Our Meeting House has a fascinating history, and its path winds from the earliest days of our town, through many changes and some challenges, to the present day and our opportunity to use, steward, and cherish it as have so many before us. We are continuing to work to better document the known facts of the building and grounds and welcome any information or documents that our members and friends may have to share. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Please check back occasionally to see our progress with this effort.
The Early Settlers of Leavittstown (or Leavittstown Plantation), which dates from 1748-among the earliest land grant settlements in the area, mostly came from Hampton, NH. Families named Leavitt, Hobbs, Drake, Dearborn, Marston were among others emigrating from the seacoast to this “wilderness within a wilderness” to tame its wild spaces and form a community in which to raise future generations. Many of these earliest arrivals had spent some time attempting to break away from Hampton to form North Hampton. Not initially successful, they may have looked to our mountains, rivers, and lakes as a land in which to start over under the more liberal structure afforded by the Masonian Proprietors, who oversaw unincorporated territories.
Some thirty years passed with the early families involved in surveying, the laying of roads, and building their homesteads. On the brink of the American Revolution Leavittstownâs population numbered 83, and it signed all its able (male) citizens to the cause of the Revolution. Perhaps in consideration of this service, the town was incorporated by an act of the legislature in 1778. At this time the town was renamed “Effingham” to honor an in-law of Governor Benning Wentworth. Little note is made of how the residents of the newly minted town received news that it would no longer be named after the family of beloved Capt. John Leavitt. As was the custom, the town charter set out requirements which must be met to ensure the continued rights of privileges of self-governance. One such requirement was that a meeting house be erected within ten years.
It was the custom in early New England towns to build a “structure which served not only for regular assemblies on the Sabbath and at town meetings, but as a gathering place of the inhabitants at all times of peril or emergency. This one building dominated and focused the entire life of the community. Here people met for every purpose and hence it came to be called, the ‘meetinghouse.’ It was an edifice neither sacred nor purely secular, but appropriate for any honorable service.” As happened in many sprawling towns, but surely was the case in Effingham-due to the centrality of Green Mountain, the township was actually comprised of several distinct villages. At the time of the incorporation there were clusters of homes, farms, artisans or merchants in Drakesville (Center Effingham), Pine River, and what would come to be known as Lord’s Corner. There was no immediate consensus which, among these villages, should rightly serve as host to the meetinghouse. Isaac Lord, having arrived in town in 1791, was a strong proponent of having the building in his neighborhood, likewise Weare Drake in his. These gentlemen and their partisans, meeting largely at Weare Drake’s home or Carr Leavitt’s tavern, attempted to achieve a clear majority to support construction of the meetinghouse in their village.
Not finding success, and likely feeling the pressure of having gone 20 years without fulfilling a key obligation of the town charter, in 1798 there was a committee formed to select a location. This included respected men from nearby towns. Members of the committee were paid $3.00 for their judicious and learned opinion on the question. Isaac Lord, proprietor of the tavern wherein the committee lodged during deliberations was paid $14.88 for ‘attendance, vittilling, and rum’ for its members. Whether aided by Isaac’s able attendance, an abundance of vittles and rum, or on the merits alone, the committee did eventually settle on a spot directly across from the tavern, on land also owned by Isaac.
Isaac Lord oversaw construction of the meeting house, and an early preacher in the new meeting house was Rev. Samuel Hidden of Tamworth, a minister who played a key role in many local churches, and ordained many clergy over the years. It is said that the original entrance was on the east side of the building, facing the Parade Ground. A high pulpit with a sounding board was opposite the entrance. Galleries ran around three sides as was the style of the day. There were likely two rows of windows originally, the size and placement of which can be imagined by evidence still visible in the second level loft area. Pews in the body of the Church were slip pews and those around the walls were square enclosures. There was a belfry on the north end, though not of our current design.
Originally the meeting house was constructed in the Federal style, in accordance with many of the homes in the Historic District. The elliptical fan above our entrance is likely a remnant of this period, though it was probably above an entrance on the adjacent side.
In 1845 a remodeling of the building was undertaken. The old belfry was replaced, the high center pulpit with the surrounding board was removed, the galleries were dismantled, and the old fashioned pews were taken out. The entrance was moved to the north side of the building where it is today. The pulpit was moved to the south end onto a raised platform and singing seats were placed across an open left in the upper north end. The refurbished Church was rededicated on September 1845.
In 1898, on the 100th anniversary of the Church being constructed, it was renovated again. The pulpit was placed on a lower platform and the organ and choir moved to a slightly higher platform behind the pulpit. The singing seats on the second level were removed, and the loft was closed in. New carpet was installed. A steeple 35 feet above the belfry was built and oxen were used to hoist it into place.
On December 30, 1912 a wood burning hot air furnace was installed in place of two stoves which had provided some heat. This cost $150.00. The furnace replaced two woodstoves in the corners of the north end. These had been piped into a chimney above the vestibule. A new chimney was built at the south end to vent the wood furnace. Use of the wood furnace has been discontinued in recent years at the request of our insurer.
There have been no major renovations or changes to the building since the early 20th century. The building and grounds have been cared for by a series of local groups including the Ladies Aid, Effingham Women’s Club, The First Parish Society, The Effingham Preservation Society, and most recently Lord’s Hill Meeting House.