History and Evolution of the Meetinghouse
The history of the Meetinghouse is rich and the work to preserve it extensive and interesting. A brief summary follows.
Nutfield Founding and the Early Meetinghouse
Read about "Why the First Settlers Came to Nutfield" at NutfieldHistory.org.
In April of 1719, sixteen Scots-Irish families gathered in the territory then called Nutfield. Led by Rev. James MacGregor, they started First Parish Church and established the settlement that eventually grew into present-day Derry, New Hampshire.
The group prospered, and by 1769 they constructed a second, larger Meetinghouse. This is the very building we see now, still gracing the top of the hill and anchoring the East Derry Village, a site on the National Register of Historic Places.
Continuing growth of the community led to many changes to the building, including:
- enlarging it by splitting and expanding the middle in 1824,
- renovating from a single story inside to two stories in 1845, and
- conducting a major renovation—with beautiful new stained glass windows and interior finishes—in 1884.
The exterior and much of the interior today remains very much as it appeared after that last big renovation in 1884.
Centuries of Community Service
Over nearly 250 years, the Meetinghouse at First Parish has served as both a religious sanctuary and an active community center.
Early on it was the location of town offices, a library, and post office. Its large meeting room was the scene of town meetings and hundreds of political and cultural meetings. This continues today, as the Meetinghouse and church facility hosts dozens of community groups and special events every month, while also being home to a thriving congregational church family. It also epitomizes the classic New England life we cherish, and appears on the Derry town seal, on the walls of area businesses, and in hundreds of postcards, calendars, and photos.
Unfortunately the Meetinghouse didn't receive the care it deserves over the past several decades. The current congregation is reversing this trend, and—with help from the community—is now working to prepare the historic Meetinghouse for another century of service.