It’s impossible to drive through Grafton on US Route 4 and not notice this burned-out shell of a former meetinghouse. Fraying tarps attempt to keep the elements out from the interior’s chestnut pews and paneling. Purple paint, rainbow fences, vinyl siding, and a fiberglass spire all speak to how various congregations have used the 1797 building, which stands prominently at the head of Grafton Center’s common.
Some history: the meetinghouse was constructed by Congregationalists who didn’t want to use the existing meetinghouse in town, co-built by the Baptists. After the passage of the Toleration Act of 1819, which separated church and state, the town and church finally divided the floors of the building. The church took the second floor and added a bell tower, while town business occurred on the first floor. This relationship remained until 1963, when the meetinghouse became the sole property of the church. In 2010, the church was sold into private ownership, whereupon it became home to the Peaceful Assembly Church. Following a property tax dispute with the town, the building sustained severe fire damage in January 2016. The fire claimed the life of the resident minister, John Connell.
Graftonites feared that after the fire, the building would be demolished and the town would lose its meetinghouse. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of volunteer fire departments and the building’s massive timber frame structure, the building still stands and can be restored. This is great news to a town of 1,200. It’s easy to see how its loss would be catastrophic to the identity of Grafton and to the generations of Graftonites who have voted, worshiped, married, and mourned the passing of loved ones here.
The property is privately owned and the daunting rehabilitation project requires immediate structural stabilization and weatherization. Saving the meetinghouse will take a lot of patience, money, community buy-in, and…money. But those in Grafton know it’s worth it.
For more information, contact the Preservation Alliance at 224-2281.