By Pam Harnden, Staff Writer
FAYETTE — In 1790, when this rural Western Maine town was known as Starling Plantation, travelling missionary Eliphalet Smith found many people interested in his sermons. Two years later evangelist Isaac Case helped establish the Fayette Baptist Church, which will be celebrating its 225th anniversary August 19 and 20.
Church member, and sister of Assistant Pastor Glenn Freeman, Tammy Fereshetian spent several months last year digitizing church records. Her husband, Al Fereshetian, is also a member of the church.
Tammy’s work, Mapping the History of the Fayette Baptist Church, can be viewed at http://umpi.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=26e8ca4203c…
“It was fascinating, changed my perspective. Fayette Corners today looks a lot different from the early 1800s,” she said.
During the late 1700s and much of the 1800s, Fayette Corners was a direct travel route across Maine and the heart of the local community.
According to the book Footprints of Patriots homeward bound through wilderness, on May 3, 1792, Case baptized seven persons. Among them were Oliver Billings and his wife, Lydia.
Billings petitioned the Bowdoin and Winthrop churches for their assistance and for admittance to the Bowdoinham Association. On August 3, 1792, the Baptist Society in Starling met with elders from those two churches. Case was chosen as moderator for the new church.
On March 20, 1800, Billings was ordained as pastor of the church. He served for 42 years. In the church’s history to date, that is the longest tenure of any pastor.
Tammy said the first meetinghouse was built in 1802 on land donated by Asa Wiggins and Andrew Sturtevant. It was used for a variety of purposes.
In 1835 it was voted to build a new structure to replace the meetinghouse. Andrew Sturtevant Jr. began building the church in 1836. Some lumber and beams from the meetinghouse were used. The bell tower and steeple are about 60 feet tall.
“The church bell was central to the formation of the whole country. It was a means of alerting people,” Tammy said.
Al said in the 1830s, there were 200-300 people in the congregation.
“Fayette Corners was a main intersection of travel, before the mobility we have now. There were a couple of inns and taverns,” Al said.
Tammy said 51 new members were added in 1846. Membership slowed down just prior to the Civil War. 100 men from Fayette served in the war.
She said the railroad and the building of Route 17 also affected the town. By 1897, the town population was down to 600 from the high of 1,100 prior to the war.
Tammy said in 1934 or 1935 the old livery stables on the side of the church were made into a learning center.There was a parsonage across the street.
The meetnghouse’s original “closed box” pews were replaced in the new church by “open box” pews. In 1892, those pews were replaced with slant-backed bench pews. In 2007, they gave way to stack-able chairs which can be moved around as needed.
Tammy said Claire Flagg has been a member for 65 years. The longest attending member, she moved to Fayette and wanted to go to church in the town she lived in.
“I imagine a lot has changed in 65 years. She made up her mind this was going to be her church family,” Tammy said.
She said current pastor Russell C. Cotnoir Jr. is the second longest serving pastor of the church. Claire Flagg’s husband helped build a parsonage near the church.
Tammy said, “Claire said building the parsonage was our way of saying we want you here.”
“There’s so much history in 225 years. There’s always a story in a story. God has displayed himself wonderfully,” Tammy said.
She said a time capsule will be buried during the re-dedication on Sunday afternoon, August 20.
“The fun part was reaching out to others. I’ve interviewed lots of people, had lots of conversations that point to numerous chapters of the bigger story,” Tammy said.