Three of the eldest Nutfield churches are still standing tall throughout centuries of history and are the focal points of celebration and tradition as communities honor the 300th Nutfield anniversary this year.
First Parish Church in East Derry is playing a key role in the 300th anniversary, as it was the original established meetinghouse in the area, hosting the official Founders Weekend 300th kickoff schedule this past April and continuing to invite its members and the community in to see its renovation progress and history.
The current church was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure built by the area’s first European 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.
The massive restoration work 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. The 2,200-pound bell was also lifted out and stored safely.
The tower was showing its age. Wood was crumbling and was being held together basically by paint.
In 2016, the 250-ton church was meticulously raised so crews could work underneath to secure the foundation. The building was then slowly lowered back into place.
After that, a new connector project got started that will eventually hold a new elevator to help access various levels of the building. As 2017 drew to a close, the new 60-foot tall corner posts were hoisted up and lowered carefully into the frame of the tower.
In June of this year, 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.
Once back together, the weather vane on top was gleaming in the sun.
The First Parish renovation project also includes interior work on the sanctuary and other rooms. Services have been held in the Currier Hall at First Parish while major work is being done.
Other churches in Nutfield towns can also say they have been towering over their communities for generations.
The Windham Presbyterian church was founded in 1742 with its first pastor, the Rev. William Johnston. The first structure was located atop Copp’s Hill, now known as Cemetery Hill. In 1798, a new meetinghouse was built that is now the Town Hall and the original building was taken to Salem to become a private family home.The current church building was built in 1835 and several years later, a bell was installed.
Londonderry’s Presbyterian Church honors its roots and history dating back to 1735 when David MacGregor, son of the Rev. James MacGregor, original Nutfield founding father, became its minister and led services at various locations around the area. Church officials say the church is believed to be the oldest continuing Presbyterian church north of Boston and the current sanctuary at the corner of Pillsbury and Mammoth roads, is the most recent and was built and dedicated in 1838.