DERRY — A fundraising dinner to continue preservation efforts for a 250-year-old meetinghouse in Derry netted about $7,000 Saturday night, which is halfway to the amount needed to rebuild the clockworks in the building’s newly-restored steeple, but a long way from the roughly $1.5 million needed to complete the overall project.
Diners were treated to a presentation by the man whose company has been rebuilding portions of the First Parish Meetinghouse.
“The East Derry Meetinghouse is one of the most special buildings we’ve done,” Arron Sturgis, the president of Preservation Timber Framing, told an audience of over 100 people.
Sturgis recalled the first time he set foot in the building and searched through its roof interior about 10 years ago. He said he felt movement, but not due to any structural weakness. Rather, he said the roof was infested with “thousands” of bats.
Since then, they have made significant strides in restoring the building. The old steeple was rotting and losing structural integrity, accelerated by leaking rainwater. They removed the steeple, and lifted the building and installed a brand-new foundation.
It was originally estimated that the building would weigh about 180 tons, but due to the heft of the white oak used throughout, it weighed in at 290 tons.
“There’s more white oak on this building than probably every other building in the area,” Sturgis said.
After installing the new foundation, they set to work disassembling the steeple in 2016, with its pieces to be inventoried and catalogued and, if possible, saved for rebuilding. Much of the prep work done on the steeple was at Sturgis’ shop in Nottingham.
Some of the detailed trimming had to be remade using machines rather than by hand, and with mahogany rather than white pine to ensure it lasts longer, but they traced each custom piece to recreate it faithfully.
In November 2017, they installed new steeple frame posts, made from single white oak trees.
For the new steeple, they used copper for the roof of the clocktower and the belfry lantern to prevent leaking rainwater. When they lifted the steeple by crane back into its spot atop the church this past summer, it weighed in at 48,000 pounds, of which 5,000 was thought to be from rigging material.
Nutfield historian Paul Lindemann, who has been spearheading the efforts to restore the meetinghouse, said they have raised and spent about $1.6 million on the work done to date, and they need another $1.5 million to finish the rest.
Future projects include completing an addition with an elevator, restoring the interior of the meetinghouse, including both the main sanctuary and the lower level rooms, and rehabilitating the roof.
The lower level rooms were previously used for town government offices for about 150 years, he said. After they’re refurbished, they’ll be used for conference rooms, a museum area and a large meeting hall for public functions.
Lindemann said rebuilding the clock works will cost about $12,000. They found a contractor who specializes in old clock works already, but they don’t expect to get started on that work until the spring.
During the dinner, which was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry, and catered by Gabi’s Smoke Shack, gift baskets, gift cards and even historic pieces of the original building were being auctioned off, and attendees had the first opportunity to buy highly-sought-after tickets to next year’s Derry After Dark brewfest.
Local breweries and restaurants made up the bulk of the night’s sponsors, including Cask & Vine, Doire Distilling, Rockingham Brewing Company, From the Barrel Brewing Company, 603 Brewery, La Carreta and more.