, Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Monmouth – widow of a civil war Colonel – came to the church on a benevolent mission. She made such a moving appeal for the inhabitants of Chicago with such earnestness and charm that the congregation asked her to remain a few days. When she found out that the church was only being ministered to once a month she offered to read them published sermons if the Congregational Society would agree to give her some of the income from the Ham Fund. They agreed and she began a ministry there that lasted eight years.
Immediately the church was repaired. The interior was changed; the vestibule was fitted up for her occupancy during her weekly visits from her Canterbury homestead and the pulpit was changed so that the choir was behind the preacher. And from her own funds, she began embellishing the church with scripture mottos of her own creation and elaborate & colorful decorations made from wallpaper cut-outs, tissue paper, cotton gauze, rags and worsted (wool yarn or fabric). It was her detailed use of worsted that led to the naming of the church The Worsted Church.
NOTE: This was the time period of Victorian decoration. Many books were published at the time teaching women how to decorate their homes with great embellishment and economy. And with the advent of commercially printed wall paper making it more available to New England, it makes sense that Mrs. Monmouth – who was also well traveled – may have applied her hand to “the latest fashion”of interior style. Her decorations showed economy as she used wall paper samples, window shades and bits of fabric left from other items. She was a decorative artist of her time. It is also interesting to note that the Shakers used wallpaper scraps on the bottoms of their poplar sewing cushions during the same time period.
During her time here Lizzie Monmouth organized a Sunday School and church services were lively while the social life of the church increased. Upon her retirement services stopped except in the summer when the Ham fund income could supply preaching. During this time the Shakers would come to sing one Sunday each summer which attracted large crowds as their meetings were not open to the public at that time. The church continued on in this manner with pulpit services provided by Rev. G.F. Roper but eventually services stopped altogether and the church became a tourist attraction. The Brown family, who lived at the Hills Corner Farm, now owned by the Ciano family, were volunteer docents of the church letting in tourists who wished to view the highly decorated interior.
The long standing members of the church issued a letter in October of 1943 asking for all pew holders to relinquish their rights to the pews so that the Congregational Conference could take over the care of the church. Apparently this was granted and, according to oral history, the Conference held ownership till the end.
In 1958 during a July thunderstorm the Worsted Church was hit by lightening and was burned to the ground. But before it became engulfed in flames townsmen rushed to rescue and retrieved the items seen on display. Hughie Fifield rushed inside and with brute strength lifted the organ and threw it out the window to arms that missed the catch, (the pipes are still remaining however), ripped out pews, the pulpit and decorations.
What remains of the Worsted Church today is the huge granite doorstep now carved with the inscription “Site of Canterbury Worsted Church. Burned 1958.”
“The History of Canterbury, N.H. 1727 – 1912” by James Otis Lyford (Concord, NH The Rumford Press 1912)
The Canterbury Historical Society newspaper archives
“The So-called Worsted Church; Hillville, Canterbury, New Hampshire” by L.H.M.
Although not directly related to churches, the story of Elizabeth Monmouth’s life after retiring is book on its own. After having been swindled out of most the property she inherited from her father, she lived on his farm in Canterbury and attempted to subsist on income produced from the property which she called Rest Valley. Having been a writer in her earlier days she authored and sold a few books and, by decorating her home in the same style as the Worsted Church she was able to create a tourist attraction earning an income. A very creative woman indeed. She died in 1887.