Not long after the incorporation of Pittsfield in 1791, a group of families felt the need to start a church – and thus was born The First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, founded by a group of eight “foundation men” on February 7, 1764.
Initially, services were held in a small cold meetinghouse erected by the town in 1761 for the purpose of holding both town meetings and religious services. This simple, barnlike structure was replaced in 1791 with a large federal style meeting house, which was distinguished by the fact that it was designed by Charles Bulfinch, the most prominent architect in the country. (Bulfinch later designed the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, as well as the United States Capitol building in Washington.)
One morning in 1851, the Bulfinch-designed church building caught fire, and although the fire was contained to part of the interior, the congregation quickly voted to build a replacement, specifically a stone building. There had been discussions about a replacement for some time, and one suspects that the parishioners were just tired of the uncomfortable box pew and wanted something new and fashionable.
The church cast about for an architect and settled on the choice of Leopold Eidlitz. The committee apparently viewed the First Congregational Church in New London, CT, liked what they saw, and engaged Eidlitz to build a version of that church here. Eidlitz was born in Prague, trained in Vienna, and came to the United States in 1843, and was, it is believed, the first Jewish architect in the United States. (His best-known buildings today are portions of the New York Capitol building in Albany, and the Tweed Courthouse in New York City.)
The building was completed in 1853, using locally quarried stone and native chestnut lumber for the columns, trusses and pews. The windows were all of the translucent diamond-pane variety, but over the years a number of memorial stained glass windows were installed. These include the large Allen window, facing Park Square, which is one of the first windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. There is another Tiffany window, as well as two windows by two women artists, Elizabeth Tillinghast and Clara Burd. The sanctuary has housed three different organs – the current Austin organ dates from the 1950s.
While the sanctuary has seen quite a few changes over the years, its current appearance results from extensive refurbishment work during the 1990s and early 2000s designed to better facilitate current forms of worship as well as to restore the best of the design elements used over the years, and to add new elements such as the white marble Celtic cross and its gold-leaf filigree background.