Workers last Friday placed the newly restored belfry back on the Province Road Meeting House in Belmont. The project was funded by a $50,000 matching LCHIP grant for the exterior preservation of the historic structure. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 19, 2012BELMONT — Finishing touches are being done to preserve the Province Road Meeting House as part of a grant received through the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, and this past Friday, a major milestone was reached when the belfry was reinstalled on the 220-year-old structure off Route 107 in Belmont.
Province Road Meeting House is the only structure in Belmont currently on the State Historic Register, and it is also eligible for the National Historic Register.
Through the years, the meeting house has seen many changes. It began its legacy in 1792 as a nondenominational meeting house, overseen by the Rev. Isaac Smith and his congregational parishioners as the Upper Parish of their church.
In 1820, the Congregationalists moved to a new home in Laconia, and the Freewill Baptist Church then took ownership of the building until their numbers dwindled in the 1930's. The remaining members eventually donated the building to the Belmont Historical Society in the 1970's, said Wallace Rhodes, president of the organization.
Originally, the building was two stories tall, with galleries to look upon the main floor, and had more windows then are now revealed in the exterior walls. When the size of the meeting house became impractical to maintain, the second floor was removed, and the roof was lowered in 1835. Twenty years later, the windows and doors were replaced.
"It's still documented as to how it looked back then, though," said Rhodes, who has been compiling the town history for many years.
Another change to the building once the roof was lowered was the addition of the belfry in 1910.
In 1968, the roof was patched by the Baptist congregation, and a Boy Scout/Eagle Scout project helped paint the exterior in the 1990's. According to Rhodes, little has been done since that time.
In order to restore the historic structure, the rubble stone and granite foundation was shored up this summer by Mark Roberts of Belmont, then local contractor Jeff Stankatis of JS Contractors and his sub-contracted crews set about restoring other parts of the building's exterior.
The original windows were removed during the process so they would not be cracked or damaged and are now being re-glazed before their re-installment in the in the coming weeks.
"We've had some of the wooden siding replaced, mostly on (the north) side of the building, and that will all be repainted soon, too," Rhodes said.
The belfry, in place for more than 102 years, was also taken down this summer, and repairs were made to help sustain it for many years to come. Besides its structural repairs, the belfry was outfitted with a new weatherized rubber flooring to prevent future damage. Jon Asselin, whose company, JEA and Sons Builders, did the work along with Bowe Contractors, then lowered the belfry back onto the peak of the roof last week and even gave a new shine to the old bell that hangs within. Next up will be a new roof for the meeting house.
"We've done quite a few projects like this in the past, including one at a church in Gilford, so we're no stranger to this type of work," Asselin said. "We should be all done in a couple of weeks, but we'll also take down the old sunburst on the front of the building and fix and paint that so it looks better, too."
The finishing touch to the belfry will be to reinstall the old handcrafted metal finial that has perched on its peak throughout the years.
"It even comes complete with a hole in it from a hunter's stray bullet some years ago," said Rhodes.
While the matching $50,000 grant from LCHIP provided funds for the exterior preservation work, there is still much more to be done to restore the structure completely.
The interior of the building is still in disrepair, and since that work was not covered under the LCHIP grant, it is something Rhodes and the Historical Society hopes local residents might take an interest in helping them now restore.
"We could really use some donations to finish the interior and get this place available for people to use again," said Rhodes. "Our goal is to make the meeting house a community resource."
Anyone willing to make a contribution to the restoration of the Province Road Meeting House is asked to contact Rhodes at 267-6272, Historical Society Treasure Brenda Paquette at the Belmont Town Hall or Christine Fogg at 524-8268.