Leyden — Churches
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
No action touching church affairs seems to have been taken until the year 1785, when the district discussed the question of building a meeting-house, but nothing was done. In 1789 the subject was revived, and there was some talk about selling the ministry lands for the purpose of building a meeting-house, but, as before, the discussion was fruitless. In 1791 there was another revival of the matter, when it was decided that no meeting-house should be built. Previous to that date, however, in July, 1780, a Baptist Church was organized. The members of the church worshiped probably in Coleraine, as well as in dwelling-houses at home, until the erection, by a company of individuals called "the meeting-house proprietors," of a church building in Leyden, in 1797. In 1796 the district again took up the church question and voted to build a meeting-house, 46 feet long by 36 feet wide, with two "good and convenient stories."
There was a protracted discussion touching the place the house should occupy, and, after appointing local committees to fix upon a site and rejecting their reports, a committee from neighboring towns was solicited for the purpose of adjusting the difficulty, but the report of this committee, too, was rejected; and, after more wrangling, it was eventually decided to raise £350 to build a meeting-house, and to locate it near where the Leyden church now stands. A committee, consisting of Peleg Babcock, John Buddington, and Ezra Foster, was chosen to procure the timber; but lo, after the timber was obtained and conveyed to the appointed ground, the district concluded to abandon the meeting-house project. Shortly thereafter, in 1797, a number of persons, concluding that the district would never build a house, purchased the timbers; and, without further delay, erected a church edifice upon one of the highest points of ground in Leyden, half a mile west of where the present church stands, and. near where Mr. John Newcomb now lives. Not long after the completion of the meeting-house, the district voted to raise $1000 to purchase it, but almost immediately reconsidered the vote; and that, it appears, was the final effort made by the district to obtain a house of worship.
The people in Leyden at this time were chiefly Baptists, and they began, therefore, to worship in the new meeting-house, which was, however, known as the Leyden meeting-house then, and always thereafter; and by that designation too; it may be observed, the present meeting-house has been known since its erection, in 1841. Previous to 1796, Elder Joseph Green preached for some years to the Baptists in Leyden. The district records set forth that, in April, 1798, "Elder Asa Hebard, with his family, came to Leyden from Putney, Vt., and took pastoral care of the church and people of said Leyden." Elder Hebard preached to the people until his death, which occurred in 1880. During his ministrations, Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Universalists worshiped in the meeting-house and under his teachings. Shortly after his death, the Baptist Church being dissolved, no effort was made to continue preaching in the meeting-house, which, after remaining unused for a long time, was torn down about the year 1850. Although the Baptists were largely in the majority in the early days, there is now (1879) but one person—Lura Worden—of that persuasion in the town.
Early in this century the Methodists in Leyden began to have occasional public worship, sometimes in dwellings, and at times in groves and barns. A church organization was effected in 1810, but no church building was used by the organization until 1841, when the present Leyden meeting-house, erected in that year, was occupied. A Universalist Society was organized in Leyden in 1830, but endured only three years. Thirty-four years afterward, in January, 1867, the Universalist Church of Leyden was organized with 24 members. The Leyden meeting-house is used by the Universalists and Methodists. The latter, whose pastor, in 1879, was Rev. Emery Howard, occupy the house three Sabbaths of each month, while the Universalists, who depend for preaching upon periodical supplies, occupy one Sabbath each month. No Congregational society or church has ever been organized within the town,—a singular circumstance, since the Orthodox or Congregational Church was the first established in the early settlements of nearly all the towns in western Massachusetts.