The First Universalist Church was established in Southold on October 1, 1835. Meeting at the inn of William D. Cochran, the trustees voted to build a house of worship 35 by 48 feet with an end gallery. A liberal constitution acknowledging the “Universality of God’s Grace” was filed with the Town Clerk. Provision was made that any Christian denomination might use the building when it was not needed by the Universalists.
Richard Lathers, architect and William Cochran, builder, produced the classic structure today on Main Road opposite the Monument Corner. The church was dedicated in 1837. The unique Gothic Palladian window over the front entrance is one of the only ones in existence in the United States. A seraphim in the choir gallery furnished music for early hymn singing. Pew rents were a source of income. In 1863 the church closed for 15 years. During this period the Southold Lyceum Association used the building for a playhouse.
By 1880 the church had been remodeled and rededicated. The Ladies’ Society, a sewing group, was revived, Sunday school was reopened and a men’s club was formed. In November 1926 a large mural dominating the rear wall of the church was dedicated. This painting, “The Light of the World,” was created by Edith Mitchell Prellwitz in memory of her parents. In 1991 major steeple repair was done and in 1995 an addition to the Parish Hall was completed by architect Richard Daly.
The ministers of this church have been noted for the community activities. Rev. Ingalls served as principal of Southold Academy while a minister. Rev. Murray was one of the founders of Southold Free Library. For $25 a month he also moonlighted as village lamplighter. Rev. Sara Moores Campbell was Southold’s first woman minister. Rev. Addae Watson was this church’s first African American minister.
In March 2015, the church building was destroyed by a fire, consuming both the church building and the parish hall. In late fall 2015, the Board named a building team who is working diligently to rebuild on our historic site On the Bend.
— Becky Terry
For a fuller history of the First Universalist Church of Southold up to 1985, please check out This is the Church by Joella Vreeland.