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February 13, 2014

Protecting the town's 'showcase'

Voters urged to OK funding to restore Old South Meetinghouse

SEABROOK — You don’t have to be a Seabrook native to have a tender spot in your heart for the Old South Meetinghouse, which stands at the town’s gateway. It is the keeper of 250 years of history, and maybe of the future, if residents act soon.

“It is the showcase of the town of Seabrook,” Selectman Aboul Khan said of the white steepled structure. “There is a lot of history in there. We need to preserve this building.”

Khan was speaking at this year’s Deliberative Town Meeting session in hopes of persuading voters to approve at the polls on March 11 a warrant question asking for $43,000 to make badly needed repairs to the distressed building. He spoke to those who know its vast history and those who don’t.

A native of what is now Bangladesh who emigrated to the United States in 1981, Khan bought a business in town in 2001. A naturalized American citizen, he and his family have lived in Seabrook for 13 years, and he’s come to appreciate what the Old South Meetinghouse represents.

And it represents quite a lot, according to Seabrook Historical Society’s president, Eric Small. Built in 1764, it not only was the center in the formative years of the town and this nation, but it also served as Seabrook’s Town Hall from 1768 to 1954.

But now, the building at the corner of routes 1 and 107 is in disrepair, especially on the south side. Repeated rounds of painting over the past decades haven’t held up long, with the old wooden clapboards deteriorating more quickly every time. The windows need to be restored, and there’s other work that needs to be done as well.

Small and others believe it’s time to try something else. Instead of painting the existing siding again for tens of thousands of dollars, if residents vote to protect the historical icon, white cement clapboards would replace the wooden ones there now. The cement siding is more fire resistant, he said, and would be more economical than painting because they don’t need as much maintenance over the years. They’ve worked well on Hampton Falls’ historic Town Hall and old library, he added.

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