, Newburyport, MA

March 6, 2013

Piece of Seabrook's past needs face-lift

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SEABROOK — The Old South Meetinghouse stands like a guardian at Seabrook’s entryway, and for nearly 250 years has represented the town’s place in this nation better than any other local artifact.

But the old girl’s showing her age pretty badly. Many in town are hoping voters will come to her aid at the polls next Tuesday by approving warrant Article 34, which requests the money for much-needed restoration.

The $43,000 requested would replace the building’s white clapboards and restore the windows, bringing back the dignity of the edifice that was built in 1764. It’s located at the intersection of routes 1 and 107.

“The building has fallen into disrepair, especially on its south side,” said Seabrook Historical Society member Bruce Brown. “This building is historic and very important. It really tells how Seabrook came into being.”

The money would be spent on replacing the current deteriorating clapboards with cement clapboards. Similar replacements were used to renovate the exteriors of other historic buildings, like the Old Library and Town Hall in nearby Hampton Falls.

Cement clapboards are believed to be a good choice because, although they look the same as those made of wood, they’re more fire resistant and don’t need as much maintenance over the years. Given Old South Meetinghouse’s distinguished history, those with an eye on both and past and future believe the improvements would be well served.

Brown said although the land upon which Seabrook sits was originally claimed as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Seabrook’s struggle to cast its fate with New Hampshire goes back to 1740. It was then that a delegation of three commissioners traveled to England over the dispute, among them Nathaniel Weare, who was living in what would become Seabrook.

Weare convinced King George II that New Hampshire was more loyal to the crown than its neighbor to the south.

“And it was then that the king set the border of New Hampshire three miles north of the Merrimack River,” Brown said. “And so we became part of New Hampshire.”

When residents later grew disenchanted with the Congregational Church of Hampton Falls where they worshiped, those living in Seabrook petitioned New Hampshire’s General Assembly to incorporate as a town of their own. Permission granted, in 1764, the Old South Meetinghouse was built by the Presbyterian Society, and the town took its name from a place in England.

“Samuel Pearl named the town after his friend the Lord of Seabrook, who was Earl of Seabrook, England,” Brown said. “If you look on a map of England, you can still find Seabrook; it’s along the coast just south of Dover.”

From that point on Seabrook’s Old South Meetinghouse played a role in almost every facet of town life, religious, governmental and social. It was the site of nearly all community functions for more than a century. Religious worship took place upstairs under changing denominations until 1980, and Seabrook’s annual Town Meetings were held on the first floor until 1954.

“I remember going to church upstairs with my mother,” Brown said. “And I remember going to Town Meetings with my father, who was the police chief. The town moderator back then was Earl Moreland, and he had a job keeping order.”

In 1774, residents met there to discuss issues relevant to what would become the American Revolution. And it was at Old South Meetinghouse that local men enlisted to fight in this nation’s War for Independence, as well as the Civil War.

The building still has good bone structure, and it is statuesque and graceful in its architecture, from its spire down. But like most historical icons, it needs a helping hand to survive. Brown’s hoping voters will treasure what the building represents, for it would be very difficult to image the town without Old South Meetinghouse, the sentinel that’s been there since Seabrook first came into being.