Monday, February 12, 2018

An Update on The Meetinghouse at First Parish in Derry

This new 60 foot post was inserted
into the top of the First Parish church
tower by crane and lots of skill!
Lowering the post into position,
very carefully!
A skilled craftsman guiding
the new post into position

Exciting things have happened recently at the renovations of the Meetinghouse at First Parish in East Derry, New Hampshire.  Nearly 300 years ago Rev. James MacGregor brought his flock of Ulster Presbyterians from Northern Ireland to New England. After a cold welcome in Boston, and a rough winter in Maine, they found a home in Nutfield (now the towns of Londonderry, Derry and Windham) when they were granted land for settlement from Governor Shute of Massachusetts.  In April 1719 the first sixteen families arrived here, and on 11 April 1719 Rev. MacGregor gave his first sermon on the shore of Beaver Lake. 

This small congregation eventually built a small meetinghouse, and then second meetinghouse in 1769, which is the building still standing in East Derry. In 1822 this small meeting house was cut into two halves, and enlarged by adding a 24 foot section to the middle. A tower or steeple was added sometime later.  In 1845 a second floor was added, moving the church sanctuary upstairs, and town offices were placed downstairs.  In 1876 a bell and clock were added to the tower.  In 1884 stained glass windows were installed.

In recent years, the tower was repaired in the 1990s on the 275th anniversary of the parish.  These renovations proved to be damaging to the structure, and in 2013 -2014 a structural analysis fund that the tower needed stabilization, the roof slate needed to be removed and replaced, and other safety repairs were needed for the whole structure.  It was decided that a major renovation was needed.  In 2016 the entire building was lifted and the steeple top removed. The building sills were repaired, and a new foundation was poured.  Last year the tower base was reinforced with new beams.  In 2018 it is hoped that the tower will be finished and the steeple top returned to it’s place above the tower.

Last week, Paul Lindemann, the media contact for the Friends of The Meetinghouse at First Parish, gave me a tour of the building.  Work was going on while we there, to finish repairs on the tower base and first floor of the meetinghouse. Paul is an expert on the history of the building, and has been following the project for many years. The first three photos above, of the 60 foot new beam going into the tower, are from Paul's collection of photos of the renovation process. 

Inside the tower base, where the long
60 foot beams were lowered from the top
At some point in the past, the original
entrance to the meetinghouse was blocked by
a staircase to the tower.  This door will be
re-opened as part of the renovations, and
the staircase moved to a new location.
The tower base will become a new entry.

It was originally hoped that the entire project would be finished for the 300th anniversary of Nutfield in the year 2019.  However, many more renovation projects were discovered during the current rehabilitation of the building, which has caused a need for more fundraising for the project.   There is asbestos that needs to be removed or re-mediated.  Cracks to the plaster caused by lifting the building need repair.  The ceiling of the sanctuary needs renovation since it cracked and peeled while being unheated during the winter it was lifted.  The roof project has not been started yet.  Interior finishes such as new hallways, stairs, and an elevator to meet ADA codes have yet to be installed. All of this will take more time and money than originally planned. 

Rev. Dr. Deborah Roof holds a timber peg that will be used to hold together the post and beam construction
of the First Church renovations.  For a donation, you can sign this peg and your name will become
part of the permanent structure of the First Parish Meetinghouse!  See below for details. 

Hopefully the local community, Nutfield descendants, and history buffs will support the Friends of the Meetinghouse at First Parish in their project to complete their renovations in a timely manner for the 300th anniversary in 2020.  It is expected that the project will move along enough for the bell to be rung on the anniversary of the first sermon on 11 April, and perhaps tours for the 300th anniversary celebrations even if the sanctuary interior renovations are not complete.

The MacGregor stained glass window
commemorates the first minister
of the First Parish church in 1719

The sanctuary of the First Parish awaits necessary renovations
before it can be used for worship services

When the first floor was built in 1769
pew boxes were installed in the hardwood floor.
You can see where those pew boxes used to exist.
The first floor will be renovated for community
use, which harkens back to the days when it
was used as the town hall or meetinghouse. 

Paul Lindemann, my tour guide, shows the rail from the rotting steeple,
and a piece of wainscotting from the first floor meeting room.
The window behind him used to serve as the East Derry post office.

Paul explained to me how this first floor area used to be the town hall,
and will become community space again after the renovations.

Important links:

Friends of the Meetinghouse at First Parish 501(c ) (3) : 

              Timber Peg Donations:   

Paul Lindemann’s blog  “Nutfield History”  

                Paul’s recent detailed blog post on the tower rehab project:

My previous blog posts about the renovation process at First Parish:
Sept. 17, 2015

Thank you to Paul Lindemann for the excellent tour of the meetinghouse, and for the first three photos at the top of this blog post (of the new beam being installed into the meetinghouse tower).


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “An Update on The Meetinghouse at First Parish in Derry”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 12, 2018, ( accessed [access date]). 

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