For two of the area's most historic and elder places of worship, the celebration continues to honor the beginnings of faith in what was originally known as "Nutfield."

When a band of 16 Scottish-Irish families trekked to New England from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, centuries ago to start a new life, they brought along a strong sense of faith and leadership in their ministers, including the Rev. James MacGregor.

MacGregor's legacy and life have been honored all this year as the 300th anniversary of the original Nutfield settlement is celebrated. That includes local churches opening their doors for history and fellowship.

The Londonderry Presbyterian Church hosted a day of Nutfield birthday events on Oct. 27, with special services, music, history talks and special guests from Northern Ireland.

This weekend, First Parish Church in East Derry will also continue the Nutfield celebration, hosting tours of the historic meetinghouse, tours of nearby Forest Hill Cemetery and a fundraising dinner to support ongoing church preservation efforts.

According to history records, soon after MacGregor preached his first sermon in the new world in 1719 at a spot near Beaver Lake in Derry, others settled in another direction in what is now Londonderry, building homes and bringing a strong sense of faith along.

Londonderry Presbyterian Church records show that in 1735, a number of settlers were granted permission to establish a Presbyterian church there, with MacGregor's son David taking charge of regular worship at various meeting sites.

In 1835 during a parish meeting, a warrant article was approved to build a meeting house "for the use of said West Parish in Londonderry."

A building was completed in 1837, with various additions and renovations done over the course of generations. It is believed to be one of the oldest and most historic Presbyterian churches in New England.

At the recent celebration, church Pastor Karla Dias said it's been a blessing to serve the church.

"It's filled with history, filled with people," she said.

The Londonderry church also welcomed a nine-member history contingent from Aghadowey, Northern Ireland, wanting to honor the Presbyterian history in Londonderry and also learn more about MacGregor's start in what is now Derry and beyond.

On Monday afternoon, two members of the Irish contingent also stopped by Derry's Municipal Center to meet with town councilors and administrators with each side exchanging gifts to honor the strong relationship between this area and Northern Ireland.

Michelle Knight-McQuillan and Lynda McAuley learned about how Derry governs its town and heard more about the historic sites in this area.

Other Irish group members visited Derry Village Elementary School to set up an official pen pal program between students from both sides of the Atlantic.

Knight-McQuillen said the group began the trip to America in the hopes to learn more about where MacGregor and his pioneer families settled.

"We are very privileged to be here," Knight-McQuillen said. "It's an honor to share our history with you. Coming here and visiting the pilgrims' sites, it's an understanding of what they went through, it makes it more real for us (to go back) and relay that information."

First Parish Church is considered the original Nutfield meetinghouse.

The current church was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure built by the area’s first settlers. The tower was added in 1824. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, once rang its bells and served on its building committee.

A massive restoration project got underway in 2011 when a First Parish team completed an analysis of what projects were deemed the most urgent and structured a multi-year work plan. In 2015, the church tower was separated and dismantled for repair work under the guidance of Arron Sturgis, owner of Preservation Timber Framing.

This past June, the church steeple/tower was reconnected in a show of history in the making, with many people gathered on the meetinghouse lawn to watch crews meticulously raise the upper portion of the structure to rejoin the remainder the tower.

The First Parish renovation project also includes interior work on the sanctuary and other rooms.

The Nov. 2 First Parish schedule includes tours of the meetinghouse from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; a luncheon is served from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m.; Forest Hill Cemetery tours take place at 1:30 and again at 2:30 p.m., and the evening dinner event hosted by Friends of the Meetinghouse, is 6 to 9 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry.

The night includes updates on the First Parish restoration work, silent auction featuring items and remnants from the meetinghouse itself, and other donated items from area businesses, and raffles. The Irish visitors will also be part of the First Parish schedule of events with special services and reception in their honor.

For information and tickets for the Saturday night dinner, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/389525388664799.

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