In Epsom, the past rings true

  • The Epsom Old Meeting House lit up at night. COURTESY—Virgina Drew

  • Meadow Wysocki of the Epsom Old Meeting House Revitalization Committee looks up at one of the stained glass windows that has not been restored yet on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Epsom Old Meeting House on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Meadow Wysocki of the Epsom Old Meeting House Revitalization Committee looks up at one of the stained glass windows that have been restored on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Meadow Wysocki of the Epsom Old Meeting House Revitalization Committee looks up at one of the stained glass windows that have been restored on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Meadow Wysocki of the Epsom Old Meeting House Revitalization Committee looks up at one of the stained glass windows that have been restored on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/13/2022 11:41:52 AM
Modified: 1/13/2022 11:41:00 AM

Megan Rheaume and her father rang the bell in Epsom, at least 50 years apart.

Her father rang it sometime between the 1950s and ’70s, before he moved to Hooksett. His daughter moved to Epsom in 2018. She won a raffle to ring that very same bell on July 4. 

“Pretty cool,” Megan said. “Of course, I was very excited. I told my father that I got a chance to ring the bell too.”

Rheaume loves old houses, moving into one built in 1870, so it makes sense that she’s the secretary of the Old Meetinghouse Revitalization Committee. She’s part of an orbit of residents who want to change nostalgia into reality, and the core of that view is the Old Town Meetinghouse, which sat where Cumberland Farms is now for nearly 150 years.

The committee wants the building to regain past glory, light up the night, welcome the town for meetings. The committee wants to create a place where everybody knows your name. Like in the old days.

Committee officials say it might be optimistic to believe the renovation will be done this year. The lights work inside. At night, the bell and the steeple and a sense of importance light the sky.

“That's beautiful and meaningful,” said Virginia Drew, a member of the committee. “We need to refinish the floors, paint and stabilize the stained glass windows.”

Drew is the fighting force here, the voice that other board members quickly direct you to.

The Old Meetinghouse Revitalization Committee includes five Epsom residents, appointed by the Epsom Board of Selectmen. 

The project continues to be publicly funded, and, in fact, Rheaume’s ringing endorsement on July 4 was an ice cream fundraiser.

For many years, there had been a tradition of ringing the Meetinghouse bell, at what was then called the Epsom Bible Church, built in 1861.

The committee vowed to publicly fund a major overhaul, but first raised $85,000 in private donations to undertake a giant project: Moving the meetinghouse to a grassy knoll next to the Epsom Town Library.

That was 14 years ago. The move took on a surreal look as the meetinghouse was loaded on a truck and wheeled through town, ever so slowly, to its new home.

Enter Drew, who formed her committee in 2017. Since then, donations have come from places like GoFundMe. 

If a warrant article passes at the Town Meeting this spring, the old Town Hall, located adjacent to the Meetinghouse, will receive its own facelift.

That would mean moving the pantry, the welfare office and piles of public records from the old building to the lower level in the new building.

There’s room, Drew said, but that’s a separate issue.

For the Meetinghouse, the NH State Council for the Arts Moose Plate Grant funded the effort to restore and replace the Meetinghouse’s eight stained glass windows, a delicate task indeed.

The windows are not the originals from 1861, but are plenty old, from the 19th century.  The windows were taken apart piece by piece, the glass was washed, and broken or missing pieces were either repaired or replicated.

Heather Brooks, who works for the window restoration company in Portsmouth that was hired by the committee, said the Meetinghouse's stained windows were special.

“What makes them so unique is their enormous size,” Brooks said. “You don’t usually see stained glass in operable sash windows this large.”

The windows are part of the historical significance of the building. Like the steeple. And the bell.

The Old Meetinghouse, vacant and lifeless now for about 15 years, retained its charm, the ability to hit rewind in certain minds.

The steeple has its light now, glowing each night like a signal warning a ship. The light has sent a signal to Drew as well, who said “It's as though it’s a sign of things to come.”

The bell carries a lot of weight as well. Drew said the two-man crew that moved it had the honor of ringing the bell in 2007.

That's the last time it gonged.

Until the 4th of July.

“We got to ring it again,” Drew said. “Let them know that life is coming back to the Meetinghouse. People around town said they heard it. They heard the bell.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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