Washington meeting house

2019 Preservation Achievement Award: Town of Washington

The 1787 Meetinghouse in Washington has been restored due to the tenacity of local leaders, combined with excellent community outreach, which led to the passage of a $1.281 million bond for restoration and rehabilitation.

The 1787 Meetinghouse in Washington has been restored due to the tenacity of local leaders, combined with excellent community outreach, which led to the passage of a $1.281 million bond for restoration and rehabilitation.

Elizabeth Durfee Hengen Award

 With partners: Milestone Engineering & Construction; Daniel V. Scully Architects; Russell Downing, P.E.; Thayer Fellows, P.E.; WV Engineering Associates, PA; Winn Mountain Restorations, LLC, and Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

Crews raised the frame of Washington’s iconic meetinghouse on July 4, 1787. Since its completion, the building has served as the civic, emotional and cultural heart of the town.

Originally, when the Washington Congregational Church and town shared the use of the building, the building had a twin porch design, with exterior stairwells connecting the ground floor to the mezzanine on the second floor. In 1825, the bell tower replaced one porch, the church built their own building in 1840, and later in the 19th century, the lower box pews were removed and the building was bifurcated to create an assembly hall on the second floor.  

This second floor space, with its large windows, stage and scenic curtain, served as the town’s favorite go-to public space until it was abruptly closed in 1992 for not being ADA compliant. For decades the town debated the best course of action for the meetinghouse, ranging from restoring the original layout to the construction of a large addition.

Conflicting budget priorities and a make-do attitude stalled progress and in 2014, the meetinghouse was placed on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s Seven to Save list. Fortunately, the tenacity of local leaders, combined with excellent community outreach, led to the passage of a $1.281 million bond for restoration and rehabilitation. After five attempts in five years, the measure finally passed 135 to 26.

The rehabilitation included lifting the building and pouring a new foundation, the replacement of all mechanical and electrical systems, replacing rotted sills, the installation of a new fire protection system, restoration of the main level, and the construction of a rear addition. An LCHIP grant helped restore all of the original windows and fund the purchase of new, better storms. Lastly, a grand finale fundraising campaign raised $225,000 in private contributions to install an elevator and finish bathrooms in the new addition.

The final results are a testament to the persistence and generosity of those who are lucky enough to call this town of 1,100 people home, and to the enduring legacy that this “Sacred Deposit” has in Washington.