A Brief History
The history of Methodism in Winooski probably dates back to the 1830's. Like many communities in America at the time, itinerant preachers or nearby clergy served the protestant needs of the town until 1846, when the Second Methodist Church of Winooski was organized.
By 1859, the congregation had raised enough funds to build its own meeting house. Charles S. and William G. Harding, who were then owners of the Burlington Mills, sold the corner land on Follett and West Allen Streets for one dollar and the rights to three pews when the church building was finished. The original church was built in the Greek Revival Style that was popular for public buildings at the time.
After the fire in 1917, the church continued to hold English classes for French emigres and provided other social services in the basement, once that remaining part of the church had been roofed over, but services were transferred temporarily to the Congregational Church across the Street--a wonderful act of brotherly love and ecumenism.
The new church that we still occupy continued its social mission by helping the soldiers who were stationed at Camp Ethan Allen (see accompanying article). We still honor that tradition of faith through service. Our basement provides temporary homes for other congregations, space for an AA self-help group, as well as for the Winooski Food Shelf. English as a Second Language is still taught here as part of the Refugee Resettlement Program.
24 West Allen Street
Winooski, Vermont 05404
Sgt. Beverly Thornton
On left, Bee McCollum, granddaughter of Willis Thatcher, and, on right, Reg Wells, grandson of Silas Johnson.
Among the many donors to this church were members of the renown Tenth Cavalry, who were stationed at Fort Ethan Allen from 1909-1913. Known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," a number of these heroic soldiers settled in Winooski. Two of their descendants still worship here.
Quickly, the Tenth Regiment became active in the community--demonstrating their superb drilling and horsemanship skills, playing band concerts and baseball, and generally just being good neighbors and members of the community. Because of this, the regiment's veterinarian--S.W. Service (undoubtedly Caucasian as were the senior officers)--reported "a friendly and almost confidential feeling has sprung up between the townspeople and the soldiers."
Such community ties ran deep for some of the soldiers and their families, so much so that they decided to retire in Colchester and what is now Winooski when their next assignment in Arizona was announced. Of these retirees, at least four went on to become members of the Winooski United Methodist Church, which was then called the Winooski Methodist Episcopal Church--Sgt. Willis Hatcher (wounded in action at Santiago, Cuba), Sgt. Silas Johnson (farrier, served in Cuba), Pvt. John Ralph Lyons (awarded a certificate of merit for saving a comrade from drowning in Mallets Bay), and Cpl. Beverly Thornton (cook).
These church members played an active role in rebuilding the church, donating both time and money. Two of their descendants--Reg Wells (grandson of Silas Johnson), a retired New Jersey newscaster, still actively supports the church and plays the pipe organ when he makes his annual pilgrimage to Vermont; and Bee McCollum (granddaughter of Willis Hatcher), attends church regularly and preaches on occasion, most recently on "White Privilege."
For more details, read David Work's excellent article in Vermont History 73 (Winter/Spring 2005): 63-75. See also web pages at armyhistory.org and on the website of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.edu).
Sgt. Silas Johnson
The Legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers
United Methodist Church
In mid-summer 1909, the Tenth United States Cavalry Regiment arrived in Vermont, for a four-year tour-of-duty. The "Fighting Tenth," as they were known, had charged up San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders and fought bravely in the Philippines. In July, they arrived in New York City, where they were celebrated as heroes in a ticker-tape parade ending in City Hall Park. The next morning this remarkable force would set off to Vermont, where their welcome would be met with fear. Why? The "Fighting Tenth" were one of four all-African American regiments created in 1866, called the "Buffalo Soldiers," noted for their distinguished service on the Western frontier. The nickname, some say, may have been given to them by Native Americans for their ferocious fighting skills and "woolly" hair--both highly prized characteristics of the bison.
In 1900, the entire African American population of Vermont was 826. Now, the State was to receive a force of 750 enlisted men with a large camp following, notably their families, that would bring the total number of new African Americans in Vermont to around 1500. The Burlington Free Press disapproved, saying that the town was "up in arms." In fact, residents had mixed opinions about the arrival of these new residents. As in other towns where the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed, "wherever they went, the black soldiers faced fear and suspicion and had to demonstrate good behavior to win the acceptance of the white population," according to historian David Work (see below).
In 1918, the current United Methodist Church of Winooski literally rose out of the ashes of the old church, which had been built in 1860, on land donated by the Burlington Woolen Company. Fire destroyed the original building one Sunday afternoon in December 16, 1917, after Sunday service. In 2001, the new church was placed on the US National Register of Historic Places as a fine example of the Carpenter Gothic Style. The most famous depiction of this style is the farmhouse behind the couple in Grant Wood's painting American Gothic.