BELMONT — A ceremony at the The Province Road Meeting House Thursday morning marked the completion of exterior renovations to the historic structure, built in 1792 and by far the oldest church in town.
Built when Belmont was still a part of Gilmanton (the township was separated by an act of the Legislature in 1859 and adopted the name Belmont in 1869), the church also served as the site of a town meeting in 1796.
Wallace Rhodes, president of the Belmont Historical Society, said that the meeting house was constructed to serve the needs of the northern part of Gilmanton, a huge town at that time which extended all the way from Barnstead to the Weirs, around the same time that another meetinghouse was built on Gunstock Hill in Gilford.
He said that the Province Road Meetinghouse was used by residents of Upper Gilmanton, and what would later become Laconia, until a meeting house was constructed there in 1815.
As was the style of churches then, it was fitted with box pews and contained a gallery on three sides and a high pulpit. The church was cut down to one story in 1836 and in 1854 the pulpit was rebuilt. Over the years the church served about 75 families, but by 1981 the Third Free Will Baptist Meetinghouse Society of Upper Gilmanton had dwindled to three members, who turned the building over to the Belmont Historical Society in 1981.
Rhodes recalled that when he first toured the building in 1968 he noticed that the roof was in poor condition and that was indeed one of the major challenges faced by the Historical Society once it took over the building.
He said that work was completed on the exterior renovations to the building last fall, a $117,000 project which was helped by a $50,000 grant from the state's Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and that the society is now looking to raise at least $50,000 to complete interior renovations, which will allow the group to use it for meetings and rent it to community groups.
Amy Dixon, historic resource specialist with LCHIP, presented a plaque to Rhodes and the historical society for their efforts in restoring the meetinghouse.
She noted that LCHIP in 2007 had funded a building assessment study which led to the restoration project.
Also unveiled at the ceremony was a new sign for the building and a plaque which will be placed inside the building in memory of Meredith Bergeron, who worked to help preserve the meeting house and who died in an automobile crash in Meredith in March at the age of 22.
Linda Frawley of the Belmont Heritage Commission said a garden at the Meeting House will be named in Bergeron's honor. Her parents, Richard and Jean Bergeron, were present for the ceremony.
The Bergerons were also presented with an American flag, courtesy of U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, by Kelly Hayes of Belmont Girl Scout Troop #21532, which had worked on many beautification projects at the meeting house.
Linda Frawley of the Belmont Heritage Commission shows a plaque to Richard and Jean Bergeron honoring their daughter, Meredith, who worked to help preserve the Province Road Meeting House and died in an automobile crash in Meredith in March. A garden at the meeting house is named in her honor. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)