Hope for St. Joseph's Church in Laconia

The Diocese has called off a sale that involved the demolition of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in downtown Laconia.


When news hit that the recently-merged parish would have to demolish the 1929 building on Church Street in order to meet the needs of a purchase and sale agreement, church members and city residents grew alarmed. Community members sought advice from the Preservation Alliance, held meetings, wrote letters to the Diocese and the Vatican, and proposed the creation of a local historic district to halt demolition.

On May 30, the NH Preservation Alliance, Tom Mayes from the National Trust, and Father Georges de Laires discussed the matter on an episode of NHPR’s The Exchange.

Unfortunately, the demolition permit was filed before any district could be created and the only real tools the Heritage Commission could wield were public pressure and a demolition delay of 30 days.

Public pressure may have paid off.

Though the demolition permit has not yet been pulled, the Diocese’s decision to renegotiate the purchase and sale agreement is a promising start. Future hurdles will include how best to reuse St. Joseph’s. The Catholic Church imposes limitations on uses for former places or worship, but we’re fortunate to have several examples of reuse here in New Hampshire, including:

-St. Keiran’s in Berlin now serves as a community center for the arts

-St. Anne’s in Manchester provides after-school programs (side note: this property will soon be for sale after the merger between NHIA and New England College)

-Sacred Heart in Concord has been converted into beautiful condominiums for ten families

For more information about developing news out of Laconia and St. Joseph’s Church, read The Laconia Daily Sun article here.

For an editorial from the Concord Monitor, click here.

Some Thoughts on NHPR's The Exchange on Preservation, or an Hour Zooms By

From Preservation Alliance executive director Jennifer Goodman: I’m a big fan of NHPR's The Exchange, so it felt extra special to be a guest and wonderful to have the show highlight historic preservation at a special event at the Belknap Mill in Laconia last week.

Belknap Mill in Laconia dates from 1823, and its revitalization was the first industrial building preservation project in the U.S. honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Check out what's happening there now  here .

Belknap Mill in Laconia dates from 1823, and its revitalization was the first industrial building preservation project in the U.S. honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Check out what's happening there now here.

I knew the hour of taping before a live audience was going to fly by, and it did. Here are four things I thought of before and after the show. Listen May 16 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on your NHPR station, and then available on-line.

Hooray for Laconia. The modern historic preservation movement stands on the shoulders of projects at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, Harrisville and Belknap Mill (where we met for the show). A group of citizens in the 1970s led by Peter Karagianis and Arthur Nighswander, with help from advisors like Richard Candee, overcame big odds to save the mill, and it was a flagship of industrial preservation at the time. We’re so glad that a new phase for the Belknap Mill Society is going well, and very excited about the redevelopment of the Colonial Theater and its catalytic potential. It’s not easy though. There has been a series of demolition in the City recently too, and lots of Lakes Region community have as many challenges as they do successes.

How great the live audience was. It was great to see representatives of the many elements of the preservation movement – elected officials, developers, volunteer leaders, old house owners and folks in the field at the live taping. Some next-generation folks as well as long-timers. You’ll love their questions! And I know they had a lot more.

It takes a village. It takes a movement. It was great that NHPR took the extra time and effort to produce a show away from their home base studios. I feel so lucky to have great Preservation Alliance colleagues, board members and partners like the Division of Historical Resources. One theme in the conversation for The Exchange was how smart, creative teams working together get things done -- that's how buildings get re-used and revived by private and public sector developers, and how communities secure and sustain preservation investment.

There are many ways to engage. It’s easy to feel too busy or disconnected and not help out with preservation work, but there really is something for everyone, and the rewards are huge. Check out this list, and tell your friends and neighbors to get on board!

Host Laura Knoy (second from right, photo below) discussed the opportunities and challenges with Jennifer Goodman - Executive Director (far right) of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, Jared Guilmett (far left) – Vice President of the Board of Directors, Belknap Mill Society and architectural designer at Misiaszek Turpin, working on the Colonial Theater project, Elizabeth Muzzey – Director of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources and State Historic Preservation Officer (not pictured), and Justin Slattery – Executive Director, Belknap Economic Development Council (second from left), developer of the Colonial Theater project.