In 1758, well before Rindge was incorporated as a town, the original land owners planned for a meeting house that would serve as the Congregational Church and town hall. It was to be built upon 20 acres of land that had been set aside in the center of town for a meeting house, a common, and a cemetery.
Construction of the First Meeting House began in the summer of 1764 and was completed enough in 1765 for religious services. By 1766, the town meetings were also regularly held there, the beginning of shared use of the Meeting House by the town and the church. It was typical back then for the townspeople to contribute toward the meeting house costs, regardless of religious affiliation, although the majority of residents were Congregationalist. The building itself was 50 by 54 feet; it had a plain exterior, without a steeple or cupola; and it had no chimney, being unheated. Horse stables were built near the Meeting House and on the Common. In 1773, finishing touches were made, including the addition of galleries with pews, pitching and sanding the roof, and plastering the inside walls.
As the population of Rindge grew, it became apparent that a larger meeting house was needed. In 1794, the town voted to build the Second Meeting House, which we still use today. The new building was 66 feet long and 52 feet wide. There was a steeple, a bell, galleries, 58 pews on the ground floor, seats on both sides of the sanctuary, and 28 seats in the galleries. The new meeting house was built in the same location as the first building, as far north as possible so as to not conflict with the graveyard, although it was positioned on top of Deacon Lovejoy’s grave. The Second Meeting House was completed in late 1796 and dedicated on January 11, 1797. Three quarters of the cost of the new meeting house was raised by the church from the sale/rental of pews. The remaining quarter of the cost was covered by the town. The bell tower with steeple was built as an exterior structure on the building (see picture).
In order to comply with laws concerning separation of church and state, in 1820, the Congregational Church organized its own society, The First Congregational Church and Society in Rindge. No longer were taxes levied on all town residents for support of the church. In 1839, while the town owned title to the Meeting House building, both entities (the church and the town) essentially coexisted and each covered their own costs associated with the building’s maintenance and improvements. The town had use of a certain section of the ground floor of the Meeting House, while the church used the sanctuary and the rest of the building – similar to current day practices. It was at this time that a second story was built and the sanctuary was relocated upstairs. The front of the building was expanded to encompass the bell tower, and the steeple was reduced in height by 12 feet so that the fire department’s water spray could reach its top. More remodeling occurred in 1871, including the addition of the pipe organ (the same one that we use today), relocation of the altar to the east end of the sanctuary in front of the organ, and the addition of two coal-burning stoves.
Over the decades, other noteworthy renovations have occurred, including practical additions, such as central heating, plumbing systems, and the clock (installed in 1895). The Second Meeting House in Rindge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Currently, there is a Meetinghouse Oversight Committee, a town board made up of Church Society members and Rindge citizens, which is responsible for discussing areas of concern regarding the Meeting House. They continue a long tradition of cooperation between the town and the church in maintaining and using this historic gem.
(Sources consulted are Stearn’s History of Rindge, New Hampshire 1736-1874; and the Rindge Historical Society.)
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
First Congregational Church
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
The First Congregational Church of Rindge – Historical Summary
United Church of Christ