The Old Round Church...
...is actually a sixteen-sided polygon. It was built between 1812 and 1814 under the leadership of local blacksmith/carpenter William Rhodes to serve as a place of worship for five Protestant denominations: Baptists, Christians, Congregationalists, Methodists and Universalists. Members of each denomination advanced money to finance construction of the church. From the outset the building was used for town meetings as well as church services.
There are several legends concerning why the church has such an unusual shape. One claims it was to keep the devil out of the corner or to keep the enemy from hiding around the corner on the outside. Another legend holds that Rhodes had 17 workers—one for each side and the last for the belfry. A less fanciful explanation is that William Rhodes’s parents lived in Claremont, NH, which had an octagonal church of its own; perhaps he modeled this one upon the one in his hometown.
Within a few decades of the church’s opening, the founding denominations began to move out, some of them to build worship places elsewhere in the community. In 1880 the Old Round Church reverted to the Town of Richmond and continued in use as the town’s meeting hall until 1973, at which time safety concerns forced its closure to the public.
The Richmond Historical Society was formed in 1973, shortly before the church had to be closed. In 1976, the town deeded the church to the RHS for a period of 40 years. Grant money was applied for and the building underwent extensive renovations in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Among other things, the belfry was removed and restored. In all, the renovations cost approximately $190,000. The building was reopened to the public in 1981 and received National Historic Landmark designation in 1996.
A second major renovation project began in 2005. Work to date includes replacing the cedar shingle roof, repainting the interior and exterior of the Church and installing a fire safety sprinkler system. Go to Round Church Renovation Project for more information about these repairs and enhancements.
Despite the many years that have elapsed since it has served as a regular place of worship, the Old Round Church remains a wonderfully well-preserved example of an early New England meeting house. Its box pews with their original doors and hinges attest to the rigors of New England Sunday service in an unheated building. The hand-painted wood-graining on the pulpit (signed by the artist) and the sturdy hardware on the doors (probably forged in William Rhodes’s own blacksmith shop) show the durable craftsmanship of early Vermonters. Even the floorboards, some more than two feet wide, offer a glimpse into a long-departed past. Click here for a photo tour of the Old Round Church inside and out, or click here for an interactive panoramic view.
The Old Round Church is open to visitors from 10 am to 4 pm on weekends beginning in late May; daily from mid-June to Labor Day and from late September through Columbus Day. It can also be rented for weddings from May through October. Group tours are available as well.
The Richmond Historical Society needs the support of those who care about the Old Round Church to keep this unique historic landmark in good repair and open to the public. The RHS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All contributions are tax-deductible.