From bawdy beginnings to serene sylvan simplicity, Silver Lake Chapel, 33 Lake St., Plympton, has been through thick and thin, serving its congregation continually for the past 125 years.
Under the leadership of Rev. Allan Palmer for the past seven years, the congregation came together with a catered barbecue dinner in celebration last week.
It wasn’t always this lovely little chapel in the woods; it began as a dance hall, “Lane’s Hall”, on the southern shore of Silver Lake, in the 1860s known as Jones Pond. Lane’s Hall was part of the great Silver Lake Grove, sponsored by the Old Colony Railroad, to give the good people of Boston and beyond, a reason to ride the rails on Sundays. It’s hard to believe these days, but thousands came to the 70-acre park to relax, enjoy, and kick up their heels.
If you rode to Silver Lake Park by rail, you didn’t have to pay admission to the Park, according to Ms. Winifred L. Avery’s account.
The park offered, in addition to dancing, baseball and croquet fields, a pavilion seating several thousand, bowling alleys, rowboats, sailboats, and the side-wheeler steamboat, the “Lady of the Lake.”
The Lady, originally called the steamer “Glide,” was brought from Newburyport to Captain’s Hill in Duxbury in 1873, from whence it was dragged by 16 pair of oxen over land to Silver Lake.
It was a bright sunny day in June of 1877, when the good “Lady of the Lake” had an accident: the boiler, which powered her side wheel, exploded and threw hot coals down on two groups of young people from Boston. The hot coals caused horrible burns, according to Ms. Avery’s account.
Doctors and nurses were brought from Kingston and Plymouth on a special train that was sent for them. They didn’t have salve to put on the burns, so they used grease from the train. Although none drowned, two adults and three children died from blood poisoning.
By 1878, the Grove was no longer a favorite spot for weekend excursions, due to the publicity about the Lady of the Lake disaster and a train wreck the following year that killed more than 100 passengers on their way to the recreation area.
The publicity from both incidents added to the demise of the popular Sunday excursion destination.
Recreation stopped altogether in 1903 when the City of Brockton took over Silver Lake as their water supply, Ms. Avery reports.
The infamous dance hall building, Lane’s Hall, as told by Rev. Henry Belcher in the 100th anniversary celebration booklet, became the site of occasional prayer meetings in the 1880s.
Grocery clerk Frank Reed, aspiring to become a minister, first brought the word of God to the Grove. In the mid-1880s, Dr. J. Francis Cooper, a pastor from Bryantville, preached in Lane’s Hall Sunday afternoons. He later became minister of Brockton Central M.E. Church.
In 1887, Rev. V. J. Hartshorne, after retiring from the Plympton Congregational Church, became interested in sharing the preaching duties with his Methodist counterpart from Bryantville.
Rev. Hartshorne raised money to build a church in the Silver Lake community. The Lane’s Hall dancing pavilion was purchased and work began on what was to become the Silver Lake Chapel.
Then pastor of the Plympton Congregational Church, Rev. Horace F. Hallett, who had shared preaching duties at the Grove, was a former carpenter, and it was under his supervision that the transformation from dance hall to church took place.
Lemuel Bryant donated the land on which the Chapel now stands, but with the provision that if it ever ceased to be used for religious purposes, it would revert to his heirs. Bryant’s wife kept those working on the building well fed. Although she never knew how many would respond when she rang the dinner bell, there was always plenty. This tradition is carried over through the years with many well-laid tables and ever-popular monthly suppers.
Rev. Henry Belcher, who began as pastor in 1984, served its congregation for many years, noting in the Chapel’s booklet of the 100th Anniversary,
“The hundred years and more of serving the Lord in this little corner of a former grove near a sparkling Silver Lake have not been easy. But in each time of crisis, pastor and parishioners have kept the flame of faith alive when so many times it nearly flickered out.”
Through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and numerous recessions, Silver Lake Chapel has continued its ministry to the gratitude of those it serves.
Last week’s celebration marked another milestone in its history – may it celebrate many more.