210729ind history

When the Free Will Baptists of the 1840s found their popularity growing, they held services where they could before realizing they would need a permanent church. A fundraiser eventually led to the construction of the Lafayette Free Will Baptist Church which became known as the Hornbeam Church and, later, the Hornbeam Chapel.

The middle of the 1800s brought unprecedented growth to the small village of Lafayette.

Before long it had everything a community would need to be self-sufficient; a large mill and its supporting businesses to supply all with a place to work, general stores and shops of every kind, and schools to educate the children of the workers.

But, Lafayette had no church to call its own.

The God-fearing members of the community would have to travel to Allenton, Wickford, or Stony Lane to attend services in formal church setting. In the 1840s a branch of the Baptist faith, The Free Will Baptists became so popular in the village that services were held regularly at first in local homes and then in the Lafayette school-house.

The popularity of the preacher, Elder Preserved Green, was so large that soon the school was found to be inadequate and a drive to build a permanent church building began. The result of this fund raising drive was the construction of the Lafayette Free Will Baptist Church which was dedicated in 1848.

It was eventually known as The Hornbeam Church due to the usage of this incredibly durable wood (also known as ironwood) for its main timbers. The timbers were cut and donated by Nathan Rathbun from trees grown on his farm in nearby Swamptown. The church originally stood on the north side of Ten Rod Road, just east of the Robert Rodman house. In 1874 the Rodman family decided that they wished to build another fine mansion house for Robert’s son on the property, so they donated the land on the corner of Swamptown Road (now Lafayette Road) and Ten Rod Road, financed the moving expenses, and paid for a large part of a small addition to the building and the Old Hornbeam Church made the leap to its present location on the south side of the road.

Its new location right next to the mill pond where the church’s baptisms were performed was an added convenience.

The church by that time had become affiliated with the Adventist movement within the Baptist faith and now known as the Lafayette Advent Christian Church. Services were held in the Hornbeam until 1882, when increased membership required the construction of a larger church down Ten Rod Road on Advent Street. The Hornbeam then became known as the Chapel and was used for Sunday school, baptisms, and as a meeting place for the church’s various societies and organizations.

Sadly, when the mill met its inevitable fate and closed later in the next century it also brought about the beginning of the end for the large church on Advent Street.

It was finally closed, due to dwindling membership, and the congregation returned to where it began, the Hornbeam Chapel where services were held until 2017.

In 2017, after 169 years as an active congregation, a decision was made to merge the dwindling Lafayette congregation into a nearby church and this church was sold.

At that time the fine little chapel building was acquired by a new community, and although Elder Preserved Green might scratch his head in wonder over the differences between a Free Will Baptist and a practitioner of the Advent faith, he, like me, would be very pleased to see the Hornbeam Chapel loved and cared for by the faithful.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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