THE STORY OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE CHURCH AT FABYANS
By Joanne P. Jones
Driving along Route 302 from Twin
Mountain to Bretton Woods, one passes the intersection with Old Cherry Mountain
Road about 3½ miles east of Twin
Mountain. Few people probably realize
that very near this spot once stood the first Christian Science Church in New
Hampshire. Built in 1898 and dismantled
15 years later in 1913, the church had a short existence, but its story is
still an interesting chapter in White Mountain history.
The Christian Science Church at Fabyans (courtesy of Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society)
Although the church was not built
until 1898, its story begins 10 years earlier in August 1888 when Mary Baker
Eddy visited the White Mountains. She
stayed at the White Mountain House, which was located in Fabyans near the
intersection of Route 302 and Old Cherry Mountain Road. The owners of this hotel were Royal Rounsevel
and his wife Emile, who were both Christian Scientists. During her stay at the
hotel, Mrs. Eddy spoke to a group gathered at the Fabyan House on August 19,
1888. Although the event was announced
in the August 18th issue of Among the Clouds, no newspaper
accounts could be found that recount what Mrs. Eddy said at the Fabyan
gathering. However, 10 years later in
the message she sent for the church’s dedication, Mrs. Eddy made a reference to
speaking at the Fabyan House in 1888, and said that “then and there I foresaw
this hour, and spoke of the little church to be in the midst of the mountains”
White Mountain House (courtesy of Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society)
Over the next 10 years, Christian Scientists came to the White Mountain House to vacation, and eventually the Rounsevels began to hold services at the hotel. According to Paul Eli Ivey in his book Prayers in Stone, it was a common practice for new Christian Science groups to hold services in “private parlors” (Ivey 49). Writing in August 1897 in the Christian Science Journal, Emile Rounsevel recounts that:
About three years ago we commenced to hold services in one room in the house, our number being three or four people; the number increased until last season (1896) our audience filled four rooms, which open into each other….The last three Sundays of the season of 1896, we held service in the parlor by request of our guests. To-day, August 8, 1897, we had an audience of seventy-five people at the service in our public parlor. (Rounsevel “Notes from the Field”)
According to Emma Shipman, author of an unpublished history of the church, it was at this point that two guests at the White Mountain House—Mrs. Eugenia Pierce of Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Miss Marie Adams of Utica, New York—“conceived the idea of building a little chapel near the hotel” (Shipman 3) to accommodate the large number of people attending the weekly service. Many details of this building project can be found in Miss Shipman’s excellent history. There we learn that Royal Rounsevel, owner of the White Mountain House, donated a piece of land along the Ammonoosuc River, not far from his hotel, for a church site (Shipman 3). Located along the current Lower Falls Road (at that time part of the Portland Road), the site was easily accessible by foot from the hotel or by carriage and automobile.
Miss Shipman reports that she wrote to Mary Baker Eddy in Concord to see if she approved of the building project and received a reply from Mrs. Eddy’s secretary that she did (Shipman 4). Miss Shipman also reports that, on August 22, 1897, a building fund was established, to which Mrs. Eddy made a contribution (Shipman 4). In addition to the Rounsevels, Mrs. Pierce, Miss Adams, and Miss Shipman (who was secretary and treasurer of the building fund committee), a number of other Christian Scientists showed an interest in the project. Most of these individuals were from out-of-state and, interestingly, most were women. As Ivey notes in Prayers in Stone, the Christian Science Church was attractive to women because it “addressed [their] changing status”, “provided them with a new public platform from which to discuss religion, health, and family issues,” and offered them opportunities for leadership (Ivey 7 & 30).
Less than a year later, building commenced. Miss Shipman reports that Mrs. Fredonia Newcomer of Baltimore, Maryland donated plans for the church, which were drawn by the Co-operative Building Plan Association of New York (Shipman 4). The Association was basically a group of architects and draftsmen that produced plans for structures such as houses, stables, and churches and then sold them to the public through mail-order catalogs. The builder was Mr. Nelson Streeter, a Christian Scientist from Lisbon, who was assisted by Mr. George Prince, also a Christian Scientist from Lisbon. Ground-breaking took place on May 3, 1898, and the cornerstone, containing the Bible and Christian Science texts, was laid on May 23. By July 23, the church was completed. It was a small, simple structure built “in log cabin effect on the exterior, with a field stone porch, but had no tower or spire” (Shipman 5). According to an article in the August 9, 1898 issue of the Boston Herald, the interior was “simply but beautifully furnished in spruce” (“Christian Science Church” 4) and could seat 200 people in folding chairs.
Emile Rounsevel mentions in an article published in the Christian Science Sentinel in 1902 that three additions were made to the church after it was built. “Learning that [Mrs. Eddy] liked to see upon her churches something pointing God-ward” (Rounsevel “Among the Churches”), a field stone tower was added to the church in 1899. Three years later, in 1902, a bell and sign were added. Cast in Maryland and weighing 900 pounds, the bell was the first ever rung in this part of the mountains and could be heard at the neighboring hotels. Made in Boston, the sign listed the name of the church and the times that services were held. It was visible not only from the Portland Road but also from the railroad, which ran adjacent to the highway.
The church was dedicated on Sunday, August 7, 1898. In addition to the Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel, contemporary accounts of the dedication service can be found in the Boston Herald, Littleton Courier, and White Mountain Life. Identical services were held at 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM, with the church filled to capacity for both services. Many people from the Boston area were in attendance, as well as individuals from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Toronto. Mrs. Eddy did not attend either of the services but sent a message which Miss Shipman read. Mrs. Rounsevel also read a history she had prepared, which detailed the growth of Christian Science in the White Mountains and how the little church came to be built.
From 1898 to 1912, services were held in the church each Sunday during the summer. Because the congregation was primarily comprised of guests staying at the nearby hotels, which were only open during the summer season, the church was only open for a few months each summer and then closed down for the remainder of the year. Financial support for the church was through “voluntary contributions of visitors and kind friends” (“Among the Churches—White Mountains”). In addition to the Sunday services, meetings were often held at the church on Wednesdays. Annual lectures were also held—the one in 1905 by Judge William G. Ewing of Chicago receiving front-page coverage in Among the Clouds.
Initially services were well-attended. However, as time went on, the number of people attending services at the church dwindled. In a letter written in 1971 by Theodore N. Cook, Assistant Manager of the Christian Science Committees on Publication in Boston, to Mrs. Irving Steffen, Jr. of Twin Mountain, Cook attributes this decline in attendance to several factors. First, due to the popularity of automobiles, “fewer people were spending long periods of time at a single resort hotel.” In addition, “other popular resort areas were….beginning to attract people in other parts of the White Mountains.” And finally, “other Christian Science churches were at that time [c. 1912] opening their doors in Berlin, North Conway, Lisbon, and Littleton.” (Cook 3)
Finally, in 1913, the decision was made to close the church. Miss Shipman explains that, according to the deed, the land on which the church stood reverted to Royal Rounsevel, who had originally owned the land and had donated it in 1897 for the church to be built (Shipman 9). The church furnishings were given to other Christian Science Societies in northern New Hampshire, and the bell was given to the Christian Science Society in Cotuit, Massachusetts. The empty building was then dismantled, with the cornerstone being saved and sent to the Board of Directors of the Mother Church in Boston. Sadly, fifteen years after the little church in Fabyans had opened its doors, it was gone.
Many years later, in 1939, a granite
boulder with a commemorative plaque mounted on it and the old cornerstone were
placed at the site of the church by the Mother Church in Boston (Cook 3). The plaque noted the dates of the church and
the fact that Mary Baker Eddy had visited the area in 1888. Although the plaque was later removed by the
Church (Woolhouse), the boulder still remains at the site—a silent reminder of
this short, but interesting, chapter in White Mountain history.
Boulder and plaque placed at site of church in 1939 (courtesy of Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society)
1896 map showing approximate
locations of the church and the White Mountain House
View of church, Portland
Road, and White Mountain House (courtesy of Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods
Photo of church, Granite Monthly (May 1900)
"Among the Churches--White Mountains, Fabyans, N.H." Christian Science Sentinel, August 3, 1912. (accessed via the JSH-Online database)
[Announcement that Mary Baker Eddy will speak at Fabyan House on August 19]. Among the Clouds, August 18, 1888, 1.
[Article about boulder and plaque]. Littleton Courier, August 31, 1972, B6. (courtesy of the Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society)
"Christian Science--Able Lecture by Judge William G. Ewing at the Mount Pleasant." Among the Clouds, August 14, 1905, 1, 8.
"Christian Science Church: First Building of the Kind in New Hampshire." Boston Herald, August 9, 1898, 4. (accessed via Genealogy Bank database. The same article, in an abbreviated version, appeared in the Littleton Courier, Aug. 10, 1898)
"Church Dedication at the White Mountains." The Christian Science Journal, September 1898, 377-82. (accessed via Google Books. The same article, in an abbreviated version, appeared in the Christian Science Sentinel, Sept. 1, 1898, accessed via the JSH-Online database)
Cook, Theodore N. Letter to Mrs. Irving Steffen, Jr., March 10, 1971. (courtesy of the Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society)
Eddy, Mary Baker. "Dedicatory Messages to Branch Churches--White Mountain Church." 1898. In The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany, 184-86. (accessed via Google Books)
Ivey, Paul Eli. Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1894-1930. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Lehr, Frederic B. Carroll, New Hampshire: The First Two Hundred Years, 1772-1972. Littleton, NH: Courier Printing Co., 1972.
Reiff, Daniel D. Houses from Books. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
Rounsevel, Emile. "Among the Churches--A Word from the White Mountains." Christian Science Sentinel, July 10, 1902. (accessed via the JSH-Online database)
———. "Notes from the Field--White Mountain House, N.H., Aug. 8, 1897." The Christian Science Journal, September 1897. (accessed via the JSH-Online database)
Shipman, Emma C. “The History of the Christian Science Church in the White Mountains, near Fabyans, New Hampshire.” SF - Fabyans, NH, The Mary Baker Eddy Library. (courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston)
NOTE: Materials from The Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel are used courtesy of The Christian Science Publishing Society.
Joanne Jones retired in 2011 from Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was a librarian for 27 years. She now volunteers at New Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Historical Society Library in Concord.
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank her husband Kevin Jones and John Woolhouse of the Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods Historical Society for their assistance in this research project.