Beekeeping History

South Church has a unique, rich legacy in beekeeping. Rev. Lorenzo L. Langstroth, our 5th minister (1836-1839), is known as “The Father of Modern Beekeeping.” Rev. Langstroth (1810-1895) first became interested in honey bees during his pastorate here, even keeping hives in his house!

In 1838, Rev. Langstroth became captivated with bees after seeing a honeycomb in a large glass globe on a friend’s table. This revived a childhood curiosity. He returned home that day with two colonies of bees which he kept on the 3rd floor of his apartment. From then on, Langstroth devoted himself to the keeping and studying of bees.

In 1851, he invented the Langstroth Hive , when he observed that bees do not attach honeycomb to frames spaced 3/8” apart (called the “bee space”). This allowed beekeepers to remove and manipulate the frames without harming any of the bees. This hive is the standard still used today throughout the world. His 1853 book, Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee, is considered the beekeeper’s “Bible” with new editions published on a regular basis.

At the young age of 29, Rev. Langstroth left South Church due to poor health, moving on to other endeavors as his health would allow. Dr. Bruce Cook, South Church member and noted neurosurgeon, read Langstroth’s copious memoirs regarding what Langstroth called his ‘head troubles’ and diagnosed his condition as bipolar disorder. Rev. Langstroth conceded he was overwhelmed at times with ‘supplying the pulpit’ and serving a congregation of 500 at South Church, even though he greatly enjoyed the parish and friends. Deacon Amos Abbot offered the beloved pastor the position of Head Master at the Abbot Female Academy on School Street, which is now part of Phillips Academy.

Following his tenure in Andover, Rev. Langstroth went on to serve as school principal and minister in Greenfield, MA and Philadelphia, PA, and eventually retired to Oxford, OH. Langstroth’s work with bees is credited with helping him maintain his sanity as a distraction from depression throughout his long life to the age of 85.

In 1951, 100 years after the invention of the removable frame, The Massachusetts Federation of Beekeepers’ Association donated a plaque to South Church in Langstroth’s memory. The plaque hangs on the north wall of the South Church sanctuary.

We are proud of our heritage at South Church that includes Rev. Langstroth and the honey bee. Several past and present members are beekeepers. Bees are a lot like the members of South Church—they can’t survive without each other. In order to thrive, they must care for one another for the critical work of pollinating flowers for our fruits and vegetables and producing honey.

How amazing is it that Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, the person whose work revolutionized beekeeping, once led our congregation? How fortunate are we to “bee” so connected to this honey of a practice and slice of history?

To further celebrate our rich history of beekeeping, on Sunday mornings, we  our first time visitors a gift –a jar of honey!