Colonial Meetinghouses Featured in this Project
Name of Meetinghouse:   Chestnut Hill Meeting House
Year(s) Built:   1769
National Register of Historic Places Designation:   yes (1984)
Massachusetts State Register of Historic Places:   yes
Organization responsible:   Chetnut Street Meeting House and Cemetery Association (1896)
Organization's address:   PO Box 132, Millville, MA 01529-0132
Organization's web site:   Chestnut Hill Meeting House
Another good web site:   Chestnut Hill Meeting House
Town Information:   Town of Millville, Massachusetts
Nearby Attraction:   Southwick's Zoo
Tax status:   Tax Exempt 501(c)(3)
Contact:   Lincoln E. Barber III, President
Address:   226 Thayer St., Millville, MA 01529
Telephone:   (508) 735-6383
E-mail:   see web site
This page was last updated on:   February 17, 2009
Acknowledgements: The following text has been taken in part from the Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places completed by Christopher Noonan, Preservation Consultant, and Massachusetts Historical Preservation Planning Director, Sarah Zimmerman, 1984; and has been used by permission. Additional text is taken from personal communication from Margaret M. Carroll, Trustee, and NPS Volunteer Interpreter.
The Chestnut Hill Meeting House, Millville, Massachusetts, is an outstanding example of early preservation advocacy and is maintained by the Chestnut Street Meeting House and Cemetery Association, chartered in 1896. Considered a rare example of an l8th century rural meetinghouse, it has retained the majority of its fabric intact with few alterations. It shares this distinction with many such structures in New England.
It is typical of the Protestant meetinghouse form that dominated New England's ecclesiastical architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries. A central entrance on the long wall directly opposite the pulpit characterizes it. Of rectangular form, gable roof and semi-domestic appearance, the building is entered on the long elevation with the pulpit located on the opposite long wall.
Of great importance is the nearly intact retention of the original exterior and interior fabric and detailing. While a brick chimney and exterior sashes and door are l9th century additions or replacements, all other framing and exterior features date from the construction of the building. The auditorium retains its 1769 interior intact. The walls are lime plaster and retain beaded wainscot on the first floor.
The Georgian pulpit, with sounding board, features a three-sided lectern with arched, raised panels and a Doric frieze of vertical lines. The deacon's desk and bench at the base of the pulpit is accessed through a gated entrance similar to the pew arrangement.
The 26 box pews are of pegged construction with raised panels terminating in a turned spindle capped with a beaded rail. Boxed staircases leading to the gallery are at the southeast and southwest corners. The ceiling is finished with beaded, matched boards installed ca. 1900. The roof framing incorporates king post trusses in the horizontal support timbers framing system.
In the galleries on three sides of the second story the seating is of unfinished red oak. Centered between the first and second story windows is a large 15/15 double hung window surmounted by a round arched fan containing eight lights that illuminate the pulpit.
Historically, the Georgian style colonial structure was the religious center of five villages from 1769 to 1830 when it served as the South Parish of Mendon, Millville's parent town. By 1830 development of Chestnut Hill had shifted toward the Blackstone River that provided waterpower for manufacturing. With that change, several churches of other denominations had been built in the Village of Millville and religious services at the meetinghouse were on a seasonal basis. Guest ministers presented an annual service and many well-known speakers addressed issues of the times.
The building has the unique distinction of having been located in three towns without ever being moved! Originally it was sited in Mendon, Incorporated in 1667. Later, when the South Parish divided from Mendon, it was located in the Town of Blackstone (1845). In l916, Millville separated from Blackstone and the meetinghouse address was established as being in Millville.
The adjacent Chestnut Hill Burying Ground is surrounded by stone walls on three sides and an iron fence topped with an acorn motif on the fourth side. There are approximately 327 burials sites. Most of the stones are of slate or marble but a few granite and fieldstone markers can be seen. The earliest stone in the cemetery is that of Joanna Benson who died March 4, 1773 "in the fifth month of her marriage".
Twenty-four burial sites honor men associated with the meetinghouse who fought in the American Revolutionary War. More recent burials are those of devoted members of the Association, some of whom served in World War II.
Maintenance and preservation of the colonial structure has been a continuing concern since the end of the 19th century. In 1896 a private group accepted the charge of protecting and preserving the building and burying ground. On May 15, 1896, the Massachusetts Legislature granted a charter for the Chestnut Street Meetinghouse and Cemetery Association. Since then, the Association and concerned local residents have actively worked for the preservation of the structure and grounds. They continue to assure the preservation of this important 18th century treasure of remarkable integrity. Efforts are directed to raising and accumulating funds beyond annual operating and maintenance expenses.