by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Our church was officially founded in 1827 as The First Universalist Society of Cincinnati. At this period in the country’s history, tens of thousands of New Englanders were relocating to the West and our Queen City was on the edge of the wilderness. The migrating New Englanders brought their religions with them and Universalism had become a popular choice for the straightforward thinking citizens of the Northeast.
The society’s first worship services in Cincinnati were conducted in homes and rented school houses. Eventually, the church hired its first minister, Josiah Waldo, and purchased a building occupied by the Mechanics Institute. This became home for about ten years at which time the building was demolished and a church structure was erected about 1840. The location was on Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th just north of present day Great American Ballpark and directly behind the Dixie Terminal Building. This remained the home of the congregation for another ten years.
The growing church needed larger quarters and land was purchased on Plum Street and a new church was erected. This building no longer exists and the property is part of a surface parking lot just south of the Duke Energy Convention Center. This church remained the home of the First Universalist Society for nearly another 40 years. Eventually the building was sold to the Unity Church and our group took up temporary quarters in a rented facility on MacMillan Street near Gilbert.
In the meantime, efforts were made to raise the money to build another home for the congregation. The effort was led by the Reverend Ulysses Milburn. The church was completed in 1898 on Essex Place between MacMillan and William Howard Taft Drive. The church was constructed by Samuel Hannaford, one of the leading architects of the city and was immediately recognized as a gem among the city’s historic and beautiful churches. Our Universalist ancestors remained in this facility in Walnut Hills for approximately 70 years.
In the late 1960’s the dwindling congregation moved into a large house located off Salem Road and the church became known as the Salem Acres Universalist Church. There they remained for almost 20 years enjoying the house’s recreational facilities but also realizing its limiting effect on the growth of the church. The membership and minister, Reverend Doak Mansfield, decided that if the church was to grow, it must build a new facility to foster that growth. This resulted in the construction of our present facility which was opened in 1985 on Newtown Road in Anderson Township. During the 1960’s the national Universalist Church united with the national Unitarian Church and our congregation thus became known as Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church.
Over the years, the church has nearly always been in the forefront of social justice issues including the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and equal treatment for all regardless of gender, race or ethnic origin. Today’s Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church continues in that tradition of supporting social justice issues. The congregation provides monetary and volunteer support for Inter Parish Ministry, the local food bank; Habitat for Humanity; LGBTQ groups and issues; and a host of other causes that arise in today’s complex society.