Colonial Meetinghouses Featured in this Project
Name of Meetinghouse:   Olde Meeting House
Street Address of Meetinghouse:   470 Main St., Danville, NH
Announcement: Danville's Olde Meetinghouse will be the center of events throughout the day for Danville's Old Home Days celebration on August 26, 2012
Acknowledgements: The following text has been taken in part from correspondence with William W. Gard, and has been used by permission. Additional quotations have been taken from Eva Speare's book Colonial Meeting-Houses of New Hampshire.
Danville's Olde Meeting House was completed in 1755 by 27 men who donated material and labor as part of a successful attempt to convince the King of England to grant a charter for a new parish. Travel to the meetinghouse in Kingston for religious services was considered too far, and a new parish called Hawke, named for a British admiral, was incorporated in 1760. The structure was conveyed to the town later that year, and the pews were auctioned to the highest bidders to raise funds. The building was used for religious services through 1832, when the Baptist church was established, and for town meetings until 1886 when the new town hall was built south of here. Today it is considered the oldest such meetinghouse in the state of New Hampshire remaining in its original condition.
In 1836, the fame of the British admiral had so diminished that the name of the town was changed to Danville.
The meetinghouse at Danville is austere in its simplicity, except for its wonderful woodwork. Only in the frame of the south doorway and the hoods over the front windows were the outside walls embellished; wisely the beautification of the interior received the benefit of the meager taxes. Here is the oldest high pulpit in New Hampshire, displaying craftsmanship in every line of its panels and fluted pilasters and shapely sounding board. The balcony parapet of old growth pine panels could not be reproduced today. In contrast to this skilled workmanship are the hewn timbers that project their rough surfaces from the plastered walls.
After several generations had worshiped here and enacted the regulations of town affairs, changes in community sentiment, both sacred and secular, naturally divided the inhabitants. As told by Eva Speare in her 1938 book Colonial Meeting-Houses of New Hampshire, the news circulated one morning in the mid-1800s that one faction of dissenters has performed an act of vandalism during the previous night, of irreparable consequences. "You see, some of them wanted to dance, said a local inhabitant. So, they ripped out the pews on the lower floor one night." Said another proud descendant of those early builders, indignation filling her voice, "They never did dance a step there. The people were so enraged that no one dared to attempt it." Fortunately, the shattered pine panels were collected into the gallery to await a day when a surplus of taxes might permit this sacrilege to be obliterated. Restoration of the chambered pews, using old diagrams and much of the original material, was done in 1936 with funds donated by town benefactor, Lester A. Colby.
The Olde Meeting House is owned by the Town of Danville with maintenance and antiquity sustained by the Olde Meeting House Association, organized in 1911 for this purpose. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Danville's Old Home Day is a wonderful opportunity to see the inside of the oldest meetinghouse in the state in its original condition, and enjoy the heritage of this annual tradition since 1911. With the elevated pulpit and overhead sounding board, the chambered pews which were auctioned to the highest bidder, the segregated gallery stairways for men and women, and the pews for slaves and indentured servants, you will see nothing comparable anywhere in New Hampshire. The Danville selectmen also occasionally hold a meeting there from time to time during the warmer months.