All Souls Universalist Church on Washington Street
Taking several years to build, the All Souls Universalist Church would lay its cornerstone at its location on Washington Street, situation between Ten Eyck and Paddock Streets, on June 27, 1906. The history of the Universalist Society in Watertown, however, goes back nearly 100 years beforehand.
As part of the proceedings for the dedication of the new All Souls Universalist Church on Oct. 4, 1907, the speech by Rev. Moses H. Harris D. D. included an Organization of Society overview–
The First Universalist society of Watertown was formed in the court house April 26, 1820, at a meeting called by 12 prominent citizens. At this meeting a board of trustees was elected, consisting of Levi Butterfield, Chaucey Calhoun, Henry Gaswell, Simeon Skeels and Darius Doty. The society was legally incorporated on Jan, 8 1825.
On the site of the first village school house of Watertown, where the hotel Hotel LeRay now stands, was erected the First Universalist church, a stone building, costing $7,000. It was a church edifice having two front doors, a roof gabled, a square battlement on the ridge from which a short spire rose. Its windows were covered with green blinds, and a gallery extended around the interior of the church.
That church, like many other’s throughout the history of Watertown (e.g. Sacred Heart, Arsenal Street Methodist, Stone Street Presbyterian) would be destroyed by fire and replaced by the Otis Wheelock designed Universalist Church in 1850. Wheelock had been busy in these years after the great fire of 1849, having designed the Watertown Baptist Church, Woodruff and Crowner Houses, amongst many others.
In February of 1906, the Church would make a decision to build in a new location. As reported in the Watertown Daily Times–
The members of the Universalist society met Tuesday night in the Campbell & Lewis hall and considered bids for the new church, to be built on the society’s new lot at 58 Washington Street.It was decided to adopt the plan for the larger of the two proposed churches that have been considered.It will have a seating capacity of 468, besides the Sunday school room, and will be built of brown stone and brick.The contract is to be awarded to Willam Richards and Fred Stockwell of this city, but the price is not yet made public.Work will probably begin as soon as weather conditions permit.
Those conditions would come the following month when, on March 8, the clearing of the land on Washington Street began. On June 27, the cornerstone would be laid and construction ending in October of the following year. At that time, during the dedication, Rev. Moses H. Harris D. D. would also reflect upon the journey and creation of the All Souls Universalist Church.
Two years ago, we left the old church on the Public Square, with all its blessed memories, and came to this spot to have builded this house of worship—our religious home. It is to be a home for every one who will come and worship with us. All Souls church is founded upon the grand truths and principles of Christianity and embraces humanity within the terms of its fellowship; we are here as a church to feel the throb of impulse which the world awakens, we are here as a church to unite with other churches to carry forward those majestic purposes which make the life of the race grow broader and richer.
At the time of completion, the All Souls Universalist Church had a mortgage worth $24,000 which was paid for by Mrs. Emma Flower Taylor and her mother, Mrs. (Sarah) Roswell P. Flower in memory of Mrs. Flower’s mother, Mrs. Roxana Woodruff Strong, a member of the church. A tablet dedicated to the Flower and Taylor families on Oct. 11, 1908 was hung on the eastern wall of the nave of the church in appreciation.
As history would seem to repeat itself, like the original church, the All Souls Universalist Church was also be lost to a fire on the frigid night of December 14, 1984. Oddly enough, Fire Chief Ronald Damon would say “The beauty of them is their downfall,” going on to explain in the Watertown Daily Times–
The wide-open interiors created by high, cathedral ceilings hide fires that can burn undetected for hours as flames follow joists and rafters into concealed spaces.
“Usually, they get a pretty good start. It takes a long time for the smoke to build up pressure to seep outside and, by that time, the fire is pretty well under way,” explained Chief Damon, who has now been involved in three major church fires in the last 15 years.
Chief Damon was an acting captain when fire destroyed the 61-year-old Sacred Heart Church in February 1969 and was fire chief in 1981 when the 117-year-old Stone Street Presbyterian Church burned.
And therein lies another problem with fighting church fires: the age of the building.
“You get into old, heavy, dried out construction,” Chief Damon explained this morning.
Another possible factor in the fire’s destruction was a new fire alarm and detection system, valued at $5,000, was found still in a box in the basement waiting to be installed the next morning. According to the Watertown Daily Times–
When firemen arrived at the scene they heard existing battery-operated alarms similar to the ones used in homes. However, because the alarms did not have the ability to trigger a telephone call to an emergency number, they did not initiate an investigation by the fire department. The new system would have set off an alarm as soon as smoke was detected.
It would be nearly two years before the Church would have plans approved for a new facility, this time on outer Gotham Street, in September of 1986. At this time, the ruins of the former Church still stood on Washington Street. Construction on the new $500,000 facility would start later that year, but it wouldn’t be until July of 1988 that the remains of the former Washington Street Church were demolished.
Upon relocating to outer Gotham Street, the Church would undergo another name change, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, where it has remained since.