Iconic South Sutton Meetinghouse repairs put on hold

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – The Sutton Historical Society has decided to withdraw its request for a grant that would have helped fund repairs to the classic New England church steeple of the South Sutton Meetinghouse.

Don Davis, vice-president of the society, said last week that the local nonprofit organization had planned to request a grant of about $20,000 from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), but decided recently to hold off for at least one year. (LCHIP is an independent state authority that matches grants to NH communities and nonprofits to conserve and preserve the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. )

Davis and his colleagues became aware of the possibility of structural problems at the meetinghouse last year, he said. “The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs,” he explained.

‘The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs. (The building is) not in bad shape.’

Don Davis of the Sutton Historical Society

The group originally received estimates of about $20,000 for the repair work but they later met with Richard Mecke of Historic Homes, Inc., of Salisbury. “He really specializes in historic buildings,” Davis said. “He pointed out that we may need something done that we couldn’t see, and that he’d look at the building as a whole.”

Getting a complete building evaluation is a one of the requirements for getting an LCHIP grant, the vice-president said. “its not in bad shape,” Davis reported, referring to the 2,000-square-foot structure, “but there are things that we’d like to be aware of,” so the society can develop a long-range maintenance plan.

The old wooden meetinghouse, which sits on a grassy hill overlooking the town green, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Constructed in 1839, it is a prime example of a classic Greek Revival New England Meetinghouse that was once common throughout the region. The local building is especially remarkable because it remains virtually unchanged since it was first built; its only minor alterations occurred after it was struck by lightning in 1898.

Behind the meetinghouse is another historic structure that the society owns and manages: the South Village (District 9) Schoolhouse, a former one-room school building. The nearby Azariah Cressy House, which is also owned and managed by the society, is used as the its headquarters. The local nonprofit also manages the town-owned Old Store Museum, nearby the meetinghouse property.

At a recent meeting with the board of selectmen, Davis discussed the LCHIP grant proposal and received the board’s support for its work. (The society later withdrew the application after learning about the need for a full-structure study.)

In addition, Davis told the selectboard about a recent conversation he’d had Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance. Cushing noted that the town could possibly taking over ownership of the three society buildings, which would mitigate some of the ongoing preservation costs (including insurance) and ensure that the structures would remain part of the town’s heritage even if the society dissolved.

The selectmen suggested that Davis and his fellow society member research the idea more thoroughly and, if they’d like the community to move forward with the plan, they draft a petition warrant article so that voters could consider it at the annual town meeting in March.

The historical society has established a fund to help defray the cost of restoration and repair work on the meetinghouse. The estimated price of doing the complete evaluation should be about $2,000, Davis said and while that’s too low to qualify for a LCHIP grant, the society does have some of the money it needs and other resources may be available.

The society hopes to have the meetinghouse evaluation done later this summer or early fall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The following week, Don Davis of the SHD submitted this letter to the newspaper, which was published on July 3, 2018.

The Sutton Historical Society had submitted an intent to apply for a historic resource grant with LCHIP.

A planning study is required before applying for a historic resource grant if the total project exceeds $50,000. It also requires that work done must meet the standards established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

After submitting our intent to apply we had the meetinghouse looked at by a contractor who is familiar with the standards. It became apparent that while we did not have a proposal for the project or an estimate, the project cost could exceed $50,000. The board of directors decided we should have a resource assessment done and that we would apply for a LCHIP planning study grant instead of the historic resource grant.

While in the process of preparing the application, we received the proposal for the assessment study, which is $2,000. LCHIP has a $5,000 minimum for planning studies to qualify for a grant. We did not meet the minimum and could not apply for a LCHIP grant.

We will still do the study this year and explore other funding options. The results of the study can and will be used for a LCHIP Historic Resource Grant application in 2019. The assessment study will address the immediate needs of the building focusing on the steeple and will provide the SHS with data that will help the society establish a long-range maintenance plan for the building. The SHS will be conducting fundraising campaigns this year for the historic resource project (repair of the steeple).

Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance, during a visit of our buildings, told us it was unusual for a historical society of our size to own so many buildings. In many towns the historic buildings were owed by the town with the local historical society managing them. In most cases the arrangement proved to be an advantage for both the town and historical society. We asked the selectmen if they would object to that arrangement in Sutton. They explained it would be up to the voters of Sutton and that we should research it thoroughly and prepare a petition warrant article if we wanted to go forward

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