By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
NEW HAMPTON — At Town Meeting this week, voters took several steps towards sparing the Grange Hall from the wrecking ball and returning the building to its original site alongside its elder cousin, the Town House, on the town common at the corner of Town House Road and Dana Hill Road.
First, by a margin of 160 to 106, voters agreed to appropriate $4,000, matching a grant from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, to evaluate the feasibility and costs of acquiring, moving and restoring the building.
Second, in anticipation of undertaking the project, voters approved an appropriation of $150,000 and authorized the expenditure of other monies , including private donations as well as state and federal grants, to fund it by a vote of 146 to 118. The appropriation is contingent on the affirmative vote of a special town meeting to be held in May or June, after the completion of the evaluation.
Finally voters, approved to convene a committee, consisting of two members of the public and one selectman or the board's designee, to manage the use of the building, by a vote of 160 to 103.
The building is currently owned by the New Hampton Community Church, which plans to raze it before the year is out, but has offered to donate it to the town.
Built in 1828, the two-and-a-half story structure, 31 feet by 58 feet, originally served as the chapel of the New Hampton Academical and Theological Institute, a school sponsored by the New Hampshire Baptist Society. In 1852, when the society withdrew its support, the school moved to Fairfax, Vermont, where it soon ceased to operate. Meanwhile, Col. Rufus G. Lewis, together with the Freewill Baptists who accounted for most of townspeople, formed a corporation, the New Hampton Literary and Biblical Institute, which purchased the building, along with "The Brick," a four-story, 100-foot-by-36-foot structure, and moved both to the village in 1853.
"The Brick" became Randall Hall, while the other became Commercial Hall, where, as one J.H. Roberts taught penmanship, it became known as the "Writin' Room." In 1870, the Biblical department of the school moved to Lewiston, Maine, to join Bates College while what remained adopted a commercial regimen and grew into New Hampton Commercial College, the nucleus of the New Hampton School for Boys formed in 1910.In 1911, the trustees of the school gave the "Writin' Room" to the New Hampton Grange, which moved the building to its current location on Main Street and added a 22-foot extension to the back of the building to house a stage.