NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 13, 2014

Protecting the town's 'showcase'

Voters urged to OK funding to restore Old South Meetinghouse

(Continued)

Given Old South Meetinghouse’s distinguished history, those with an eye on both the past and future believe the improvements would serve not only the building, but the community as well.

According to Planning Board member Jason Janvrin, when the board surveyed residents and business owners along the northern corridor of Route 1, most said they hold the Old South Meetinghouse in high esteem.

Historical Society member Bruce Brown believes the building represents Seabrook’s struggle during the 18th century to cast its fate with New Hampshire and not Massachusetts. Seabrook sits on land originally claimed as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Brown said. But in 1740, three commissioners traveled to England over the dispute on Seabrook’s fate.

Among them was Seabrook’s Nathaniel Weare, who convinced King George II that New Hampshire was more loyal to the crown than its neighbor to the south. As a result, the king set New Hampshire’s border 3 miles north of the Merrimack River, making Seabrook part of the Granite State.

Shortly after, when residents grew disenchanted with the Congregational Church of Hampton Falls where they had worshiped, Seabrook residents received permission from the state General Assembly to incorporate as an independent town. So, in 1764, the Old South Meetinghouse was built by the Presbyterian Society, and the town was named after the Lord Seabrook, the Earl of coastal Seabrook, England.

For centuries after that, Old South Meetinghouse was the nexus of the town’s religious, governmental and social structure. It was the site of nearly all community functions for more than a century. Religious worship took place on the second floor under various denominations until 1980, according to Brown, and Seabrook’s annual Town Meetings were held on the first floor until 1954.

Inside, there are more treasures. For example, Old South Meetinghouse has a 178-year-old organ, built in 1838 by Newburyport native Richard Pike Morss. The instrument was originally constructed for Line Congregational Church in Seabrook, which sat on the border with Hampton Falls.

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