Bear Mountain Grange Hall // 1844

This large wooden building in Waterford, Maine, looks much like a church, because it was built as one in 1844! The building was constructed as a Universalist Church just over a decade after a local Universalist Society was formed in the area in 1830. In the subsequent decades of the church’s founding, dwindling membership by the time of the Civil War required the group to sell the building to local businessmen. The town rented a space in the building which used a floor as a school, after an additional floor was added to the base, giving the building the vertical appearance it has today. in 1896, the Bear Mountain Grange purchased the building as a meeting hall, allowing the school to operate in the building (an arrangement that lasted until 1949)! The building has seen better days, but besides the chipping paint and some wood-rot, it retains the original windows and has been relatively un-altered!

Canterbury Shaker Meeting House // 1792

The Canterbury Shaker Village was one of two Shaker communities existing in present-day New Hampshire (the other being Enfield Shaker Village, featured previously on here). In 1782 Israel Chauncey and Ebeneezer Cooley from the Mount Lebanon village of Shakers traveled to Canterbury and converted several prominent figures of the community by convincing some of the Christian farmers that the Shaker way was what they had been seeking. Among those converted to the Shakers, the Whitcher, Wiggin and Sanborn families, donated land to house the Canterbury Village community of Shakers and the Canterbury Village was founded in 1792, led by Father Job Bishop. The village expanded over time, and in 1803 there were 159 members in three families. Nearly fifty years later in 1850, the site contained 3,000 acres with a community of 300 housed in 100 buildings!

The first building of the Canterbury Village was the Meeting House. The Gambrel roofed building was constructed by members in reverent silence and supervised by Moses Johnson (1752-1842) who served as master builder of seven Shaker meetinghouses all over the Northeast. Inside, there were two stairways, one for men and one for women, located in the northwest and southwest corners of the building, each easily accessed by separate entrances, which led brothers and sisters from the first floor meeting room to the second story sleeping lofts.

In 1992, Canterbury Shaker Village closed, leaving only Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village open as a functioning community. There are apparently only two active Shakers left in the country, both at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. Many other villages like Canterbury, have been converted to museums, which give historians and the general public a great insight into how these places have functioned.

Newington Meetinghouse // 1713

This old meetinghouse predates the Town of Newington having been erected when the area was known as “Bloody Point,” which was claimed by both Dover and Portsmouth. Surrounded on three sides by the Piscataqua River and the Great Bay estuary, early residents of Bloody Point found it difficult to attend town meeting or church service in either Dover or Portsmouth. Bloody Point residents soon decided to establish a parish, independent from both Portsmouth and Dover. The granting of a separate parish with town privileges in the early 1700s required the construction of a village meetinghouse, and the establishment of a church with a settled minster. There was no requirement for separation of church and state at that time, so a meetinghouse would serve the dual purpose of being both a place for feisty town meetings and solemn worship. Construction of the Bloody Point Meetinghouse began in 1712, and the first meeting was held in it in January, 1713, even though the building was far from completed. There were no seats, and the windows were only holes in the walls. On August 6, 1713, a meeting was held to organize the parish in the new building. The name “Newington” was chosen after an English village that provided a bell for the new meetinghouse. Rev. Joseph Adams was the first settled minister in the new meetinghouse, and he preached there for 68 years. Rev. Adams was the uncle to John Adams, second president of the United States, and great uncle of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. The building was modernized in 1838-39 to its present church-shape appearance. Windows were reconfigured, the main entrance was moved from the long south side to the east gable end, and the freestanding belfry was relocated onto the roof of the east gable end, effectively rotating the building 90 degrees without moving it. The present-day Greek Revival building remains as a highly significant relic of the founding of Newington.

African Meeting House // 1806

The African Meeting House, tucked away on Smith Court in Boston’s Beacon Hill neaighborhood, was built in 1806 to house the first African Baptist Church of Boston (a.k.a. First Independent Baptist Church) and it is now the oldest extant black church building in America. The church was organized primarily by and for black Bostonians, with some financial cooperation and assistance from Boston’s white Baptist churches. The African Baptist Church was officially constituted on 8 August 1805 with twenty-four members, of whom fifteen were women. A building committee was organized of prominent men from the white Baptist churches; these men handled financial transactions and partially oversaw construction, but many of the people who worked to construct the church building were African American craftsmen. Cato Gardner, a native African, led the fundraising effort by personally raising $1,500, out of the $7,700 needed to build the meeting house.

In addition to serving as a spiritual center for the community, the African Meeting House was the chief cultural, educational, and political nexus of Boston’s black community. The African School held classes in a room on the first floor of the meeting house from 1808 until 1835, when it moved into the new Abiel Smith School. Classes returned to the meeting house in 1849 when most African Americans chose to withdraw their children from the Smith School in order to protest against segregated education. Adult education was regularly offered at the meeting house in the form of classes and lectures. Abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Stewart, Wendell Phillips, Sarah Grimke, and Frederick Douglass all spoke at the meeting house. The Massachusetts General Colored Association, which was the first abolitionist organization in Boston, met at the African Meeting House, and in 1832 the New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded there. Community celebrations often occurred at the meeting house, including annual commemorations of Haitian Independence (1803) and the end of the international slave trade (1807). In 1863 the meeting house served as a recruitment post for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, which was the first official African American military regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War.

In 1898 the Baptist congregation sold their meeting house and moved to a new location in the South End. The meeting house became the Jewish Congregation Anshi Libavitz in 1904 and was acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972.

The Meeting House exterior is Federal style and is symmetrical. The building is brick and is three stories high with a mixture of double-hung and two-story round arched windows on the upper floors. The ground floor features some blind arches, typical of the Federal style. While there is much speculation on who designed the building, many accredit Asher Benjamin, a leader in early American architecture, who wrote “The American Builder’s Companion” in 1806. It is also proposed that a contemporary of Benjamin’s, Mr. Ward Jackson, may have been responsible for the design. Jackson was aquatinted with Benjamin and they both were members of the Society of Associated Housewrights. Jackson was also probably familiar with Benjamin’s book before it’s publication. Either way, the African Meeting House stands as not only architecturally significant, but one of the most historically significant buildings in New England!