Building “Mrs. Eddy’s gift” to Concord, New Hampshire
“Receipt for contribution to Trustees Building Fund, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Concord, NH,” 1903, Subject File, Concord, New Hampshire: First Church of Christ, Scientist – Construction and Contributions. Click to see full page
The Christian Science Sentinel dated May 9, 1903, briefly described plans for a new building for First Church of Christ, Scientist, Concord, New Hampshire. The architecture would be Gothic “and in keeping with modern ideas of a church building….”1 The plans on tracing cloth by architects Francis R. Allen and Charles Collens are in the Organizational Records of The Mother Church.
The story behind these architectural plans (see the three images at the bottom) had begun five years earlier. Mary Baker Eddy was living in Concord and wanted to support the growth of Christian Science locally. In the fall of 1897, she purchased a house in the center of town, gifting it to Concord’s Christian Scientists.2 The building was remodeled and became known as “Christian Science Hall,” serving as a Christian Science Reading Room and church.3 In January 1898 she gave $100,000 (equivalent to over $3,000,000 in 2017) to a trust, to build “a granite church edifice” in Concord.4 Several years passed with no further outward action.
By 1903 Eddy was eager to build. In February she told Irving C. Tomlinson, First Reader of the Concord church: “Look up a straight, capable, smart man to put on our building Com. and let us have our church built. The Hall looks shabby.”5 She wrote him again a few weeks later: “I greatly desire to start work on the new church in Concord soon as you can talk with Mr. [Calvin] Frye on that subject when he has time.”6
She selected Eli Noyes Whitcomb of Boston as builder. Tomlinson was her agent during construction.7 Whitcomb had been one of the contractors involved in building the Original Edifice of The Mother Church in Boston, and had joined the church in January 1896.8 He was considered “one of Boston’s most respected and best-known business men”—and in Eddy’s opinion was “one of the noblest, most lovely, and best of men.”9 After Whitcomb and Eddy met on March 20, 1903, he agreed to take on the work.10
Builder, E. Noyes Whitcomb, Report of the Nineteenth Triennial Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (David Clapp & Son, Boston, 1896), 184.
Around this time Tomlinson engaged Allen and Collens as the architects.11 Allen had practiced architecture for 25 years and built several homes in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.12 He had studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Collens (sometimes also spelled Collins) was his young protege, having graduated from Yale in 1896 and, like Allen, studied architecture at the École des Beaux Arts.13 Collens and Allen had just formed their partnership in January 1903, with offices at 6 Beacon Street, Boston.14
Demolition of Christian Science Hall began on June 1, 1903, to make room for the new church.15 On July 16 the cornerstone was laid at a quiet ceremony with about 15 people present.16 Eddy’s message written for the event appears in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany on page 158. (For additional information, click here to read the blog “Laying the cornerstone.”)
Photograph of the exterior of First Church, Concord, N.H., during construction, circa 1903. P07586. Minnie B. Weygandt. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
Construction continued into 1904. Tomlinson recorded Eddy’s words about its progress at the dinner table on Christmas Day 1903: “The new church gives me a sense of peace and harmony. When I come near it I feel its unity and spiritual harmony. It is like leaving a hot room and coming into a cool refreshing one…. The architect has tried to make the church as perfect as possible. The stone turnings are far handsomer than I had expected.”17
Despite setbacks, the church was dedicated on July 17, 1904, just one year after the cornerstone was laid. Whitcomb had written to Eddy on June 21: “There have been four [labor] strikes during the construction, and a great effort made to stop progress, but all the obstacles have been met and overcome.”18
On dedication day an estimated 4,000 people attended four services.19 The Concord Monitor reported:
The crowning feature of the programme, naturally, was Mrs. Eddy’s Dedicatory Address. The address was read by Mr. Bicknell Young, C.S.B., of Chicago. Mr. Young is a man of striking personal appearance, with keen, intellectual features and possessing a rich, musical voice. His delivery of Mrs. Eddy’s words was superb, and his splendidly accurate articulation served finely to demonstrate the perfect acoustics of the auditorium. Mrs. Eddy’s illuminating and suggestive sentences sank deeply into the mind of the vast congregation, who listened with rapt attention as her thought was developed in chaste and striking phrase. Many were moved to tears by her language and all received a strong spiritual uplift from her words of mighty, yet tender, import.20
This message appears in Miscellany, pages 159-163.
Photograph of people standing outside First Church, Concord, N.H., 1904. P07589. W. G. C. Kimball. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
On the dedication day, Eddy also wrote a letter to the Editor of the Concord Monitor. “The movement of establishing in this city a church of our faith was far from my purpose, when I came here,” she stated, “knowing that such an effort would involve a lessening of the retirement I so much desired. But the demand increased, and I consented, hoping thereby to give to many in this city a church home.”21 First Church, Concord, still stands at the corner of North State and School Streets.
View of First Church, Concord, N.H., undated. P07618. W. G. C. Kimball. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
Architectural drawings of the church (click an image to enlarge it):
Plan 2, Francis R. Allen and Charles Collens, Architectural plans of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Concord, NH, 1903, Church Archives, Box 533716, Folder 327930
Plan 6, Francis R. Allen and Charles Collens, Architectural plans of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Concord, NH, 1903, Church Archives, Box 533716, Folder 327930.
- “Rev. Mary Baker Eddy’s Gift,” Sentinel, 9 May 1903, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/uwd39qw86q?s=t.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Joseph Armstrong, 13 October 1897, L02839.
- Eddy to Mrs. Albert B. Woodworth, 21 November 1897, L13559; Eddy to The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Mass., 29 December 1897, L02669; The Christian Science Journal Directory 1898-1903.
- Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1913), 157-158.
- Eddy to Irving C. Tomlinson, 8 February 1903, L03785.
- Eddy to Tomlinson, 22 February 1903, L03786.
- Irving C. Tomlinson, “Mary Baker Eddy: The Woman and the Revelator,” 1932, 299-301.
- Archibald McLellan, “E. Noyes Whitcomb,” Christian Science Sentinel, 20 May 1905, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/a7z5ia1z2m?s=t.
- Calvin A. Frye, diary, 1903-1906, EF078, 79; Tomlinson, “Mary Baker Eddy: The Woman and the Revelator,” 1932, 300-301.
- Tomlinson, “Mary Baker Eddy: The Woman and the Revelator,” 1932, 299.
- “Francis Richmond Allen,” Back Bay Houses, 21 July 2017, https://backbayhouses.org/francis-richmond-allen/.
- Day, Clarence Jr., Decennial Record of the Class of 1896, Yale College (New York: Class at the De Vinne Press, 1907), 282-283, 922.
- Ibid., 283.
- Frye, diary, 1903-1906, EF078, 152.
- Ibid., 197.
- Tomlinson, 25 December 1903, A11866-S.
- E. Noyes Whitcomb to Eddy, 21 June 1904, IC178.31.012.
- “A Scientist Church That Will Cost $200,000,” The York (PA) Daily, July 18, 1904.
- “Words of Appreciation,” Sentinel, 30 July 1904, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/f0yhl27na6?s=t.
- Miscellany, 163-164; Eddy to George H. Moses, 16 July 1904, L13206.