2009 SEVEN TO SAVE NOMINATION
FIRST PARISH CHURCH, EAST DERRY, NEW HAMPSHIRE
1. Significance of the Property
First Parish Church was established by the original founders of old Nutfield, which today
includes Derry, Londonderry, Windham, and parts of Manchester. The Church building’s
prominent physical setting — at the top of a hill on a main road in East Derry’s Upper
Village— and its vital role in both the religious and the community lives of surrounding
towns make it one of the more significant buildings in Southern New Hampshire.
Historical Significance (from a 1994 report by Architectural Historian James Garvin):
The First Parish Church is a remodeled eighteenth-century meeting house that originally
served both civic and religious purposes in its community. The building was raised in 1769
and altered and enlarged in 1824. In 1845 the structure was divided into two stories. With the
church taking sole custody of a lofty meeting room on the second story and gaining some
additional rooms on the first, and with the town continuing to use a hall on the first floor for
town meetings. The church room was again remodeled in 1884, with new furnishings, new
finish, and new memorial windows.
Since that time, the structure has stood largely unaltered, although it has a modern addition to
its south to accommodate expanded programs. The building is one of the most historic in
southern New Hampshire, embodying much history of its community and at the same time
recalling the broader history of its original use by the Scot-Irish Presbyterian settlers whose
progeny populated much of the southern portion of the state.
Architectural Significance (Comments from National Historic Register listing):
The First Church is a 2 level, 4 bay wide rectangle with a 4 level tower square in plan.
Originally constructed in 1769. The church was enlarged in 1824 by cutting the building in
half and inserting 24 feet into the middle. The tower, which was also added in 1824 by
Nehemiah Choate, A Deacon of the Church and builder of several of the homes within the
District, is surmounted by an open square belfry with corner pilasters supporting a frieze and
mutulary cornice. Above the belfry is an octagonal superstructure with louvered, arched
opening. Finally another octagonal superstructure surmounted by finals and weathervane
completes the steeple. The main building of the Church has a gable roof with cornice returns,
a block cornice and slate roof, and a coursed granite block foundation. The roof timbers are
hand-hewn, 15 X 18 inches in size.
Besides having religious services,. The Church Building is used by many organization. The
old structure has held many community suppers, plays, concerts, weddings, funerals, poetry
readings, historical re-enactments – plus the sanctuary provides a serene place for those who
feel the occasional need for peace and quiet in this busy world.
First Parish Church, East Derry Seven to Save Application - 2009 Page 2
2. Property’s Age and Current Condition
First Parish Church was built in 1769, enlarged in 1824, and reconfigured to two stories in
1845, and further remodeled and restored in 1884. The Tower base is believed to be original,
the upper part was changed in 1824.
The building currently needs considerable repair to interior and exterior features, including
new roofing, a new coat of exterior paint, and repair to architectural trim. Much more
significant, however, are the results from an engineering report commissioned in 2002 that
call for major structural repair of the foundation level, both floor levels, and the roof level.
(Foley & Buhl Engineering, Manchester, Oct. 2001 – Jan. 2002).
3. The Threat to the Property and Efforts to Preserve it Thus Far
The 2002 engineering report estimated the project cost for the urgent structural repairs at
$814,870. Lack of funds have kept this work from commencing.
Practical efforts to achieve the restructuring goals renewed in 2008 and 2009, first with the
Church participating in the New Dollars/New Partners program (by Partners for Sacred
Places) to lay a foundation for eventual fund raising, and second with a dialogue including
plans and estimates for various repair projects from Arron J. Sturgis of Preservation Timber
Framing Inc. in Maine. Efforts would likely begin with historically-correct repairs to the
underlying roof structure and repair and replacement of the slate roof and copper flashings at
an estimated cost of $310, 472. It appears that the total cost for all the necessary structural
repairs will approach one million dollars.
Many smaller-scale restorations and repairs have been accomplished in the past twenty years,
mostly handled by volunteers and supported by various fund raising projects. Highlights
• The tower was in danger of separating from the building and in 1992-98, after much
fund raising, it was restored at a cost of $400,00.
• Three Stained Glass Windows were restored in 1979 and two more in 1998; the cost
• Preparations for the 224th Anniversary in 1994 included interior and exterior painting,
refinishing of the stairway, and preservation and display of many artifacts and papers.
• The window shutters (blinds) were removed and repaired, restored or replaced by
volunteers in 1984-99.
The only remaining original windows (located in the tower base) are scheduled for
restoration by Dave Bowers, Window Rehabilitator, in late 2009.
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4. Possible Solutions to Save the Property
The Church members have been struggling with deficit budget problems for years. The cost
of preserving and maintaining the beautiful building is enormous, beyond our financial
abilities. However, we feel it must be saved for future generations. The newer buildings
(Noyes and Currier) are in constant use by rentals or community groups, but that does not
bring in enough funds for restoration.
Armed with principles and techniques we’ve learned from the New Dollars/New Partners
program, we are developing a plan to conduct a major, area-wide restoration fund raising
effort over the next several years. This will likely be aimed at 2019 for the 300th anniversary
of the settling of Nutfield and establishment of First Parish Church.
Inclusion on the Seven to Save list now will provide the excellent external endorsement and
public visibility we need to successfully launch this plan.
5. Opposition to Preservation
As far as we know, there is no opposition to the preservation of this property.
6. Organizations and Groups Supporting Preservation
• East Derry Village Improvement Society
Mr.Webb Palmer – President – (603)432-7212
• Heritage Commission – Town of Derry
Chairman Rick Holmes - (603)4343-6042
• First Parish Church Council
Mr. Lee DeBell – (603)746-6077
• Derry News
Mr. Bill Gilman – Editor – (603)437-7000
• Mr. Ken Gould – N.H. State Representative
7. Supporting Material
• Photographs — printed elevations and interior views; these and many more photos
are on the attached CD.
• Articles/News Clippings — printed samples attached; full scans are on the CD.
• Locator Map — attached (from the Derry NH GIS system).
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8. Additional Recommendations and Comments
On a final note, we offer this description from the Two Hundredth Anniversary of
Londonderry, NH (1719-1919):
“The Church is now a conspicuous and imposing structure, a beacon set upon a hill,
compelling the vision in all the surrounding county, eighty five feet in length, with a
lofty and beautiful bell tower and spire.”
Little has changed since then, except the structure is showing its age and need help in
restoration. – as an aside, Allen Shepard Sr., father of the astronaut, was organist at the above
event and served as organist to the Church for 50 years. The Memorial Chimes are in honor