First Universalist Rises from Ashes

First Universalist Church Rising From the Ashes

On March 14, 2015, our beautiful, 178-year-old church burned to the ground. 


In just fifteen minutes, the sanctuary was completely engulfed in flames.  By the time firefighters from six different departments were able to subdue the flames, the sanctuary had been reduced to a pile of cinders and ash; the parish hall was a charred shell.

The loss was unimaginable – not just to our congregation, but to the entire community. Our lovely, historic building, the “Church on the Bend,” stood as a beacon at the entrance to the hamlet of Southold for close to two centuries.  Even for those who never passed through its doors, it was the nostalgic, welcoming sight they anticipated as they approached Southold’s historic district from the west.
Watch the YouTube video.

We Survive… 

Despite this tremendous loss, our congregation is determined to carry on and work toward rebuilding.  A church is more than just a building – it is a family.  With the support of our entire community, we have been able to find space for worship services, church activities, and meetings. 

We have even been able to continue hosting our free Community Thanksgiving Dinner each year at the Southold American Legion Hall, across from the church property.  But we would like to have a place of our own again – one that we can share with the community.

29595780_15252975650_r.jpeg  Community Thanksgiving Dinner in old parish hall

Our Church

The First Universalist Church of Southold was established in 1835, and the original building, designed by Richard Lathers, was dedicated in 1837.  Until the fire, First Universalist was the longest-standing Unitarian Universalist house of worship on Long Island.  The unique Gothic Palladian window over the front entrance was one of the only ones in existence in the United States.  Throughout its history, the church was used by numerous community groups for a variety of purposes, even when it was not being used for services for a time in the 1860s-70s. Thanks to the determination of the Ladies Society in the late 1870s, money was raised, the building was refurbished inside and out, and the church was rededicated in 1878.  Further significant renovations – including new carpeting, interior decorations, and electric lighting -- were made in 1922 in preparation for the installation of the church’s pipe organ.  In 1926, renowned American painter Edith Mitchill Prellwitz created a large tri-paneled mural, “The Light of the World,” in memory of her parents, on the front wall of the sanctuary.  The church’s steeple underwent major repair in 1991, and in 1995 an addition was made to the parish hall by architect Richard Daly.

29595780_15252931070_r.jpeg                                               Prellwitz Mural

 An Historic Site…

For the past three years, we have been working steadily toward rebuilding – but it has been a slow, deliberate process.  We are located in the historic section of the town, and our church will be the first new construction in Southold’s historic district since the district was established.  We are very mindful of this, and have been consulting with the Southold Historic Preservation Commission and Town Board.  Our Building Team, architect, site designer, and builder have spent countless hours poring over zoning and code regulations, system specifications, and input from the congregation to design a building worthy of a place in the historic district. 

Peter Marren, Architect
Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture

 Environmental Responsibility…

We are also mindful of our responsibility as stewards of the environment.  One of the precepts of our Unitarian Universalist faith is our respect for the interdependent web of life.  Designing a new building, from the ground up, gives us the unique opportunity to put our principles into action and reduce our environmental impact to the best of our ability.  To that end, we have been working with a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) consultant to make the best “green” choices we can within our budget, with the possibility of achieving LEED certification at the end of the project.

29595780_15252937420_r.jpeg                                             Environmental Fair

Heritage and Vision…

While we recognize that we cannot afford to build an exact replica of our old church, we want to do our best to build a church that will complement the architecture of the surrounding district, honor the history of our place in the community, and serve once again as a welcoming beacon on the North Fork, while at the same time respecting the environment and providing a legacy for future generations.

Read "The Suffolk Times" editorial.

Our Goal

We have set a GoFundMe goal of $500,000 to bring the total funds for our project up to $2.4M.  With your help and support, we will be able to:  build a fellowship hall that will serve the needs of the community; incorporate “green” technology that will reduce our environmental footprint; include some of the original sanctuary’s historic architectural features, such as the Palladian-style windows that were the most striking characteristic of the old church; and, cover the cost of the new building code upgrades required by federal, state and county agencies. Ground-breaking is expected to take place in the fall of 2018.

Watercolor rendering of new sanctuary by Alan Bull
Rebuilding a Place for Worship and Community

The First Universalist Church of Southold will always be a place of worship open to people of all backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, who share common values and principles.  We are a Unitarian Universalist LGBTQ Welcoming Congregation, believing in and supporting the rights of all individuals, of all gender-identities. 

First Universalist has also long served the Southold community as a place that provides relief for those in need; a place where local groups can hold meetings and events; where families can find meaningful programs for their children and youth; where local artists and musicians can share their talents.  Upon completion, our new fellowship hall will once again serve as a center for social action, community support programs, and cultural events.

29595780_15252939820_r.jpegRead about our youth group.

29595780_15252945600_r.jpegAnnual Harvest of the Arts festival

29595780_15252945930_r.jpegA Christmas Carol, staged reading

29595780_15252964170_r.jpegBags of Smiles, donated to Stony Brook Hospital Pediatric Ward

To learn more about us, please visit our website:  First Universalist Church of Southold 

This campaign was put together by our Fund-Raising Committee.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the church's email address:

Thank you for your support.
Susan Pond, Treasurer
First Universalist Church of Southold
PO Box 221
Southold, NY 11971

Donations (0)

  • Anonymous 
    • $45 
    • 1 mo
  • Jane Opper 
    • $100 
    • 1 mo
  • Eric Gerde 
    • $1,000 
    • 4 mos
  • Unitarian Universalist Cong of Wyom... 
    • $70 
    • 5 mos
  • Warwick Powell 
    • $5 
    • 10 mos


Susan Pond 
Southold, NY
  • #1 fundraising platform

    People have raised more money on GoFundMe than anywhere else. Learn more

  • GoFundMe Guarantee

    In the rare case that something isn’t right, we will refund your donation. Learn more

  • Expert advice, 24/7

    Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more