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On the list

New Durham Meetinghouse named one of "Seven to Save"

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE Preservation Alliance has announced that New Durham's 1772 Meetinghouse has been designated as one of Seven to Save endangered and irreplaceable state landmarks. The building's Restoration Committee has seen a resurgence of support and interest in repairing the town's oldest remaining structure. Pictured here, at the Seven to Save announcement ceremony in Manchester, are (l to r), committee member Ann Kelley, New Durham Town Administrator Jeremy Bourgeois, Preservation Alliance Field Service Representative Maggie Stier, committee chair Cathy Allyn and committee consultant George Gale. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
October 23, 2012
NEW DURHAM — "We are definitely on the right path now." So said 1772 Meetinghouse Restoration Committee chairperson Cathy Allyn in reaction to the news that the structure has been named one of seven historic resources in the state in the Seven to Save program. "At long last, we're at a place where the vision is within our grasp."

"The honor and golden opportunity the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has granted our town is overwhelming," committee consultant George Gale said. "The state is willing to partner with us in saving this remarkable building and our group has the next two phases outlined and ready to roll."

"Preservation is important to the character of our town," committee member Ann Kelley said. "Following our tours of the Meetinghouse during the town's 250th celebration, we saw a resurgence of interest. All it took was people to go inside, and we had incredible support to get this project off the ground."

Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Alliance, said the Seven to Save program is designed to attract attention and assistance to historic resources in jeopardy. It's an effective program, as the Alliance considers over half the historic sites listed since 2006 now out of danger.

"With the Meetinghouse a listed site, our committee and town officials can receive technical assistance from the Alliance," Allyn explained. "It also puts us in a more than favorable position to secure funding that could see this project to fruition."

The Restoration Committee currently has an application to NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program pending. "If we receive that grant," Gale said, "we'll be able to complete the foundation work. That's a huge step forward. The Seven to Save status wins us points with funding agencies. It's proof that we have something rare and irreplaceable that is threatened."

A timber framer himself, Gale has been in close contact with the Timber Framers' Guild, an organization that completes major projects for educational purposes with members working for free. "The Guild is on board with coming to do the Meetinghouse roof and framing repairs," he said. "We won't have an opportunity like that again. That's why we need to move quickly."

Allyn said she inherited the restoration work "from the wonderful people of 1987 who committed so much time and energy and literally saved this building and even further back to selectmen in the 1800s who preserved it for the sake of the future."

Gale actually inherited the project from his ancestors, who no doubt helped build the Meetinghouse. Allyn said there are many families still in town whose names are among the New Durham annals when the Meetinghouse was erected.

"Our Seven to Save list contains the kind of places you can't imagine your community without," Maggie Stier, Alliance field service representative, said. "Advocates for these places know that saving the past enriches the present, and we recognize these places as opportunities to transform threatened resources into vibrant community assets again."

"Once reclaimed, the Meetinghouse could certainly be a source of income for the town," Allyn said. "It's a tourist destination, as already evidenced by the hundreds of people who showed up at LCHIP Day a few years ago to see it, and it could be rented out for weddings and events."

The committee has recently been bolstered by residents with backgrounds in fund raising and restoration projects. "There's so much positive action," Allyn said. "It's exciting, because with the guidance of the Preservation Alliance and the commitment of more and more townspeople, this restoration project could conceivably be completed in a few years."

Finishing the foundation and roof repairs would make the building safe for decades. "This property is unique because it's pre-Revolutionary War, it sits on its original six acres, and also has a Town Pound and the first cemetery," said member Robert Craycraft. "That's extremely rare and makes it even more valuable."

"The Meetinghouse is a piece of Americana, but New Durham is lucky enough to have it in its confines," Allyn said. "It's to be treasured by all those who embrace heritage and appreciate the benefits of preservation." She called it "surely the most significant building left in town."

Gale said it was a privilege to be on the Seven to Save list. "It's highly competitive," he noted. "This state-wide recognition carries with it the responsibility to work even harder to save something that is bigger than all of us."

The committee is looking for help and support in all areas, and can be contacted at newdurhammeetinghouse@gmail.com.

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