Swift’s History

Let us take a step back in time—back to when the Cape Cod Canal was, for the most part, the Manomet River —back to when Sagamore was originally part of Sandwich and was called Scusset—back to when the people of Scusset traveled to Sandwich —back to the beginning of Swift Memorial.

Back to when the people of Scusset were becoming restless and dissatisfied with the doctrine of the parent church. Nevertheless they remained staunch and loyal to the laws relating to their church affiliation.

The question of a meeting house in Scusset was argued in the Sandwich church for some time by those who had different views regarding beliefs and methods of worship. Finally, in 1732, a meeting house was built and its members, undoubtedly, looked with pride at their very own place of worship.

The laws of the Plymouth Colony, under whose authority Sandwich was settled in 1637, held citizenship and church membership to be synonymous. Therefore, the members of the Scusset meeting house were required to pay taxes to their former Sandwich church as well as their own. The burden of supporting two churches became too much and after seven years they returned to the Sandwich church.

In 1810 the Religious Freedom Act was passed by the Massachusetts General Court and taxes could no longer be used to support the churches. This bill also allowed people to withdraw their membership and worship where and how they pleased.

Seventy-four citizens of Scusset (now called West Sandwich) lost no time in asking the General Court that they become incorporated, along with the people of Falmouth , into a religious group know as the “Methodist Society of Falmouth and Sandwich at Pocasset.”

THE WHITE CHURCH

By 1828 there were enough Methodists in Scusset (now called West Sandwich ) to warrant a church in their own village. This would also eliminate the long trip to Pocasset every Sunday morning for worship services. However, there were no funds available for either the building of a church or the land on which to build it.

Nathaniel Swift presented the early society with the deed to a plot of land on the corner of Old Plymouth and Scusset Beach Road —diagonally across from what is now the Activity Center . Benjamin Burgess loaned the money to finance the building.

The traditional story is that, on a beautiful Monday morning in the summer of 1828, one hundred zealous workers gathered to lay the foundation and raise the timbers. The story also states that the men worked so well, that the following Sunday they worshipped in the new building! Tradition does not say, however, if the long awaited church was completed or not. Probably not, as it was a large building with a seating capacity of three hundred and fifty.

What a joyous day it must have been on that first Sunday of worship. How enthusiastic the congregation must have been as they joined the choir in song. Quite possibly the first hymn sung was “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

The Reverend Frederick Upham served as the first minister. Recalling Sunday morning services as a boy in the “ White Church ” the late Sydney Clark wrote, “We never slept during the sermon, for, if the preacher couldn’t keep us awake, the mosquitoes could and did. They flitted through the open windows along with the fragrance of purple lilacs”.

The church prospered over the years and its membership grew. Families from Ellisville, Cedarville, and Bournedale, together with the local residents, filled the church on Sunday mornings.

In 1884 West Sandwich became known as Sagamore. By the turn of the century, Sagamore had become a factory town. The Keith Car and Manufacturing Company, which had done business on a small scale for many years in this village, suddenly developed into a plant a mile long and employed several hundred men to build freight cars. By 1908 Sagamore had become a boom town.

In 1910 the doors of the old white church closed forever. It had served its purpose well but now must give way to progress. Although a fire of unknown origin destroyed the church in 1915, tender memories lingered on by those who had loved it so well—the first Methodist church in Sagamore.

THE STONE CHURCH

In 1908 the hum of machinery could be heard throughout the village of Sagamore . Smoke billowed from the factory chimneys. Whistles blew. Trains huffed and puffed. Freight cars were moved onto main tracks to wait for the engines that would the cargo to their destinations. The Keith Car and Manufacturing Company, with its mile long plant along what was to become the Cape Cod Canal , employed hundreds of area residents to build freight cars. Sagamore had, indeed, become a hustling, bustling boom town.

The Reverend William C. Darby, upon his arrival as minister of the old white church, realized the need for a larger and more modern church. He conceived the idea of building the new church from native stones found in nearby fields. Just as Nathaniel Swift had donated the land for the “ White Church ”, his grandson, Gustavus Swift, founder of the meat packing house in Chicago , donated $10,000 toward the $25,000 needed to complete construction of the new church.

In 1910 the project began. It was an enormous task. But Reverend Darby, a man of unlimited energy, let nothing stand in the way of his plan for a stone church. There were no trucks or heavy duty equipment at that time. Every stone had to be carried to the site by horse-drawn carts, in wheelbarrows, in baskets and even carried in the arms of parishioners.

Gradually the building took shape until the stone church stood completed. The native fieldstone gives a feeling of security to this unique and distinctive structure. The sanctuary, facing south, has a warmth and friendliness which is most appropriate to a house of God. In March 1911, the stone church was dedicated and named Swift Memorial honoring the descendants of Nathaniel Swift.
Many changes have occurred in the area since the building of the “ Stone Church ”. Sagamore is no longer the factory town it once was. The Manomet River gave way to the Cape Cod Canal . The Keith Car and Manufacturing Company is no more. But the Swift Memorial Church remains—a handsome monument to the man whose dream it had been and to the early Sagamore residents who built it.