The 1836 South Harwich Meetinghouse, is the second oldest Methodist Church on Cape Cod. Still standing on its original site, an exemplary model of early Greek and Gothic design, with separate entrances for men and women, the building still retains its original simplicity.
It was originally built as a house of worship by members of the South Harwich Methodist society,at a cost of $1400. Founded and profoundly influenced by Amasa Nickerson (1778-1863), a most successful ship owner and sea captain, the church stood close to a thriving fishing and shipping wharf at the end of Deep Hole Road in South Harwich. The entire population of Harwich, during this period, consisted of only 1400 people, wth 75 living in South Harwich. As South Harwich was becoming a prosperous fishing community, the Meetinghouse quickly became an important center for worship and social activity. More than 150 sea captains and fishermen attended the church in the early days.
The church flourished under the Reformed Methodists until 1845, when Wesleyan Methodist doctrine was adopted, likely responding to abolitionist leaning on slavery. Ministerial controversy in 1853 disrupted the congregation which lead to the public auction sale of the church to the original founder Amasa Nicherson for $1500. Meetinghouse expenses and worship responsibility then fell primarily on Amasa, his sons Obed and Joseph and a few others.
The change in affiliation in 1857 to Methodist Episcopal later resulted in the deed transfer of the building to a board of trustees and successors and also heralded an exodus of dissenting Wesleyans, leaving the church with a congregation of only 20 members. As funding became more difficult, with the passing of Amassa and his family, a pastor was shared with the South Chatham and East Harwich Societies.
Through the years, the church stood fast through times of prosperity and struggle. During the later nineteenth centry, funds were raised to fully redecorate the sanctuary in 1880's and again in 1896. Christmas festivites were celebrated with elaborate music concerts and decorations. Most notably, Captains Otis Nickerson, S. T. Nickerson and O. V. Harding provided their handmade altar of a large three dimensian ship which was displayed, holding gifts, during the Christmas season.
Church members gradually dwindled due to an ever aging population and eventually succumbed to inadequate funding. It was merged with the East Harwich Methodist Church in 1979. Following temporary use by church groups until 1996, the building was purchased by the Town of Harwich for stabilization and preservation.
The Meetinghouse, along with the surrounding cemetery, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, through the great efforts of the Harwich Historical Commission and Rufus Walker.
Today the South Harwich Meetinghouse still stands awaiting the hands of a caring community.
Please share in our efforts to save our Harwich heritage.
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