First Congregational Church,

Orwell, Vermont


The Orwell Congregational Church, located on a commanding height at the northwest corner of the town green in the historic center of Orwell Vermont, is approximately 100 feet north of Route 73. The building is a particularly fine example of Greek Revival style architecture. It is a monumentally-scaled, gabled-roofed, rectangular four-by-three bay brick church. Built in 1842, the building features a distyle in antis front facade with fluted Doric columns, a large pediment, full Tuscan entablature, prominent pilasters on the front and sides and a richly decorated belfry. The interior of the church features a large floral plaster medalion on the ceiling, from which an elaborately decorated metal chandelier is suspended, as well as a particularly well-preserved organ from 1865. The church is an exceptionally fine example of the implementation of Asher Benjamin's 1839 church design. It has been in continuous use since its construction and retains its integrity of design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

The Orwell Congregational Church is a high style Greek Revival brick building with white painted wood and gray marble detailing. Built in 1842, the church is a four bay rectangle with marble capped wall and corner pilasters on all sides save the back, with a basement level, main floor and belfry. The distyle in antis front facade is dominated by two monumental Doric, fluted wooden columns without plinths. The whole is topped by a pediment with full Tuscan entablature, that is both raked and carried, and an unornamented brick tympanum. The slate covered roof is low pitched and gabled. The brick walls use an extended American common bond with seven courses of stretchers to one header course. The church faces south toward the Orwell village green and is approached via a broad concrete walkway. The building rests on a high rubblestone foundation.

The front entrance is composed of six-paneled, oversized, white painted wooden double doors. There is a white painted rectangular overdoor. There is a four-paneled blind transom set beneath the door frame and recessed so that it is in the same plane as the doors. The transom panels are symmetrical with both the doors and the door pilasters. The doors are surrounded by a simple rectangular wooden frame with a full entablature on pilasters painted white. The faces of the pilasters are decorated with a single panel, while the interior sides are paneled and symmetrical with the paneling of the overdoor and door. These doors rest on a gray marble sill.

Two subsidiary doors face each other and are set into the brick walls that flank the entrance. These doors are single, white painted, four paneled, wooden doors with a simple frame and white painted stone lintels. Like the front door, they have gray marble sills.

Poured concrete stairs extend almost the entire width of the front facade at the base and taper to the width of the entrance portico at the top. A pair of modern, black painted, iron balustrades bracket the center of the stairs and lead to the front door.

The building is sited on ground that slopes gradually to the north. The basement level walls are single-faced finished gray stone. Three brick courses above the stone, there is a water table of gray marble one brick in width, which projects slightly from the wall and extends the full length of the east, south and west sides of the building. The exposed basement is pierced by two double hung two-over-two windows on the rear half of the east and west walls. Two entrances are placed near the front, or southern end, of the east wall. The southern door, a simple wooden double door composed of vertical planks with tying stringers, gives access to the oil tank and furnace. The other door is a double door with windows in the upper portions, giving access to the main hall in the basement.

Four, tall rectangular stained glass windows dominate the east and west walls. The windows, which have rectangular, gray marble lintels and white marble sills, were installed in the original recessed window wells in 1891. They portray biblical events and were paid for by popular subscriptions. The back wall is an unadorned brick wall pierced only by two windows at the basement level in the same style as the other windows at this level.

The belfry rises in two stages and is set a short distance from the gable end over the portico. The first stage is a one story square composed of white painted, flush planked, wooden clapboard set off by single panel corner pilasters. A large black clock face fills the center of the south, east and west faces of this stage. The second stage is also a square of the same height. At the corners pairs of obliquely set, fluted Ionic columns project outward on rectangular bases at a forty-five degree angle to the facades. This stage is capped by a denticulated full entablature. Rectangular louvered openings fill the facades between the columns. The third and final stage of the belfry is a half story tall. The projecting tops of the Ionic columns serve as a base for paired decorative consoles which slope in and up to form the octagonal base of a low copper sheathed dome. The panels between the inverted "brackets" are filled by a rinceau composed of a stylized anthemion motif. Set on a metal pole on top of the dome sits a wide arrow shaped weather vane. It is mounted a third of the way back from its tip and rests upon a metal sphere. The tip and tail are gilded. The arrow is composed of three parallel shafts and the fletching is an elaborate pattern of flowing lines.

The roof is pierced by four chimneys, placed near the corners of the building. The chimneys are brick with very simple caps.

Much of the church appears to be taken directly from Asher Benjamin's 1839 The Builder's Guide.

Particular attention should be paid to plates LVIII, LIX and LX.