Since I was a senior in high school, my family has been spending one week of the wonderful New England summer at Salisbury Beach – a tradition that continues to this day; and while guest lists, pets and the length of stay between my brother, my mom and dad have changed, it’s a week that I look forward to every single year.
I’m well known in the family for staying put almost the entire week. I hate leaving the beach, even if its a needed trip to the grocery store. I only get one week at the beach, and unless its raining (god forbid), you’ll find me in my beach chair. This fact became more apparent when I made plans to visit the Rocky Hill Meeting House, which is less than six miles from the beach home we have now rented for over 15 years. While this home likely would not have been open the week that we are on vacation, it gave me some great insight into the area I call home one week a year.
It’s hard to say what I was expecting to find when visiting this Meeting House, but I was beyond impressed with its stateliness and quiet, simple beauty.
- Rocky Hill Meeting House was built in 1785, and today is one of only a few unaltered eighteenth century Meeting Homes in New England. Some say it is one of the best examples, period!
- It was built to replace another meeting house, which was built in 1715 and served the West Parish of Salisbury (which was annexed into Amesbury about 100 years later). It’s location was strategically chosen, as it was on a direct route any traveler heading north would have to take.
- The building was meant for church services & town meetings, and it’s inaugural event was on December 7, 1785 for a town meeting.
- The one & only George Washington is said to have passed by the Meeting House on his way north, pausing his carriage to wave to the public. “Graffiti” was quite a popular pastime, especially on the second floor of this Meeting House, and someone took the liberty of carving “General G. Washington” into the upstairs hallway wall. There has been no research to suggest that he did this (he only signed “General Washington” on one other important war document) or that he even stepped foot out of his carriage, never mind into the Meeting House to carve his name. But still – a glimpse of George must have been thrilling for these folks! <insert “Here comes the Generallllllll” from Hamilton here>
- Throughout the next 55 years, multiple Reverend’s came and went from the Meeting House, even going without a minister from 1816 until 1835. Between new churches being built in the area, a polarizing minister or two, and the abolishment of mandatory church taxes, it seems like the Rocky Hill Meeting House was destined to cease regular church services in 1871. However, it is due to this that we have the building true to the way that it was at that time – there was no money to make any changes, so the building was rarely used going forward.
- A private group, the West Parish Society, took over the maintenance of the Meeting House in 1886, where it was occasionally used for services.
- In 1942, the West Parish Society gave the building to Historic New England, who still cares for it today, and opened it as a museum in 1970.
As mentioned above, I really wasn’t sure what to expect – but I will tell you that I was not expecting this! I can’t say that I have ever been inside a “Meeting House”, but it was simple and intricate and beautiful and plain all at the same time.
A totally different feel from downstairs – it felt less rigid, less stuffy on the second floor. That feeling was confirmed when I found out that the second floor was mostly where the children would sit – and upon looking closer at the pews (and really, everywhere) there were hundreds and hundreds of “graffiti” carvings, some dating back as early as 1803! The building really takes on a different light from this vantage point, and the acoustics from below are really shown off.
I’m always taken aback by the “everyday” items that I know hold so much history, and was immediately drawn to the handrails and very worn floor boards on the stairs going up to the second floor balcony. The Rocky Hill Meeting House would have held 700 people, with at least a few hundred on the second floor, mostly children, and I can just imagine the skirmish getting up and down these stairs. You can even see the wavy wear that thousands of pairs of shoes made on the stairs up to the door.
I can now cross off standing in a pulpit off my list! I was surprised that you were allowed to do so, and it was so cool to see the building from the view of the Reverend. The wood trim work and craftsman ship were certainly on display here, as the remainder of the Meeting House was fairly plain.
These are 100% original – have never been painted or stained, and still have all the original hardware on them. If you have any family ties to the geographical area, I highly suggest doing some research to see if you have a family box here! Family names are indicated on the outside, just above the number, and it was really neat to wander and read all the names.
- Don’t miss the organ from 1850 that is located on the second floor!
- I literally think I could have spent at least another 45 minutes cruising around the second floor, just looking at all the carvings – see how long it takes you to find the ship!
- Apparently a Tithing Rod is a real thing – definitely an incentive to stay perky during the church service, otherwise you’d get a “gentle” reminder.
- The greenish/bluish/gray paint is also original – it’s never been repainted since 1785 – crazy!
- When I first stepped into the Rocky Hill Meeting House, a quick look left me thinking “wow – cool marble columns”. A second inspection showed they were chipping, but it’s a pretty good paint job considering it’s age!
- As mentioned, this Meeting House is not open often, so ensure you check Historic New England for hours of operation, and plan your visit!
- There are no public restrooms, so hit up Dunkin Donuts right down the street before you visit