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Hearse Houses, United Churches, and Pioneering Academies

Wilbraham was first settled in 1730, by Nathaniel Hitchcock.  Originally, it was part of Springfield, but it was decided that it was too far to walk to Springfield to go to church, so Wilbraham should have its own church and become a separate town.  The town was officially incorporated in 1763.  The First Congregationalist Church was founded in 1741, with Noah Merrick serving as its first minister.  (Hmmm... could our Merrick Cooley who drowned on our farm in 1800 be named after the same Merrick family that was prominent in the area?)  The First Congregationalist Church would later merge with the Methodist church in town to form the Wilbraham United Church

The Wilbraham town center is among the largest designated historical areas in the country, with fine examples of colonial and Victorian homes from as early as the 1730s along the historical areas of main street. The oldest Methodist meeting house in New England (built 1793), now home to the Atheneum Society of Wilbraham, is located in the town's center, as is the campus of Wilbraham & Monson Academy.

Wilbraham and Monson Academy traces its history back to 1804, making it one of the fifteen oldest boarding schools on the East Coast. It was formed through a 1971 merger between Wilbraham Academy (originally Wesleyan Academy) and the Monson Academy (founded in 1804).  Wesleyan Academy, founded in 1817 in New Market, New Hampshire relocated to Wilbraham to become Wilbraham Academy in 1912. Wesleyan was the first co-educational boarding school in the country, and Monson Academy became the first to enroll Chinese students in 1847. The school's history also includes a role in the anti-slavery movement, when its chapel was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Hearse HouseThe Atheneum Society of Wilbraham recently restored and preserved an 1870 historic hearse house.  Yes, that's exactly what it sounds like--it's a carriage house for a horse-drawn hearse.  The hearse house is one of only three restored hearse houses in New England.  The Atheneum is also the proud owner of an 1870s-era horse-drawn hearse, one of the oldest extant hearses in the Northeast.  The hearse house was just big enough for the driver to drive the pair and the hearse into the building before unhooking the team.  (We seem to be very good at finding horse-drawn hearses; Jesse pulled the Belchertown hearse at Halloween, and the Girls used the Ahearn Funeral Home's antique hearse for its intended purpose for Morris Adams' funeral.)

(Picture of hearse house, from the Atheneum Society of Wilbraham.)

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