with contributions by Sally Burnell
Our church was organized in the months following the end of the American Civil War and met in a variety of places, from personal homes to the City Hall of what was then known as Franklin Mills, our town’s former name. A Universalist church already existed in Brimfield, just south of Kent that was founded in 1839 (it disbanded in 1922 and merged with the Kent church), and their minister came up to Kent to preach to the budding congregation in Franklin Mills. By 1866, it became apparent that this church was eager to organize into a permanent body, and so, on May 27, 1866, nineteen men and women met in the Kent City Hall on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River, voted on and signed a Constitution, thereby officially founding the First Universalist Church of Kent. These men and women were largely drawn from the founding families of Kent, with names like Haymaker, Parsons, Boosinger, Stratton, Foote, Kelso and Olin. These gentle optimists, as they liked to view themselves, believed in the Universalist idea that God is Love and that all are worthy to be saved, not just the elect few. By founding our church, they were expressing their belief in God’s message of universal justice, compassion, peace and happiness on earth.
The church continued to meet at City Hall with its new minister in the pulpit, Rev. Andrew Willson, but began to raise money enough to build a permanent edifice. The Kent family, for whom the city would eventually be named in honor of their bringing the railroads into town, donated the land on which the church would be built. On August 23, 1868, the building was dedicated, and the church had a permanent home in which to worship. Built in the Italo-Byzantine style that was popular in its day, it featured a solid stone foundation built on bedrock from stone hauled from a quarry in Warren and was constructed from native red brick taken directly from the site of the building. It became one of three churches located along the west bank of the Cuyahoga whose tall and graceful spires contributed to the Kent skyline. The other churches were the Congregational Church, built in 1858, which still stands and is the site of an area business, and the Disciples of Christ Church, built in 1868 and dedicated just two weeks before our church, but was sadly demolished in 1942 after a newer and larger facility was built on the corner of West Main and North Mantua Streets.\u003c/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn 1889, the First Universalist Church of Kent hired its first female minister, the Rev. Abigail Danforth, who served for two years until 1891, and returned for a second term as the church’s minister in 1898, serving again until 1900. She found the church in deplorable condition and under her leadership, the church underwent a significant renovation, receiving new carpeting and repainting of the church interior, which had been dulled by years of coal dust from the furnaces. Rev. Danforth was also actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement and became a staunch advocate for women’s rights. A later successor of hers, Rev. Carlotta Crossley, who served as minister from 1903 to 1916, was responsible for the church engaging in fundraising relief for the victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Women have long played a very active role in church affairs. A number of women’s groups have come and gone over the years that played a variety of roles in church life: The Clara Barton Guild, The Association of Universalist Women, the Women’s Universalist Missionary Association, the Helen Gilson Society and most recently, the Abigail Danforth Society, our current women’s group.