By REBECCA NIEMINEN SLOAN
With its grand steeple and gothic-style architecture, the Kinsman Presbyterian Church creates a striking presence in rural Trumbull County.
Built in 1833 by architect Willis Smith, 2013 marks the church’s 180th anniversary, and the congregation is recognizing the milestone with various celebrations.
At 7:30 p.m. today, Kinsman Historical Society member Emily Love and church member Carol Waite will present a dramatic reading titled “The Early Church and its Members.” The reading will center on recollections of town founder Rebecca Kinsman and her granddaughter, Jane. The event will include a Power Point presentation and a sharing of photographs.
At 10:45 a.m. Sunday, a special worship service will feature the church’s original pewter communion set.
At 4 p.m. Sept. 24, a tour of the adjacent cemetery will pay tribute to individuals and families that played an important role in the church’s long history.
During the Kinsman Historical Society’s Harvest of Homes tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 12, the church and manse will be open for tours.
The church building will be rededicated Nov. 10.
In May, a concert commemorated 50 years since the installation of the present organ.
Church member Richard Webb, who is also a member of the Kinsman Historical Society, said the church’s roots date back to the days when the Rev. Joseph Badger traveled the unsettled wilderness preaching to pioneers.
In 1803, early settlers founded a three-township church representing Kinsman, Vernon and Hartford, and in 1816 they built a single-story frame building diagonally across from the Dr. Peter Allen house at the corner of state Route 87 and State Road and called it Old Grove Church
As more people settled in Kinsman, residents appointed a full-time minister and commissioned local builder and architect Willis Smith to design and construct the magnificent building that stands today.
“The building is really the unique vision of Willis Smith and was an extraordinary endeavor for the time period in which it was constructed,” Webb said. “Not many surrounding communities from that era would have had a builder with Smith’s abilities. It is also unique in that it has survived. There were numerous other frame churches from that time period, but most of them are gone.”
Smith learned his craft in Connecticut and worked in the Kinsman area from about 1820 until 1840. When constructing the church he mixed classical and gothic elements.
The church was placed on the National Historic Register in the 1930s.
The Kinsman family donated the land for the church as well as a bell. Webb said there was some concern as to how the bell would be lifted into the towering belfry, but a local retired sea captain and some of his crew offered to handle the job.
“The captain asked only that his men be provided with sufficient liquid refreshment and that the populace stay out of earshot,” Webb said.
In the old days, the church was surrounded on three sides by horse sheds, and the minister spoke from a raised pulpit. The church’s coved ceiling is built so there is a curve extending upward from the wall before it blends with the ceiling.
“The coved ceiling is made possible by heavily reinforced king post timber trusses that allow the ceiling to hang suspended from them. It is something that only a very skilled builder could have accomplished,” Webb said.
Although the historical dignity of the church has been carefully maintained, the building has seen many interior changes over the years. During the 1870s, walnut pews replaced the box pews, and Victorian high-backed chairs were added to the pulpit area. In 1914, a basement was added, and during the 1950s, massive fundraising efforts led to the addition of a large educational wing.
Susan Francis became the church’s pastor in April 2012. The church currently has about 117 members. Member Susan Webb said the congregation works to maintain continuity while encouraging growth.
The church is known for its annual turkey dinner bazaar, which takes place during the first weekend of November. The congregation recently started an after-school tutoring program. It also is involved in supporting a mission program that will support a physical therapist’s travels to Peru where she will do therapy in remote areas and provide wheelchairs to the disabled.