West Durham Methodist Church

West Durham Methodist Church

In 1793, Jesse Lee, one of the most popular early Methodist preachers, formed the first Maine Circuits. According to old Church records, Methodism came to West Durham in 1804. In those early days, West Durham served as the center for a large Circuit Parish which included the settlements of Pownal, Durham, Lisbon, Wales, Freeport, Danville, and Litchfield. It was in 1804 that the West Durham edifice was built. Then a great revival was held to inspire the members of the new Congregation.

Rev. Timothy Merritt, the leader of this great revival, was credited with the first christenings in 1809 when he baptized David Ferguson and John Davis. A year later, by a Massachusetts law, Durham and Pownal became active enough to be a separately incorporated Circuit. The year 1814 appears to have been a banner year for the ten year old Congregation, for the church was host to the New England Methodist Conference with Bishop Wm. McKendree presiding. A plaque commemorating this historic event was dedicated 144 years later, in 1958.

In 1831 a Quarterly Conference was held in this small community. It was during this period in the mid-1800s that the membership grew to nearly 500 souls. By 1849, Durham was granted a separate parish. The interior of the Church was extensively remodeled in 1867; the balconies and galleries were removed and the pews were changed.In 1933 Rev. and Mrs. Merrill Beem came to minister here; during their five year stay, they aroused great interest in all phases of Church ministry. Various organizations sprang into being and enthusiasm for these programs were shared by young and old alike. The old horse sheds were torn down behind the Church and much of the usable lumber was used to construct a Parish Hall adjacent to the parsonage in 1934. This new addition was dedicated in the 130th anniversary observance, during a month-long festival of Church events.

For thirteen years after the departure of Rev. Beem, the Church was without a settled minister, and was open only one or two Sundays for special Old Home Days services. In 1951 Charles Huff of Orr’s Island took over the lay direction of the Church’s activities. Once again a wave of enthusiasm enlivened the Community.

By 1955, the Church had decided to install electricity. The Trustees decided to maintain the old kerosene lamps which were thought to be part of the original lighting. The set of four lamps positioned equidistantly on a cross tie are suspended from a chain centered in the Church ceiling and within a raised concentric circular molding. The entire lamp system could be raised and lowered. An old millstone set up in the attic is used as a counterweight.

On July 4, 1976, during Durham’s (USA) Bicentennial Ecumenical Service, Mrs. Dorothy DeCosta of the Methodist Historical Society presented a small bronze plaque to the Church, which reads: “United Methodist Historic Site No. 41”. It is hoped that with such a rich history and with the remaining eight members, the West Durham United Methodist Church can once again be the scene of another great revival.