DERRY — It's a towering project that will help honor a special occasion in 2019.
When the area's original Nutfield settlement celebrates its 300th anniversary three years from now, one historic church will be ready.
First Parish Congregational Church will be a focal point for the celebration and is now undergoing major renovations projects and repairs.
The church is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is thought to be the oldest structure in town and one of the oldest New England meetinghouses still operating today.
The landscape on the hill in east Derry has been changed since last year when the church tower was separated and dismantled for some major repair work.
Timber experts detached the top portion of the tower last year and recently dismantled it further so parts can be taken to a safe location in Nottingham for more work
That included breaking down parts of the tower into smaller pieces to be transported away. The 2,200-pound bell was also lifted out.
Timber expert Arron Sturgis, owner of Preservation Timber Framing, leads the project.
Last year, Sturgis said the work was meticulous, but a much-needed repair at this time for this historic wooden gem.
"There is extreme rot damage in the tower," Sturgis said. "We are here none too soon. It's time to do this."
The current church was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure built by the area's earliest settlers. The tower was added in 1824.
The restoration work is part of a multi-year rehabilitation project, said Paul Lindemann, a member of the church rehabilitation committee and also part of the town's 300th anniversary effort.
He said parishioners have been extremely generous with giving toward the capital campaign to finance the work.
Funding for the tower removal and other earlier rehabilitation projects came from years of preservation donations and a campaign drive within the church.
Work over the next several years includes not only the current tower project but also lifting the building to rebuild the foundation, adding an elevator that will access several levels, more frame and roof repairs and doing restoration work on the interior.
Having the tower work done in a warmer, more sheltered, secure location is best, Lindemann said.
Lindemann also appeared before the Town Council recently to offer information on how Derry might honor Nutfield's 300th anniversary.
There will be a lot of planning and many opportunities for town groups and organizations to be involved.
Londonderry and Windham, also part of the original settlement, are putting their own anniversary committees in place.
"We want to work with them," Lindemann said, "and all the groups within the town."
Lindemann said the official anniversary is April 12, when the first official sermon was preached with the 16 original families that settled here.
Using that date as the kickoff point, Lindemann said celebrations could continue well into the summer of 2019 to include many different activities highlighting the rich history of Derry.
First Parish will play a key role, he said, as it was the original established meeting house of Derry's earliest pioneers.