Friday April 8, 2011

The Rev. John Todd arrived in Pittsfield in January 1842 at age 42 and would become the pastor of First Church for the next 33 years. He arrived in the middle of one of the worst snow and cold winters in Pittsfield history. But Todd, who was born in Arlington, Vt., was made of hearty stock.

He had to be, because his life, at the least, was challenging. At other times it was downright hard to handle. But his tenure at the Park Square church and his overall resiliency makes Todd perhaps the most spoken about pastor of that church other than the Rev. Thomas Allen, the feisty and first pastor whose "Revolutionary" zeal was known across New England.

Todd was born to Dr. Timothy Todd and his wife Phoebe (Buel) of Clinton, Conn. But Dr. Todd suffered a "serious accident" just prior to John being born. Phoebe "lost her mind" due to the tragedy and both soon died, leaving John to be raised by his father's sister, Matilda Hamilton, who lived along the Connecticut shore and an uncle, Dr. Jonathan Todd, of Guilford, Conn.

Todd graduated from Yale, and also from Williams College where he earned his degree in theology during the early years of his pastorship. Todd had a great impact on the church and the city, and five years after his arrival, the growth of the church was such that it spawned the origin of Second Congregational.

Flush with funds, First Church under Todd was able to help finance different projects in the town. Included on that list was Miss.


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Salome Danforth, daughter of Col. Joshua Danforth. She formed a mission and ran schools in Smyrna in Asia Minor.

Todd enhanced the music at First Church. The installation of a new organ in 1846 was cause for celebration by the entire town of 4,000 or so. The organ and the Bullfinch structure were both destroyed by fire in 1853, but the new stone church came with a new organ.

That organ was placed in the sanctuary in 1876, the sanctuary being a gift from George W. Campbell and Mrs. Thaddeus Clapp.

Fire was a constant burr on Todd's fanny during his years at First Church. And so was snow, when a heavy storm in 1842 destroyed the parsonage and also just about all of Todd's personal records. On Sunday morning in February 1851, fire gutted the building and many church records were lost forever.

An extensive traveler in both the U.S. and Europe, Todd was also an accomplished speaker. A group in San Francisco was so impressed that they offered Todd the sum of $10,000 to remain out west and form a church, something he had done on at least two occasions before coming here.

On that trip to California, Todd, who was traveling with other Pittsfield citizens, had been invited to stop in Promotion Point, Utah, and officiate an important ceremony.

The "golden spike" was driven into the ground to officially connect the Union Pacific Railroad with the Central Pacific Railroad.

Todd resigned in 1870 because he thought he was too old. But the church refused to honor his agenda. In 1873, he was put on an emiritus basis with full salary and continued to live n the parsonage. He died Aug. 2, 1873.

As the funeral procession en route to Pittsfield Cemetery passed by St. Joseph's Church on North Street, the bells of the Catholic church tolled solemnly,

It was a great tribute to an obviously great man.