×

On the market: Church turned family home for sale in Contoocook

  • Holly Holmes helps her daughter Lilliana, 5, with a craft project at the kitchen table while 3-year-old Zoey plays on the floor of their home, which was once St. Mary's Church, in Contoocook on Oct. 3. The kitchen was built in the raised sanctuary where the church altar stood. Elizabeth Frantz photos / Monitor staff

  • Zoey Holmes, 3, stands in the open front door of her home in Contoocook on Oct. 3. The building, which was once St. Mary’s Church, was converted into a single-family residence by the Holmes and is now for sale. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Holly Holmes and her daughter Zoey, 3, play in a sitting area on the second floor of their home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by the Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • A catwalk leads to a sitting area that was intended to be turned into a library at the Holmes home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by Holly and Nate Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Holly Holmes talks to her daughter Zoey, 3, in the living room of their home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by the Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Scenes from the Holmes home in Contoocook on Oct. 3. The building, which was once St. Mary’s Church, was converted into a single-family residence by Holly and Nate Holmes and is now for sale.

  • Light from the setting sun streams into the unfinished master bedroom as 3-year-old Zoey Holmes opens a set of doors in the Holmes home, which was once St. Mary's Church, in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • The unfinished master bedroom and oculus window is seen at the Holmes home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by Holly and Nate Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Holly Holmes helps her daughters with their shoes at their home, which was once St. Mary's Church, in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • A church pew bench is seen at the Holmes home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by Holly and Nate Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Holly Holmes plays with her daughter Lilliana, 5, in their home in Contoocook on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The building, which was once St. Mary's Church, was converted into a single-family residence by the Holmes and is now for sale. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • St. Mary's Church in Contoocook in an undated photo before the congregation relocated and the building was sold. courtesy Hopkinton Historical Society



Monitor staff
Friday, October 20, 2017

For Holly Holmes, the old St. Mary’s Church in Contoocook was a childhood fixture from the age of three when her family moved to the village.

Her family attended Catholic services there, she received her first communion there and she remembers her sister’s baptism there. She returned to the church as an adult for her best friend’s wedding, bookending a lifetime of lasting memories she had made in the white, steeple-topped hall on Kearsarge Avenue.

Eventually, the little church closed, but Holmes’s connection to it didn’t fade.

When Holmes, 36, and her now-husband Nate, 45, were looking to buy their first home in 2003 when housing prices were climbing with no end in sight, the former Catholic church showed up on the real estate market. After touring cigarette smoke-stained ranches selling for $150,000 or more, the half-joking suggestions of buying the former church that was languishing on the market evolved into serious conversations.

“There wasn’t anything else out there that we loved,” Holly Holmes said.

“As first time house buyers, buying a church isn’t the normal thing that people do, but we’re a little crazy like that,” she said, acknowledging everyone thought they were mad, but also that friends would agree, “only Nate and Holly would buy a church.”

Holly, a nurse, and Nate, a custom carpenter, fell in love with the building. So much so, they placed a counter-offer on the property during a vacation in 2004 from a New Orleans hotel fax machine and made a deal on the church hall big enough to house two families for the price of one of those small, cookie-cutter ranches.

However, funding the purchase proved problematic. After months of mortgage rejections from banks confused by the church property that did not classify as a residence (one bank required removal of the steeple even though the couple did not yet own the property), Holly’s father, Romeo Dubreuil, stepped in.

He offered to mortgage his own home and give the money to the then unmarried couple, who would be able to get their own loan to pay him back once they converted the property to a residence. It was a handshake deal built entirely on trust between Dubreuil and Nate, who would oversee the renovations.

Nate and Holly became the owners that September, and the steeple remains intact.

According to documents at the Hopkinton Historical Society, the history of the church began in 1928 when the wealthy daughter of local historic figures Commodore George H. Perkins and Anna Minot Weld wanted a Catholic church built in Contoocook so Irish servants of local families would not have to travel to Concord for mass. Isabel Weld Perkins of Boston spent many seasons in Contoocook with her husband, Larz Anderson, and inherited the historic building now known as Perkins Manor. She donated a piece of property to the Catholic church, funded construction, and St. Mary’s was dedicated on July 28, 1929.

In 1945, the congregation was absorbed with seven others into the newly-established St. Theresa’s Parish, and in the 2000s, a new, centralized church was built to serve the communities of both Henniker and Contoocook. The stained glass windows of the small Contoocook church were removed, the building was deconsecrated and the former St. Mary’s was put up for sale.

Converting the church into a house, now nicknamed the “chouse,” was not easy.

Holly and Nate landed a construction loan and worked nights and weekends for two years to complete the transformation on deadline. Friends and family, many fellow tradesmen and construction workers, often joined the couple until 1 or 2 a.m.

Grand plans were drafted and high building standards were met, but problems kept surfacing. “We started out not intending to do nine tenths of what we did,” Nate said. The furnace suddenly needed to be replaced, standing water in the basement got out of hand, and one thing led to another and yet another. Time was running out and compromises had to be made.

The couple did end up with their certificate of occupancy, but had to let go of some projects. Custom trim was created to match original design features of the building, but Nate and Holly never got their three-story spiral staircase. The home has all new wiring, even audio for a sound system, but speakers were never hung. A catwalk on the second floor leads to a sitting area, but it was originally supposed to be a library, complete with bookcase doors that revealed secret rooms. A fully adjustable, multi-zone radiant heating system was installed and paired with spray-foam insulation, but the master bedroom and jacuzzi were never completed.

The nearly-90-year-old church building is now an energy-efficient, single-family home, but unfinished.

The Holmes, who eventually married on the front steps, always intended to finish their showpiece party house, but the arrival of their daughters, Lilliana and Zoey, beginning 5 years ago changed everything.

“The house was our baby,” Holly said, but their lifestyle and priorities have changed. “We had big dreams, but dreams change.”

“We are going in a whole different direction. Why do we have a big, fancy, 1920s house that we’re not getting done?” Nate said.

The decision to sell was a difficult conclusion and admittedly “a little bittersweet,” especially for Nate. The renovations amounted to a town-wide barn raising, and the Holmeses strongly felt selling would negate all the blood, sweat and tears that went into their home. “We could not have done this without all of our friends because they are all in the trades,” Nate said.

The church house is now for sale and is currently listed for $349,900.

The Holmes have bought a lot on Hatfield Road in Hopkinton adjacent to Nate’s family, with plans to build a little, modern farmhouse. Holly has long loved the countryside and cherishes visits to Nate’s family where her girls can ride horses and run through fields.

“The new house is going to be small, super efficient and basic, and it’s going to be all about living instead of ‘what’s the next project we’re gonna do,’ ” Nate said.

But first they have to find someone else to fall in love with the “chouse.”

(Elizabeth Frantz can be reached at efrantz@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lizfrantz.)