The Restoration Project Update.
Our Mission is to sustain the integrity and beauty of
the Acworth Meetinghouse and to honor its past and secure its future.
In January 2006, the Steeple of the Acworth Meetinghouse was removed
from its bell tower by community volunteer workers under the leadership of Acworth
building contractor, Charlie Haines, and McMillen Construction. The Steeple was
then placed safely on pylons on the Church common and all of the
important architectural parts were stored for future replacement. Funding
assistance by the congregation of the United Church of Acworth made this
first step possible.
In the ensuing 2 years, the Restoration committee grew with the addition of an
administrative assistant, and several experienced residents in the field of fund
raising, building construction, and project organization. Members of that committee
attended seminars held by the N.H. Preservation Alliance program of Saving Sacred
Places on project building and fund raising.
In 2007, the committee hired an historic timber frame restoration expert,
Aaron Sturgis, who completed a total analysis of the restoration needs
of the Meetinghouse with project costs projected at $1,000,000. The New
Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s
Maggie Stier and Architectural Historian, James Garvin, worked with the
committee in providing the guidance needed to move forward.
In the summer of 2007, the Acworth Meetinghouse received the annual recognition
Award by “Seven to Save”, a N.H. organization dedicated to
saving important architectural historic structures.
This past year, with a grant of $130,000 from the New Hampshire Land and Community
Heritage Investment Program , an anonymous gift of $100,000, and a generous outpouring
from the community, the committee began the first phase of the restoration work.
Phase I included resolving the serious drainage problem of water flow
around the perimeter of the Meetinghouse, eliminating the mold in the
foundation, basement and first floor undercarriage and addressing structural
damage, rotten wood replacement and bolstering the supporting beams.
Correcting the drainage problem was paramount to the project and with
the assistance of Construction Engineer, Ted Fellows, Lyle Balla of R.L.Balla
Inc., Support & collaboration by the Town of Acworth
and Road Agent, Kerry Smith, Committee member and local Building Contractor,
Ken Christie, the issue of water flow was totally resolved. It also included
replacing a very outdated septic system. At the same time, a group of
local volunteers took on the basement clean out so that work could begin
on the undercarriage, mold and support beams.
In February of 2008, an energetic and enthusiastic group of 17 local
building contractors came together to work on the problems confronting
us with the Meetinghouse undercarriage. Timbers cut to specification
by Lester Phillips, Great Brook Timber Products and Bob Balla, R.L Balla,
Inc. were delivered to the site. Work under the direction and plans of
Aaron Sturgis along with Project Manager, Ken Christie, on the structural
damage, rotten wood replacement and the bolstering of the support beams
commenced. This part of the project was completed in 2/3 the time and
at 2/3 the proposed cost. An impressive piece of work that only a tour
of the Meetinghouse could convey.
In 2008, the restoration work on the tower base frame, the belfry frame
and the Steeple itself is in full swing. A Capital Fund Raising Campaign
is underway with the guidance of Christine Graham, fund raising consultant.
With additional generous financial assistance and support, the committee
will complete the next part of Phase I, this year. Right now, the steeple
has been stripped of all the outer covering materials. Paint is being
stripped from all of the original wood trim and the supports are being
examined for further damage. They will be reused if possible, with replacement
where rot has been too extensive.
This work has exposed a earlier creative
repair to damage to the Steeple The eight-sided tapered beam in
the center of the steeple cracked during the destructive hurricane that
devastated New England in 1938. Some local carpenters at the time took
on the task of repairing the cracked beam. All work was done with the
steeple in place high above the town common in the center of Acworth.
The top third of the center beam was encased in steel. (This can be easily
viewed now that the steeple is on the ground with the frame and center
beam exposed.) Linda Christie’s grandfather, Hugh Clark,
then climbed to the top of the steeple, on the outside of the structure,
took off the weathervane and poured concrete through the top of the steeple
and into the steel girdle to reinforce the cracked beam.
Steeple center beam has been replaced with a new one that was cut on
site by Ken Christie, Project Manager, and his portable sawmill, so
that the restoration of the Steeple will be as much like the original
as possible. Crane work was necessary to assist with the difficult work
of installing that center post. During this work, the children
of the Acworth School stopped by to observe the ongoing work. They were
invited to sign their names on the new center post before the Steeple
was closed in.
Being on site is quite an experience for both observers
and the workmen. You can hear the pride and admiration for the work that
was done in 1821 and now in 2008 by all those who have ventured to the
church on the hill and those working on the Project. The Acworth Meetinghouse
Restoration Project is surely a labor of love.