The history of First Parish is the history of our town
In early Colonial times, Kennebunk was a part of Wells. Communities were then designated as parishes, and each parish furnished an essential meeting place. People in the Kennebunk area had to travel seven miles, most by foot, to the First Congregational Parish of Wells to go to church or community meetings. In 1750, they founded their own parish, called the Second Congregational Parish of Wells, on the Kennebunk River.
During the next decades, the center of activity shifted toward the Mousam River, and the congregation decided to build a new church at the crossroads where it stands today. The new building was completed in 1773 – just before the American Revolution.
By 1803, the congregation had grown and an expansion was needed. They decided on a drastic but economical solution. The building was cut in two, 28 feet were added in the middle, and the roof was turned sideways. Housewright Thomas Eaton was hired to do the work, and he is credited with building the steeple, which he based on the designs of Asher Benjamin. With its belfry arches, balustrades, urns, Doric columns, octagonal dome and ear-of-corn weathervane, it is the crown of Main Street.
When Maine became a state in 1820, Kennebunk seceded from Wells, and the Second Parish of Wells became the First Congregational Parish of Kennebunk. By 1823, the church was painted white; before then it had been dark yellow. The interior was one cavernous room with balconies. In 1838, it was carved into two stories with the floor of the present second story sanctuary being added at the former balcony level, along with the mahogany choir loft and pulpit. Popular legend says that the pulpit was carved from one log found floating in the Caribbean and towed back to Maine.
The congregation divided in 1826, and “Unitarian” was added to the name of the church. The tower clock, a gift of the Lord family, was installed in 1859, then replaced – paid for by public donations – in 1883. The Lords continued to wind the clock by hand each week for many years before purchasing an automatic winder.
The First Parish Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource within the Kennebunk Historic District.