First Congregational Church
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
The Second Meeting House: Part 1
On Monday, June 2, 1794, the town finally voted in favor of building a new meeting house. This approval did not come easily. There were objections, as we saw in the last episode, some of which came from pew owners of the First Meeting House who did not want to relinquish their investment. The townspeople and church members held many meetings to discuss the idea of a new meeting house, to resolve the conflict with the pew owners, and to work out the details and design of the new structure. Now, to get some people to attend one meeting is a challenge, but these people attended 16 meetings. It was a big deal and was not taken lightly.
After the pew owners’ conflict was resolved, by giving the First Meeting House to them, a committee of 11 was chosen to prepare a plan for the Second Meeting House. The committee was comprised of Lieutenant James Crumbie, Edward Jewett, Esq., Deacon Francis Towne, Deacon Benjamin Kingsbury, Daniel Rand, Esq., Lieutenant John Barker, David Barker, Captain Solomon Rand, Eliphalet Wood, Lieutenant Joseph Mullikin, and Joseph Barker. They met soon after the June approval and came up with a detailed plan for the new building.
The plan was accepted and the details of the Second Meeting House were agreed upon. The building was 66 feet long and 52 feet wide, with a large, high-ceilinged main floor and galleries. There was a porch off of the east end that provided access up to the galleries. It had a steeple tower that was built outside of, but attached to, the main building. (A bell arrived later in 1817.) There were entrances on the west that came in from the base of the steeple tower, and there was a side entrance to the south, like we still have today. It had mahogany doors. There were 58 pews on the ground floor and an additional 28 pews in the galleries. One of the pews was reserved as the town’s pew, while the most desirable pew of the time was given to Reverend Dr. Payson. The Second Meeting House was 16 feet longer and 12 feet wider than the First Meeting House. Actually, our meeting house is known for being the largest in New Hampshire. Back then, the building was normally filled on Sundays. Wouldn’t it be nice to fill it every Sunday now?
Another committee – Daniel Rand, Esq., Edward Jewett, Esq., and Jonathan Ingalls – was selected to find suitable builders and implement the financing plan. John and David Barker (brothers) were hired as contractors to follow the original design plan. The Barkers were paid $3,316.33 (in 1790s dollars) for their work on the building, plus another $330 for constructing the steeple. As for financing, the same committee was given the task of selling the pews in advance of construction. The idea was to apply the proceeds of the pew sales to pay the building contractors. Pews were priced between $30 and $91. The total amount raised from their sale was $3,448, which has been recorded in town history to be about three quarters of the total cost. The town pledged to make up the deficiency that remained from the sale of the pews. It is amazing that we have such detailed accounting from so long ago.
Other preliminary details had to be ironed out, such as precisely where to locate the building and the site preparation. As we discussed in an earlier Way Back When article, the location was to be on the site of the old meeting house, as far north as possible but so as not to conflict with the grave yard. As it turned out, we know that there was one grave upon which the new meeting house was built (Deacon Lovejoy's). After the First Meeting House had been removed, the site itself had to be regraded and altered to accept the dimensions of the new building. The old meeting house sat on a hill, whose top had to be chopped off and moved to fill in a dip next to it on the east (If you’re interested, in 1874, that adjacent location had a house on it owned by George A. Whitney, Esq.). Also on the east, a banking wall was built. If you look at the back of the church today (from School Street), you can see the steep hill and a stone retaining wall in between the horse stables and the back of the church. This site preparation, including moving the old meeting house down the road and foundation preparation, cost $680.54. So, now you know more than you ever thought you would about the preliminary planning for the Second Meeting House.
(Sources consulted are Stearn’s History of Rindge, New Hampshire 1736-1874; Colonial Meeting-Houses of New Hampshire by Eva Speare; and the Rindge Historical Society.)
United Church of Christ
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461