Lightning strike’s damage worse than originally thought

1801 building hit in storm Wednesday

  • Lightning hit the steeple at the Old Meetinghouse in Francestown late Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Lightning hit the steeple at the Old Meetinghouse in Francestown late Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

FRANCESTOWN — Damage to the steeple of Francestown’s historic Old Meeting House caused by a lightning strike Wednesday afternoon may be more extensive than originally thought.

Greg Cope, a trustee for the restoration of the 1801 building, said in an interview Monday that the structure was originally thought to have sustained damage only to the exterior siding, but after further inspection, there is also some structural damage to the interior of the bell house.

When lighting struck the steeple, it blew off part of the exterior siding of the steeple. The strike also entered the open portion of the steeple, and passed through the brass bell. The bell bridged the strike to the opposite walls, damaging both an electrical connection and causing some of the vertical ribs that provide support for the steeple to splinter. The ribs extend 25 feet into the structure. At least one will have to be totally replaced, and possibly more, Cope said.

The electrical connection has been repaired, restoring the spotlight that lights up the steeple bell. The phone line and alarm system, which blew out when the lightning struck, have also been repaired, said Cope. The securing of the loose boards on the exterior of the steeple and the splintered ribs will be addressed by structural engineer Ben Tyree of Peterborough later this week. The priority will be to secure the loose boards, which are a public safety hazard, Cope said. The Meeting House is currently cordoned off with police tape, and there are not high winds expected this week, so he does not anticipate any problems until the siding can be secured, Cope said.

It’s likely that when repairs are made, the siding will be put back with stainless steel fasteners to replace the hand-wrought nails that originally held the boards. The Board of Trustees will also be assessing whether preventative steps will be needed to ward off future lightning strikes. It’s likely that the bell on the Old Meeting House, which is the tallest building in the area, attracted the lightning in the first place. Although it has not been a problem in the past, the board will likely invest in some lighting arresters on the building to provide future protection, Cope said.

“Lightning doesn’t always strike the highest place, but clearly this is the highest thing around, and in that little storm, it took quite a hit,” he said.

The board will not know what the total cost of the damage will amount to until after the building is assessed by a structural engineer this week, said Cope. One of the biggest factors will be whether the steeple will be able to be fixed while in position, or if it will have to be removed to be repaired. If the steeple must be removed, it will up the cost significantly, though the entire cost of the lightning damage is expected to be covered by insurance.

“We have an excellent insurance company with experience in historic buildings that has stood by us over the years. I think in this case, insurance will cover the cost of the damage from the lightning.”

The board will use the opportunity to examine the steeple for other damage not caused by the lightning, such as rot. The cost to repair any of that damage would fall on the board, Cope said.

Cope said it is the hope of the Board of Trustees that the damaged area will be stabilized by the end of the week. There is a scheduled concert for Monadnock Music scheduled to take place at the Old Meeting House this Sunday. While the hope is that the building will be deemed safe by that time, there are steps being made to move the concert to the Francestown Community Church, if necessary, Cope said. The Old Meeting House is scheduled for a program by the N.H. Preservation Alliance on barn history and a jazz concert on July 27. Cope said the board is confident that by that time, the Meeting House will be open for use.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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