The Smith Memorial Chapel, located in Durham, NH, was built for and named after Hamilton Smith by his wife, Alice Congreve, in 1900. From their marriage in 1886, Hamilton and Alice Smith lived in England for ten years, where Hamilton worked and lived in mining operations in South Africa. He had a home in New York and by the end of 1895, Hamilton acquired property in Durham to create a country estate (next post). On the Fourth of July in 1900, Hamilton and a family friend went boating downriver on the Oyster River, in Durham along with his two dogs Hana and Joy. While attempting to free the boat after it ran aground, he suffered a fatal heart attack at just 59 years old. Almost immediately, his widow Alice funded a memorial chapel to her late husband on the family cemetery. The Gothic Revival chapel features amazing lancet stained glass windows and stone buttresses resembling old English chapels. Also on the grounds of the cemetery are the burials of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their beloved dogs, marked by small gravestones. The property, including the small cemetery in which both family members and pets are interred, remained in the family until 1979, when it was donated to the town.
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.
Rye, New Hampshire sits on the short coast of the state, between the busy towns of Portsmouth and Hampton, and provides a respite from the swarms of tourists and beach-goers alike. Modern-day Rye was the first settlement in New Hampshire by Europeans, and was originally named Pannaway Plantation, established in 1623 at Odiorne’s Point (more on that later). The settlement was eventually abandoned for Strawbery Banke, which became Portsmouth, the historic port town we know today. The town was later a village of New Castle, and was known as Sandy Beach Village, before it was called “Rye”, for Rye in Sussex, England, and incorporated as its own town in 1785. The town met in a Meeting House until it purchased an old 1839 Methodist church in town. In 1873, the building was purchased by the town of Rye for $1000, with an additional $2658 spent on renovations, which added a new ground floor to increase the height from 1.5 stories to 2.5 stories, added 10 feet in depth to the building, and the two-stage tower and belfry. The Greek Revival building has long been a landmark in town, hosting dances, concerts, whist parties, singing schools, oyster parties and immunization clinics, beyond the typical governmental functions. There were calls to demolish the building for a modern town hall, which saw resistance (thankfully) and now the town has agreed on a land-swap with a bank, demolishing an old house to take over the bank building, turning it into some town offices.
Off the beaten path (like much of the town of Wilmot, NH, you can find this stunning old New England meeting house. Erected in 1829, the North Wilmot Church stands as the oldest extant church in the small town. Five denominations—Congregational, Christian Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Universalist, and Methodist, together collaborated to build this structure then known as the North Union Meeting House. Each denomination held services at the church, as they were all too small separately to warrant their own buildings. Decades after it was built, it was determined that the church should be moved down the hill. In 1846, the church was lifted and placed on rollers (logs), and with the help of oxen, rolled down the hill. It is said that the builder of the church, Josiah Stearns, rode in the belfry. The Different congregations later built churches elsewhere and the building was under-utilized, and it was converted to a meeting space, but allowed a congregation to use the structure. In 1983, with the agreement of remaining North Wilmot Congregational Church members, the North Wilmot Union Meeting House Society was established to maintain the structure and arrange for services in July and August.