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Newbury
Ken Schuster
February 20, 2008

Selectman's meetings minutes here.

Center Meetinghouse above-ground restoration begins

    Outside, the temperature is in the 20s. I step hard on the ice crust, shattering it like glass, exposing the soft, pristine snow to the white winter sun. A wind gust jostles ice-coated tree branches, causing brilliant pin-point flashes of white, yellow, blue, green and red against the flawlessly clear blue sky. Just another winter day in Newbury.

    Inside the Center Meetinghouse doorway, the temperature is still well below freezing. Bernie Walker, from Hillsborough, and Bob St. Laurent, from Henniker, are working under floodlamps, carefully removing old windows from their frames and preparing them for the next phase of their journey back to life. 

Bob (left) and Bernie are craftsmen working on the project for North Branch Construction, Inc., of Henniker.

     Footsteps clatter on the metal stairs from the scaffolding above. It's project Forman, Kirt Clarke, from Keene, leading Doug Whelan and his wife Gloria, down to the entrance. Doug is Chairman of the Fundraising Committee, and he and Gloria are Directors of the Center Meetinghouse, along with Bill Weiler and Chuck Kennedy. Dan Wolf is founder and President. The Whelans moved to Newbury from Houston nine years ago and have been enthusiastic supporters of the restoration project since it began, three years ago.

     Doug, Kirt and I climb back up into the rafters of the 175 year old building, ducking under caution ribbons and stepping around tension cables.

   It was quite an accomplishment to construct the high vaulted ceiling with posts and massive beams held together with long wood pegs.    

   Some of the beams still have bark on them. Much of the timber looks almost as fresh as the day it was built.

   Unfortunately, other timber has rotted, and must be replaced. Of course, as luck would have it, most of those are critical to the structural integrity of the building, and require a great deal of time and expense to remove and replace. The current estimate is $1,475,000 to complete the restoration.

    According to the Web site  (www.centermeetinghouse.org), "The Center Meeting House was one of the last country meeting houses built in the pure federal style and one of the few to survive intact to this day." The building steeple tells you it's a church, but what denomination? The answer is, "In the language of today, a building of this type is often referred to as a church. But in this area two hundred years ago there was a distinction between a church and a meeting house. A church was a group of people who came together to worship in a common belief. The meeting house, on the other hand, was the place where all churches could meet. Methodists, Free Will Baptists, and Universalists have all met in the Center Meeting House." Doug said that more recently, there was a Bar Mitzvah there too.

    Doug will be talking about the Center Meetinghouse project with radio talk show host Bunny Steinfield, on New London radio station WNTK (99.7 FM, 1490 AM, and live on the Web at www.wntk.com/newsite/content/listen.php), this coming Saturday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m.

Restoration craftsman, Bernie Walker, carefully prepares old window frame for its next stage of the process.

 

Forman Kirt Clarke points at one of the original wood pegs used in the Center Meetinghouse post and beam construction. Talking with Kirt is Doug Whelan, Chairman of the Fundraising Committee.

 


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