From its groundbreaking in 1801, the Old Meeting House has been a work in progress.
1835 saw a major restoration, expanding the building and modernizing it in the Greek Revival style for $10,001.22. Generations have contributed their labor, skill, and dollars to this historic building.
Ringing in the New Year in 1854, the 46-year-old bell cracked. While townspeople wanted a larger, heavier bell, the tower was too decayed to support such an improvement. So a new spire had to be constructed—with a new and improved bell hoisted into place in 1855.
As the town’s timepiece, the clock has also required repair. In 1911, some alumni from Francestown Academy (now the Town Hall) raised $155, with the town voting to pay the additional $165 for purchase of the impressive clock from E. Howard and Co. of Boston that remains today. Another handsome clock, donated to the Old Meeting House by the “Sons of Francestown, Residents of Manchester” in 1835, now graces the second story gallery.
In 1953, Neil Leonard (a summer resident from Boston) began overseeing extensive renovations including a new pulpit, organ screen, and heating system, along with carpet, draperies, and pew cushions. Portions of the large vestibule became a ladies’ parlor and minister’s study. The Cogswell Benefit Trust of Manchester made the largest single contribution to this renovation.
In 1987, the Unitarian Church transferred ownership of the building to the newly formed Old Meeting House of Francestown, Inc., for the grand sum of $1. From that time on, maintenance and restoration became the work of a non-profit corporation.
Spearheaded by Derald Radtke and other Founding Trustees, further renovation has included a new furnace, removing and replacing the steeple to replace rotted timbers, plus gold-leafing the clock (now owned by the town) and weather vane. At that time, restoration and maintenance—reglazing and making structural repairs to all the windows, painting both the interior and exterior, and numerous other projects—totaled $275,000. But the need continues and the price keeps going up.
200 and Counting
Looking ahead to the Old Meeting House’s future role in Francestown, a time capsule was filled, sealed, and interred in one of the walls—to be opened in 2101 for the tercentennial celebration.
In addition to annual maintenance tasks, it is now time to repeat many of the major renovation projects of the 1980s in order to keep this “architecturally magnificent building” alive and well. The Old Meeting House welcomes members, funding, and volunteers to help maintain its essential place in Francestown and the Monadnock region.