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The Charles Bulfinch Church: A Treasure in our Backyard

I have always been drawn to the quiet aesthetic of New England. Just down the road from Skinner’s Marlborough, Massachusetts auction gallery sits a national treasure. The Fifth Meeting House of the Unitarian First Church of Christ was designed by Charles Bulfinch in 1816. Although he is most known for his design of the State House in Boston, many view the Lancaster church as his crowning achievement.

Charles Bullfinch Church Lancaster MA

The Unitarian First Church of Christ, Fifth Meeting House in Lancaster, MA

Over the past two centuries, Bulfinch’s original vision for the building has remained unchanged. The sanctuary is still heated by two woodstoves that feed heat into pipes and circulate it throughout the building. The pastor doesn’t need a microphone because the room is acoustically perfect. And at exactly midnight every Christmas eve, the Bell in the church steeple, which was forged by Paul Revere (1734-1818), chimes to mark the end of the service.

When I’m in Lancaster, I like to approach the church front on, imagining what it must have been like in the 1800s to arrive by carriage or on foot during some wild New England weather. I would have found comfort away from the elements under the three graceful arches of the front portico. Charles Bulfinch understood the restraint of ornament and the preeminence of form.

As one of the masterpieces of American architecture, the Bulfinch church laid the ground work for the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects of Modern American architecture which followed. Knowledge of our nation’s history and the preservation of our cultural artifacts give us a framework to progress into the future.

At Skinner, we all live for the moment when a rare and precious antique comes through our doors, giving us the chance to uncover its history and share its importance. The Charles Bulfinch Church belongs to this category of one-of-a-kind American artifacts, but it can’t last forever without our help. Rotting timbers and other issues have left the structure weakened, and work is already underway to restore this National Historical Landmark. Visit The Bulfinch Fund for more information or to donate.

2 thoughts on “The Charles Bulfinch Church: A Treasure in our Backyard

    • Thanks for pointing that out! Of course you’re right. Bells are cast of molten metal, not forged. Perhaps he was “forging ahead to cast the bell”…

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