The place where church meets town
In December 1850, Hancock voters met to decide whether or not to repair and move the Hancock Meetinghouse across Main Street. There were 46 yeas, 24 nays, according to “The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764-1889.” A committee was appointed to examine the move, and a second committee was asked to consult with church pew-holders. In February of 1851, the committees issued their reports. The first committee thought it better to repair the meetinghouse and leave it where it then stood, but they added that those who wished to move it should be allowed to do so — that is, so long as there was no expense to the town.
The idea at the time was to make some changes to the building that would better accommodate the church’s purposes, and put a stone foundation on the building. It was also an opportunity to better delineate church and town spaces within the building, and those boundaries were stipulated very clearly, down to the town reserving the right to insert their funnels in any church-erected chimneys, another proposed improvement at the time. The committee also recommended that, as “The History of Hancock” says, “the town pay one-third of all necessary repairs on the outside of the same while it is occupied for a town house (except the windows). The town to repair the windows in the lower part of the house and no others.”
The Hancock Meetinghouse, circa 1820, is one of the last in this region that is still jointly owned by town and church. But it has been many years since town business was regularly conducted there, the downstairs portion of the building more recently having been used as a preschool up until a few years ago.
How the latest proposed renovation project is approached will surely impact the Meetinghouse’s fate in years to come. At issue is a $1 million renovation plan put forward by the Meetinghouse Committee — made up of concerned residents — and who will pay for it.
It’s long since the days when church’s memberships are robust enough to hold sway in town politics, and filling church coffers isn’t as easy as it once was either. The First Congregational Church of Hancock has a small membership compared with the town’s population, which tallied at 1,654 in the 2010 census.
Regardless of exactly which repairs and renovations, and what cost, the town decides to pursue, preserving the Meetinghouse for both town and church purposes seems a worthwhile endeavor. But the necessary improvements and their cost may not easily be divided between the owners of the building.
What’s more important is that the site of nearly 200 years of Hancock history is maintained for generations to come.