When the Town of Lee purchased the land in between the town office complex and the Lee Church Congregational (not the Lee Congregational Church) in 2018, both parties had reason to celebrate. The town needed room to expand and the church did not need the property, but welcomed the money.
The problem: not everyone in town wanted the parish house that came with the land.
This “comfortable parsonage and outbuilding” was built in 1872 at a cost of $1,523.81, according to church records. The Italianate vernacular dwelling was not ostentatious, but it did include large rooms and a front entrance with etched glass double doors and a small bracketed porch roof. Compared to the much earlier houses in Lee’s village, the parish house was modern.
The parish house served as the minister’s house until tastes changed and it made more sense to rent the house. By 2018, though, the building had sat vacant for several years and the church and town started negotiations to transfer the property.
The 2018 town meeting warrant article called for the parish house to be removed from site by July 2019, allowing for the town to start with a clean slate. The Lee Historical Society and Lee Heritage Commission are instead hoping to re-purpose the building on site and retain its presence in the village. This solution, they argue, is cheaper and more sympathetic to a village that has undergone master planning for close to a decade.
The Town of Lee is not new to preservation. Recently, several buildings on the town-owned land next door were added to the State Register of Historic Places, including the 1846 Town Hall, 1915 tool shed with tramp room, and 1874 historical society building (former South Lee freight house). Also on site is the former 1897 schoolhouse-turned library. The village also received a Plan NH charrette in 2009, which yielded public feedback like “preserve the historical buildings,” “maintain architectural integrity of the village,” and “blend the church and parsonage into the village concept.”
The challenge is to convince town leaders and community members that preserving the parish house is in the best interest for everyone. Ideas for the building’s new life include expanded space for the Lee Historical Society or incorporating it into the need for town offices.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you live in Lee, consider supporting the alternative solutions for the parish house. Get in touch with the Board of Selectmen and offer your assistance to the Heritage Commission or Historical Society.