Can you see the light? Old Meetinghouse in Epsom receives grant for repair of stained glass windows

  • Volunteer Chuck Driesbach points to the old bell tower in the back of the 1861 Old Epsom Meeting House that once was a church. The window next to Driesbach will eventually be moved to inside the main space of the meeting house. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The 1861 Old Meetinghouse in Epsom is now at its new location across from the library along Route 4 in Epsom, just past the traffic circle. It was moved next to the Epsom Town Library 12 years ago. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Debbie Sargent (left), Chuch Driesbach and Valerie Long stand inside the c1861 Epsom Meetinghouse on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. The committee has received a grant to repair the stained glass window for the building. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • RevitalizationCommittee chairwoman Debbie Sargent sits in front one of the windows that will be repaired using a grant for the 1861 Epsom Town Meeting House. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/12/2019 3:27:51 PM

The historic Old Meetinghouse in Epsom, built near the start of the Civil War, will receive a facelift – beginning with its stained glass windows – and a bit of a rebirth in town.

Through a grant and support from residents, three of the five windows in need of repair will be returned to past splendor by June of next year as part of a plan to insert the structure, built in 1861, back into the core of the community, both in location and function.

“The first project we tackled was the stained glass windows, which needed to be removed and repaired before any heavy construction was done,” Valerie Long, a member of the six-person Old Meetinghouse Revitalization Committee, said in an email. “We were very lucky to have been awarded the funding.”

The committee received a grant worth nearly $18,000 from the New Hampshire State Council for the Arts. The interior of the meetinghouse is in need of repair as well, which will require more money later.

“Completing this project requires a great deal of experience in many areas,” Long wrote. “Grant writing, construction, finance, etc.”

The history and plan for structural improvements have taken twists and turns. Cumberland Farms bought the property in 2006 where the meetinghouse sat and offered the building to the town, with a 30-day deadline before it would be demolished.

That deadline to initiate the move was extended to four months after the structure was placed on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s Seven to Save List. Epsom voted to accept the building and a $10,000 donation from the convenience store. An additional $85,000 was raised through private donations to undertake a giant project: Moving the meetinghouse to a grassy knoll next to the Epsom Town Library.

That was 12 years ago. The committee at the time raised the money for the move, which took on a surreal look as the meetinghouse was loaded on a truck and wheeled through town, ever so slowly, to its new home.

Early construction after the move included the installation of a foundation and a deck, and work on the stained glass and other exterior repairs. However, much more was needed to restore the windows after sash cords had broken and the frames had deteriorated.

Stained glass windows from the 19th century that are in good condition are hard to find, especially in a large building that has been moved to a new location. The Old Meetinghouse was a good example of 19th-century architecture, containing eight stained glass windows with black glass inserts identifying donors.

Problems surfaced quickly after the 2007 move, in what Long called an issue that “has been fairly controversial in Epsom.”

“Originally, the first committee envisioned a town office in the basement and meeting space on the first floor,” Long said in her email. “Having the town offices in the basement was not popular and became an obstacle to the committee achieving their goal.”

The initial committee disbanded in 2012, frustrated by warrant articles asking for money at town meetings that had been defeated, preventing the project from moving forward.

Once the committee was chartered by the town’s select board in 2017, a town-wide survey, answered by 184 residents, and public meetings showed that Epsom wanted the meetinghouse “used for cultural/community space,” Long said.

The committee includes Long, who chaired the Epsom Library Building Committee that raised $640,000 in private donations while the town added $400,000. Also on the board is its founder, Selectwoman Virginia Drew, and Norman Yeaton, who was a member of the original committee.

The stained-glass window artist will be Plymouth State College Professor Tom Driscoll, who also worked on stained-glass windows at the State House.

Once this project is finished, more money will be needed for the interior.

“Each member is working very hard to get the interior finished and obtain a certificate of occupancy,” Long said. “This committee is a group of people who don’t give up easily.”

For details about the meetinghouse, contact board member Debbie Sargent at lookout412@aol.com.




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