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Meeting Houses

Testaments to our past

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Historic picture Greenfield Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Historic picture Greenfield Meeting House.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Greenfield Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Greenfield Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Interior Hancock Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Interior Hancock Meeting House.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • View of former Hancock Meeting House location from Hancock Meeting House bell tower. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    View of former Hancock Meeting House location from Hancock Meeting House bell tower.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Interior Hancock Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Interior Hancock Meeting House.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Sharon Meeting House. (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Sharon Meeting House. (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • Sharon Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

    Sharon Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Antrim Grange building.<br/>(Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)

    Antrim Grange building.
    (Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)

  • Antrim Grange building.<br/>(Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)

    Antrim Grange building.
    (Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)



    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • New Ipswich Congregational Church<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    New Ipswich Congregational Church

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • New Ipswich Congregational Church<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    New Ipswich Congregational Church

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Jaffrey Meeting House<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Jaffrey Meeting House

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Jaffrey Meeting House<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Jaffrey Meeting House

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Historic picture Greenfield Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Greenfield Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Greenfield Meeting House(Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Francestown Old Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Interior Hancock Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • View of former Hancock Meeting House location from Hancock Meeting House bell tower. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Interior Hancock Meeting House. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Sharon Meeting House. (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • Sharon Meeting House (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Antrim Grange building.<br/>(Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)
  • Antrim Grange building.<br/>(Staff photo by Lindsey Arceci)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • New Ipswich Congregational Church<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • New Ipswich Congregational Church<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Meeting House<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Meeting House<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Stephen Sondheim accepts the MacDowell Medal during Medal Day on Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

When New England towns received their grants of township, often the first order of business was to erect a Meeting House, where all town and religious gatherings could be held. These Meeting Houses were often the place for important events like Town Meeting, and for Sunday observances. Now, separation of Church and State has resulted in the majority of these buildings defaulting to one use or another. But these buildings were made to last, and in many towns they’re still around — dating back to the 1800s, or even the late 1700s. Only a select few are still used cooperatively by church and town, in the way they were originally intended.

NEW IPSWICH

Built: 1903

Past use: Church

Current use: Church

It’s not uncommon for a town to have built two Meeting Houses in its history, usually after the first grows too small or is otherwise destroyed by time or disaster. New Ipswich, though, had not one or two Meeting Houses, but a long string of them. The first was built by the town’s Massachusetts proprietors in accordance with the town charter. It was erected on Meeting House Hill, which was colloquially known as “Judge Farrar’s Hill.” But that Meeting House was destroyed by fire during the desertion of the town during the French and Indian War in 1748.

For a time, while arguing over the size and location of the new Meeting House, meetings took place at the home of Joseph Kidder, until finally an agreement was reached and the second Meeting House was finished in 1759. The church was small at that time, with only 21 members, and the building was built to match the small numbers. But the church quickly outgrew the dimensions of the building, and within three years, another Meeting House had to be built. Then again, the growing population was growing past the capability of the building, and another Meeting House was built in 1812, modeled after a Park street meeting House in Boston. This Meeting House stood the test of time. It underwent a remodeling in 1812, but otherwise was able to support the population. That was until an unlucky lightning strike in 1902, that destroyed the building.

Even while the Meeting House burned, resident George Barrett promised $5,000 toward building a new Meeting House and church, which was erected on the same site a year later, and is now the Congregational Church.

ANTRIM

Built: 1780s

Past use: Town Hall

Current use: Antrim Grange

If you take a trip up Old Meeting House Road, you might notice that the building the road is named for is no longer there, and only a memorial stone marks its place. The building isn’t used for its original purpose anymore, but it does still exist — just not in the same place it once was. It now makes its home on Clinton Road, and has been reutilized to become the homebase of the Antrim Grange #98.

According to Arthur Merrill, the Antrim Grange secretary, the building was first constructed in the 1780s. But a portion of the building was moved, sometime in the 1830s to its present location, and was used as the Town Hall. In 1894, the Antrim Grange purchased the building and the land it sits on for $200, and has maintained the building ever since.

GREENFIELD

Built: 1795

Past use: Church/Town Hall

Current use: Occasional use

When it was put up in 1794, the raising of the Meeting House was a town-wide affair, according to Historical Society President Lenny Cornwell. The town supplied a hog’s head — 250 pounds of rum — for the expected party. Hugh Gregg, whose descendants still live in town, was paid 75 pounds to build the frame, and more than 100 men from the surrounding local towns turned out to help raise it.

Until a few years ago, Greenfield’s Meeting House was still operating as both a municipal building and a church. Now, the church has moved on, although the building still holds remnants of its presence, including stained glass windows decorating the upper level of the building. When the Meeting House was first built on the Commons, it faced Francestown Road, and was in the center of the common area where the townspeople would leave their livestock to graze for the day. Older photographs of the building still show the granite fence posts that were used to keep the animals in.

In 1867, the town decided that the Meeting House should face the town center, and the building was lifted two feet, hooked to a team of horses, and rotated to face its current direction.

Like most Meeting Houses that continued to hold both town and church functions in the same building, a second floor was added when the building was turned, with the church upstairs. The Meeting House was also lengthened to accommodate the staircases and a vestry. The clock and steeple were added in the 1890s. More renovations were added in the 1900s, with a kitchen addition in 1938, and a basement added in 1950.

MASON

Built: 1837

Past use: Church

Current use: Church

The third Meeting House to be built in Mason, what is now the Congregational Church, was built to be convenient, as near to the center of town as possible. It replaced the Old Meeting House, which continued to be used by the town. But removed from the center of town, the Old Meeting House fell into decay and was damaged by vandalism and storms, until it was replaced by the present Town Hall in 1848. Then, the Old Meeting House was sold at auction in pieces and torn apart. The residents of Mason Village (which eventually would become Greenville) disliked the new “convenient” location of the building, as they had to walk uphill for two and a half miles to get to it, and eventually a separate Congregational Church was erected in the village in 1849, which no longer stands today.

The citizens sneakily acquired a bell for their new church by bribing a ship’s captain to return to shore with a new bell which was meant for an town out east. However, that bell fell and cracked in the 1850s, and had to be replaced.

RINDGE

Built: 1796

Past use: Church/Town Hall

Current use: Church/Occasional use

In Rindge, the Meeting House is the second meeting house in the town. The first was raised in 1764, according to Burton Goodrich, chairman of the Rindge Meeting House Oversight Committee. But that building only lasted about 40 years, before growth in the town made it clear that the building could no longer support the growing population. In 1794, the town voted to rebuild the Meeting House, at the same location, to accommodate the larger populace, and that is the building that remains on the Rindge Common today. The Second Meeting house, as it’s called, was built by David and William Barker of Rindge for less than $10,000. Most of the money was raised by the sale of the future pews.

The building was meant to be placed as far north as the attached graveyard would allow. However, one grave, whether by accident or design, was actually beneath the new structure — the grave of Deacon John Lovejoy, who died a few months prior to the raising of the Meeting House.

“Whether or not it was intentional, the entire Meeting House is the Reverend’s monument,” said Goodrich.

Since the early 1800s, there have been several renovation projects to the building. A second floor was built to house the sanctuary, to create distance between the parish and the town. The front of the building was filled out to include the bell tower and the steeple was lowered. It’s generally believed the steeple had to be lowered because the fire department at the time could not stream water high enough to reach the top of the building. During construction, a man fell from the bell tower, and landed on the ground 50 feet below, but got up, unhurt.

HANCOCK

Built: 1820

Past use: Church/Town Hall

Current use: Church/Occasional use

When you walk into the ground floor of the Hancock Meeting House, you have to walk down three steps.

Hancock’s Meeting House was built in 1820, as a replacement for the original Hancock Meeting House, which burned the previous year, according to Dave Drasba, the chair of the Meetinghouse Restoration Committee. It wasn’t built on its current site, however. About 30 years after it was built, in 1851, it was picked up and moved across the street, to be in line with the vestry next door and the Main Street houses. And that wasn’t the only major change for the Meeting House. When the country became more aware of the issues of separation of church and state, the Meeting House had to go through some major renovations to keep the portion that was used by the town and the portion used by the church separate. That meant when it was moved, the town and church modified the wide open space of the building and separated it into two floors, with the church on the upper floor, and the town uses on the lower floor. Despite the high ceilings, there wasn’t quite enough room to accommodate both spaces, and the floor was lowered an extra 18 inches to give the town office space a little more headroom, which is why residents now have to go down to get to the first floor.

Since those changes, however, there have been few alterations to the building. The clock is still wound by hand. And the bell is still the original bell, made by Revere and Sons hung in the 1820s, and it has chimed the hour ever since it was first tolled at the funeral of Joseph Symonds in 1820. That doesn’t mean that the building hasn’t seen any changes, however. In the 1990s, the town renovated the Hancock School House, and it became a new space for the Town Offices, which were in the lower level of the Meeting House. Twenty years ago, the steeple was removed for repairs. But one thing has remained the same at the Hancock Meeting House. It’s still owned and used by both the town and the church, and is one of only a few buildings to maintain what was once a common practice.

FRANCESTOWN

Built: 1801

Past use: Church/Town Hall

Current use: Occasional use

When the town was still forming its Main Street and town center, the very beginning of the process was choosing a site for their Meeting House, according to the Old Meeting House website. In 1775, the town pledged 12 pounds to the projects, and a rough frame was raised that year. But then the Revolutionary War came, causing construction to come to a halt as the town dealt with the economic repercussions. More than 10 years passed before town residents would once again take up their tools and try to finish the building. In 1787, the town voted to sell pews to finish the building. And eight years later, the building was still unfinished, and the town voted down an article proposing to make the structure larger.

It wasn’t until 1800 that the town voted to finally construct the building. The town broke ground on what is today known as the Old Meeting House in 1801, and the structure was completed in 1803, for a total cost of $5,274.

SHARON

Built: 2006

Past use: Occasional Use

Current use: Occasional Use

The early voters of Sharon turned down the opportunity to build a Meeting House when the town was first formed, according to Sharon’s website. In 1801, the town held a meeting to gauge interest in building a Meeting House between Gilbert McCoy and the Middle School House in Sharon, and if not, to choose a committee to find a spot to build a Meeting House. But later that year, the town not only voted down building a Meeting House, but also voted no to the idea of choosing a committee to determine a Sharon Center.

But for Sharon, that wasn’t the end of the matter. More than 200 years later, in 2006, the town came together at Town Meeting again to discuss building a Meeting House. And this time, the public came back with a different answer than they had in 1801. In a 52-16 vote, the town approved building a Sharon Meeting House.

TEMPLE

Built: 1842

Past use: Union Meeting House

Current use: Town Hall

The Temple Town Hall didn’t start its life as a municipal building. It was first constructed in 1842 as a Union meeting house by the local Universalists population, according to Ron Pulos, the chair of the Temple Town Hall Advisory Committee. Originally known as Union Hall, the building fell out of use in the 1850s, until 1875. That’s when the remaining members of the Union Society sold the building to the Miller Grange for $292. The building was used by the Grange for their own gatherings, but was rented out to the town on occasion for meetings. The building underwent some changes under Grange ownership, with the addition of a rear extension in the main hall, including a stage and antechambers. But during the late 1880s, the Grange membership, like the Union Society before it, began to die out.

In 1889, the Town of Temple purchased the building for $1,000, for use as a Town Hall. For the next 100 years, it served as the center of Temple, housing both municipal office space and was the site of Town Meeting until 1990, when a new municipal building was constructed on Route 45. Since then, it has been used primarily to host board meetings and a variety of social functions.

JAFFREY

Built: 1775

Past use: Church/Town Hall

Current use: Occasional use

The Jaffrey Meeting House was raised on June 17, 1775, the same day as the Battle of Bunker Hill in Charlestown. Though the story has been disputed, the diaries of the men who were raising the building include accounts of hearing the Charlestown cannonade north of Boston while the work was being done, said Meeting House Committee member Robert Stephenson in a recent interview at the Meeting House.

The Meeting House and the First Church in Jaffrey are located on Laban Ainsworth Way. Laban Ainsworth was the first minister in the church, and ministered there for 75 years. A little oval window looking out on the road was once used to spy the Reverend walking up the lane to the church.

The biggest change in the building came in 1822, when the bell tower and spire were added, paid for through donations. The town purchased the bell, cast by the Paul Revere Foundry. At that time, the building was used as both a Town Meeting Hall and as a church. After the sudden increase in church buildings in the early 1800s, the building was used for little else besides Town Meeting. That changed after the Civil War. The interior was totally rebuilt to provide not only office space for town officials, but to also serve as a schoolroom. The schoolroom was eventually abandoned when the growing student population joined the Conant School system.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the building took on its current configuration, when the Village Improvement Society decided to undertake another major remodeling of the building. Since then, the building has seen more use in the summer season. The building isn’t heated, so in the winter shuts down, but in the summer it sees weddings, Monadnock Music Concerts, assists in hosting the Church Fair and every July 4 is the home of the now traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Gone but not forgotten

Some towns either never had a Meeting House, or the old buildings were gone before towns started to have a strong interest in preserving the buildings. Greenville was part of Mason until 1872, and shares its Meeting House history. In Bennington, the upper level of the Town Hall was the designated meeting place, although time and age have made it unsafe for large gatherings. In other towns, like Dublin and Wilton, the Meeting House was lost in the early 1800s, and was never rebuilt. But their history has been woven into the fabric of the town. Lyndeborough’s Meeting House was built in 1772, but was replaced in the early-to-mid 1800s, when the town built a separate Town Hall and church, both of which remain.

On September 7, 1773, Wilton was raising its second meeting house. During construction, a huge center roof beam which had been temporarily supported by a tree trunk gave way. Fifty-three workers dropped three stories with the building coming down around them. Three men were killed on the spot, and another two died of their injuries. On July 20, 1804, the same meeting house was considerably damaged by a bolt of lightning.

Like most townships, Peterborough was required to erect a Meeting House within three and a half years of establishing itself. Whether they did or not remains a mystery, because the first mention of a Meeting House in the records is in 1752. It was a simple building built out of logs that the town quickly outgrew. It was left in place and still occasionally used, but a second Meeting House was erected in 1777, which served as both Meeting House and school. By 1825, both spaces had become so run-down that the church built a new building on Gordon’s corner, and the buildings were only used for Town Meetings. The disuse left them growing ever-more run down, until they were eventually torn down.

Despite the growing need perpetuated by the run down old Meeting Houses, the town seemed disinterested in erecting a Town House. The town voted “no” to a new
Town House in 1818 and 1819, and again found a committee-chosen siting for Town House unsatisfactory. A Town House was finally built in 1830, but was far too small for the needs of the town, and was replaced only 30 years later. The current Town House was built in 1933.

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