By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Founded by abolitionists and built in 1861, the Unitarian Church of Hudson and Marlborough is the oldest church and the oldest structure still in use in Hudson. Now 154 years later, people who value freedom, reason and tolerance still occupy the building.
First to preach in the church was Reverend George Stacy, who had been kicked out of the Unitarian Church in Boylston for preaching against slavery. The parish’s current minister, Alice Anacheka-Nasemann seems to relish the church’s history. She said, “When I was a child, abolitionists were my heroes.”
Most of the church’s history is well known and documented. It is unclear, however, whether slaves were sheltered in the church. According to Barbara Nahoumi, a member of the Hudson Historical Society, “because the church was standing during the Civil War, it was probably involved in the Underground Railway.”
What is known is that the founding members of the church, the Union Society led by Charles Brigham, originally met at Cox’s Tavern, and then at the schoolhouse on School Street.
On June 19, 1860, in the school’s Freedom Hall, a warrant issued by George Rawson, Justice of the Peace, was passed to buy the land and build the church. It cost $4,300 for the church and $2,300 for the land. A house on the lot was moved to 18 Church St.
When the church was dedicated on Nov. 19, 1861, it was called the Lawrence Church. Stephen Rice, who donated the church’s clock, requested that it be named after his friend Amos Lawrence, a philanthropist from Newton.
“Starting in 1862, all the town’s business was conducted in the church’s Union Hall. That’s where they voted to form the town, and build the town hall,” said David Bonazzoli, historian of the Hudson Historical Society. “The town was founded on March 19, 1866, and the Hudson Town Hall was built in 1872.”
Many notable people have spoken at the church, including Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), William Lloyd Garrison (an abolitionist), Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter and Louisa May Alcott.
Anacheka-Nasemann recalled the story of suffragette F. Ellen Brown, for whom the church’s front Rose Window is dedicated.
“Before woman had the right to vote, Brown went to her polling place in Hudson, and said that she was there to vote,” she said. “When told she was not listed, she said that there was clerical error. The workers at the pole said, ‘you are right,’ and let her vote.”
Currently, there are 47 members of the Unitarian Church of Hudson and Marlborough. Many years ago, Anacheka-Nasemann said that there was a large congregation, with families with 10 children.
According to Anacheka-Nasemann, the church is supported through generous pledges from members, an endowment, and by renting space.
Although small, the congregation is active, and currently is focusing on Black Lives Matter.
“We are looking at the intersection among poverty, race and incarceration, which adds up to an unfair system,” explained Anacheka-Nasemann. “We want to bear witness to this inequality.”
History echoes off the walls of the church.