Colonial Meetinghouses Featured in this Project
Name of Meetinghouse:   Rockingham Meeting House
Year(s) Built:   1787
National Register of Historic Places Designation:   May 16, 2000
Vermont State Register of Historic Places:   ?
Organization responsible:   Town of Rockingham, Vermont
Organization's address:   Town Offices, PO Box 370, Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Town Information:   Town of Rockingham and Bellows Falls
Additional historical information:   National Register Nomination Information
Tax status:   Municipal Government - tax exempt
Contact:   James Mullen, Municipal Manager, PO Box 370, Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Telephone:   (802) 463-3964
This page was last updated on:   December 4, 2008
Acknowledgements: This text has been taken primarily from the pamphlet The Rockingham Meeting House, published by the Town of Rockingham, and used by permission.
The Rockingham Meeting House is one of the finest examples of Colonial-style church architecture still remaining in New England, and is the oldest public building in Vermont that still exists in its original state. The meetinghouse was built between 1787 and 1801 to serve the needs of religious services and civic events in the town of Rockingham, whose first focus of settlement had been in the village immediately surrounding it. The town expected to expand rapidly and planned a meetinghouse large enough to meet its needs.
The meetinghouse has a typically Colonial interior. It has the typical three doors on the front and ends, box pews, galleries, and high pulpit. In front of and below the high pulpit is a narrow enclosed pew for the deacons, tithing men, and other church officers. It has twin porches with staircases on the end walls, similar to the meetinghouse at Fremont, New Hampshire. The building can seat nearly 1000 people, making it one of the larger rural meetinghouses in New England.
The Reverend Samuel Whiting became the first settled minister in Rockingham in October, 1773. His ordination marked the commencement of regular church services in the area. The meetinghouse was first used by the town for its March Town Meeting in 1792. At this meeting it was decided that the building would be used "for public worship and town meetings." Also on the agenda was the question of which denominations could hold their services there. Eventually, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Universalists used the meetinghouse.
As time went on, settlement in the town shifted to Bellows Falls and Saxtons River, Vermont, while the village of Rockingham remained small and rural. The Congregational Church which used the meetinghouse for its services survived only until 1839, and annual Town Meetings continued to be held there until 1869.
The building stood unused for some decades and suffered vandalism and loss of contents, but in 1906, after a fire which destroyed many buildings in the village, people of the town and the surrounding area recognized that the meetinghouse was a well-preserved historical and architectural treasure, and raised funds for its restoration.
A light-handed restoration, which was completed in 1907, was one of the earliest historic preservation projects in Vermont. The first Annual Pilgrimage celebration at the meetinghouse was held in 1907, and this event continues to cap Rockingham's Old Home Days celebration each year (typically the first Sunday in August).
Much of what stands today is original fabric from the eighteenth century: king post timber framing, woodworking details of the exterior, many of the glass panes in the 48 twenty-over-twenty windows, interior plaster work, and most of the material in the "pig pen" box pews. The pulpit was reconstructed in 1906, but the sounding board above it is original. In size and austerity, the Rockingham meetinghouse is very much a Puritan building of a style considered old-fashioned in more urban parts of New England when it was built. The elegant Georgian details, however, relieve the austerity.
The surrounding burial ground contains over one thousand graves, the oldest dating from around 1776, with some of the finest gravestone art found in New England. The nearby hearse shed and burial vault served the needs of the graveyard.
The Rockingham Meeting House was designated by the Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark on May 16, 2000. It is owned and maintained by the Town of Rockingham, Vermont.
The meetinghouse may be used as a place for weddings, baptisms, and other appropriate functions. The building has no electricity, and is not heated. Therefore, all functions must be held between June and September.