Joseph Wells designed and completed the United Congregational Church in 1857. The building, standing at the corner of Spring and Pelham Streets in Newport, RI contains the original rectangular sanctuary on a raised basement with a vestibule plus a parish house built in the early 1900’s that replaced the original frame Sunday School building. Wells used Connecticut brownstone for the church exterior in “…randomly-coursed masonry with ashlar quoining. The basic rectangular, gabled form of this building derives from the simple “meeting houses” of early American Congregationalism.”
The building is a contributing structure in the central Newport historic district, which is on the national register of historic places. In 2012, the building, with its John La Farge decorative program in the sanctuary, became designated a National Historic Landmark.
The original exterior treatments of two relatively ornate, asymmetrical towers on the west end of the building and flanking the three-door front entrance brought a bit of whimsy to the standard exterior. These towers were destroyed in, or following, the 1938 Hurricane and have not yet been replaced.
The sanctuary is 60 feet by 80 feet and holds 1,000; the pews are original and in generally good condition. It has a high, main ceiling divided into five flat panels by four bracketed transverse beams. The lower, flanking gallery ceilings are similarly divided.
This five-bay ceiling is derived from the sequence of octagonal section columns and five Romanesque arches that form the nave. The visual focus of the church sanctuary is a shallow, 18’-wide recessed arch rising to a height of approximately 30’. This serves as a backdrop to a wide and ornate reading desk.
The Hook and Hastings organ, installed in the 1860’s is the original instrument, lodged in its original location on the west end of the sanctuary. But, the loft was not originally enclosed (as seen in above photo) and the three tall stained glass windows centered on the church’s gable front supplied ample natural light to the sanctuary. “The play of this western light on the sanctuary figured prominently in La Farge’s later (1880) mural and stained glass program.”