6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
First Congregational Church
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
What Happened To The First Meeting House?
United Church of Christ
Over the next couple of episodes, we are going to be advancing in time as we move into a discussion of the Second Meeting House, our current building. Before we leave the First Meeting House behind, this would be a good time to cover some points about meeting houses that were not covered earlier and to take a look at the transition from the First to the Second Meeting House. Why did we make a change? What happened to the first building?
The term “meeting house” was originally used by the English to designate the meeting place for dissenters from the Church of England. These dissenters, the Puritans, considered a “church” to be an organization of Christians, not a building, so they used the term “meeting house”, which was carried over to American usage. We do not see the church building named a “church” until much later, after the 1819 Toleration Act, when taxpayers were allowed to pay their minister’s tax to whatever denomination they desired. When the Puritans arrived in the New World, one of their first tasks was to build small, temporary meeting houses in each township, which served as places for religious services, for political meetings, and for storing gunpowder. In most townships, the plan was to later build a larger, permanent meeting house. This also turned out to be similar to the path that Rindge followed.
(By the way, the early spelling of the term is with a hyphen, “meeting-house”, and we see the spelling evolve into “meeting house” and later “meetinghouse”. I use “meeting house” most of the time.)
In earlier Way Back When articles, we have looked in detail at the construction of the First Meeting House. Briefly, the First Meeting House was partly completed in 1764 for some religious services. It was activated for fulltime religious use in 1765 and for town meetings in 1766. (Some people date the First Meeting House at 1764, while others at 1765.) It was a simple structure with a plain exterior. It did not have a steeple, a chimney, stained glass windows, nor did it have a bell. Its interior was unfinished. Aside from a primitive, temporary structure in New Ipswich, the Rindge Meeting House was said to have been the first meeting house built in this section of the state. We do not have any pictures of our building originating from back then, but there is a sketch of it, done for the bicentennial in 1965 (see attached sketch, but picture it without a chimney).
In 1773, the town voted to put some finishing touches on the Meeting House. This included pitching and sanding the roof. What does that mean? Basically, you put pine pitch on a roof and then apply a layer of sand on top. This was commonly done in New England in the 1700s and was supposed to provide a stronger resistance to weathering. In our case, the building originally had wooden shingles, which they retained and covered with pine pitch and sand. Our First Meeting House is referenced to illustrate this roofing method in a book entitled, A Building History of Northern New England.
Other improvements at that time have been noted in prior articles, including plastering the interior walls and building the galleries, a feature that was typical in many early meeting houses. For an example of how the galleries might have appeared, take a look at the Jaffrey Meeting House. An interesting book by Eva Speare, Colonial Meeting-Houses of New Hampshire, discusses early meeting houses of this time and has many photos showing the interiors and exteriors of old New Hampshire meeting houses. In 1779, other general repairs were made to the building. Even with these finishing touches, the First Meeting House retained a plain look, which was common among meeting houses and reflective of the earlier Puritan avoidance of the opulence that was seen in Anglican churches in England.
The First Meeting House served the town and church for 30 years and then it was time for a change. Why? The population of Rindge had grown from 298 in 1767 to 1,143 in 1790. This large increase resulted in the need for a larger meeting house and one with more features than the first. To motivate the town to build the Second Meeting House, Dr. Reverend Payson offered to give the town a bell if the new meeting house was built within a certain time period. His offer is not dated, but it would be presumed to have occurred sometime in the early 1790s. The town thanked Reverend Payson for his offer and chose a committee to propose a preliminary plan for the new building, but the committee voted to delay moving ahead.