Old West Church (Boston, Massachusetts)
Old West Church
Old West Church
|Part of||Beacon Hill Historic District (#66000130)|
|NRHP reference #||70000691|
|Added to NRHP||December 30, 1970|
|Designated NHL||December 30, 1970|
|Designated NHLDCP||October 15, 1966|
The Old West Church is a historic church at 131 Cambridge Street in the West End of Boston, Massachusetts. It was built in 1806 to designs by architect Asher Benjamin, and is considered one of his finest works. It is monumentally-scaled example of ecclesiastical Federal architecture, whose design was widely copied throughout New England.
Description and history
The first church on this site was built in 1737 as a wood-frame building, and was occupied as a barracks by British troops during their occupation of the city prior to the American Revolution. The British destroyed its tower in 1775 when they suspected that American Colonials were signaling to Cambridge from the spire.
In 1806 the congregation commissioned Asher Benjamin to design a new church building. As in the architect's earlier Charles Street Meeting House (1804), its 3 1⁄2-story brick entry tower is crowned with a cupola; the whole tower projects outward somewhat from the church hall behind. Four shallow brick pilasters, each two stories high and trimmed with white wood, separate the three entry doors. Each door is echoed by a window above it. The tower's third story is outfitted with pairs of Doric pilasters. On the final half-story beneath the cupola are clocks on each face of the tower, each adorned with a light swag. On the back wall, the original central pulpit window has been filled in with brickwork.
Old West's preaching played a major role in American history. Jonathan Mayhew, the church's second Congregational pastor, spoke out as early as 1750 about the justice of removing tyrannical leaders. His preaching was theologically radical as well, and is held by some Unitarians to have predated William Ellery Channing in his exposition of anti-trinitarian views. By the early 19th century, the resultant Unitarianism had converted 9 of Boston's original 13 orthodox Congregational churches.
The church was originally and for 150 years Congregational, a branch of the Boston Public Library 1894–1960, and has been owned by the United Methodist Church since 1961. It was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architectural significance in 1970.
- List of National Historic Landmarks in Boston
- National Register of Historic Places listings in northern Boston, Massachusetts
- Nancy S. Voye. Asher Benjamin's West Church[permanent dead link]: A Model for Change. Old-Time New England v.67, no.245, Summer-Fall 1976.
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