Since I've started my programming this summer, I've come to find that there are so many people who love Bear Brook State Park just as much as I do. But each of us have our own reasons. For some, Bear Brook is a second home or a summer get-away. I've met campers who have been coming to Bear Brook every year since they were born, and their kids can say the same now too. For others Bear Brook is not just a beautiful natural space, it is a step back in time, a place formed by the history of the land and how people used it. There are stone walls reminding us of the areas agricultural past, cemeteries hidden throughout the park, buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s, and some buildings that are even older.
While I was planning my programs for the summer, I was approached by the Allenstown Historical Society. They worked with the Interpretive Ranger at Bear Brook last year, and asked if I would be able to open the Old Allenstown Meeting House as a part of my regular schedule. I happily obliged. I received a thorough account of the building's life, a tour, and a key. I'd driven by the Old Allenstown Meeting House many times already, not thinking too much of it. But after spending many hours sharing the building with park visitors and getting to know the people who've cared for the building, I've come to appreciate the Old Allenstown Meeting House so much more for what it is, and also for what it represents.
Here's some of the things that I've learned. Construction began on the meeting house in 1815, and finished up in 1821. Members of the Allenstown community could purchase a box pew for $20.00. This money helped fund the construction. During the 1840s, the center of Allenstown shifted from the meeting house towards the river as mills were built in the area. The building fell into disrepair until 1908, when the Daughters of the American Revolution took ownership over and restored the Old Allenstown Meeting House. In 1985, an arsonist started a fire that burned a good portion of the building. The DAR eventually had to turn the building over to the state in 1991, the extent of the restoration efforts were beyond their means at the time. The State of NH was able to do some repairs but there was still much that needed to be done. In 2003, the Town of Allenstown took back the meeting house and put the Allenstown Historical Society in charge of the building. After many years of fundraising and reaching out to the community, they were able to complete the full restoration in December of 2013.
Every time I turn the lock and open the front door of the Old Allenstown Meeting House, I'm greeted by a breath of cool air saturated with a pleasant and unique smell. I like to imagine that it smells the same now as it did back when it was first built. I open up the windows, unfurl the open flag, and try to sit as comfortably as I can on benches that demand my normally curved spine be as straight as a ruler. I look around and see the box pews. Each containing a brief written history of the individuals that bought that space, back when the meeting house was first built. I like to think about what each of their lives was like and the conversations that filled the space between the walls where I sit.
I also think about the people who saw value in the Old Allenstown Meeting House, during the worst of its days, broken and burnt. The DAR, the State of NH, and the people of Allenstown, especially the members of the Allenstown Historical Society, all have written their efforts into the history of the building. Even through its fluctuating state, the Old Allenstown Meeting House has continued to serve its original purpose. It brought and still brings people from the community together, because of that, it continues to stand. So if you see the open flag out as you're driving by consider stopping in. Let smell and feel of the Old Allenstown Meeting House take you back to 1821, then let its story carry you into the present.
Note: The historical facts about the Old Allenstown Meeting House in this blog are from a presentation given to me by the Allenstown Historical Society.