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Preservation group signs deal to buy fire-damaged meetinghouse in Grafton

  • The meetinghouse, at right, in Grafton Center, N.H., in a 1950s photograph. (Courtesy photograph)

  • An engineer has advised the Town of Grafton, N.H., that the Peaceful Assembly Church poses a “significant hazard to public safety” due to structural problems caused in a 2016 fire. A crow flies over the building, where roof damage has worsened over the winter, Sunday, March 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 17, 2019

GRAFTON — A local preservation group hoping to save and restore the fire-damaged former Grafton Center Meetinghouse is a step closer to its goals.

Officials with Mascoma Valley Preservation on Sunday evening signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with Peaceful Assembly Church to buy the historic landmark, which was built in 1797-98 and heavily damaged by a fire in January 2016.

Andrew Cushing, the president of the preservation group, said they agreed to buy the old meetinghouse for about $7,000, with a closing expected to happen on or by July 6.

“We’re about halfway there. We need about $4,000 more,” he said Monday. “We’re pretty confident we can raise that.”

The group also plans to petition Grafton residents at Town Meeting next year to waive back taxes and fees owed on the building, which could be more than $20,000, Cushing said.

But acquiring the meetinghouse now will allow Mascoma Valley Preservation to begin taking steps to protect and restore the church, which an engineer earlier this year said poses a “significant hazard to public safety” in its current form.

Parts of the old meetinghouse, which was bought by Peaceful Assembly Church in 2010, have been exposed to the elements since the 2016 fire, which killed church founder John Connell and damaged the roof, walls and bell tower.

Cushing said his group wants to get “momentum” going before going to Town Meeting to ask for the waiver.

“We’re expecting by then there will be a temporary roof on the building and people will see progress, and we’re confident voters will see it’s a cost-effective measure and a way to get the building moving forward,” Cushing said.

The building, which was built by congregationalists who didn’t want to share an existing space with Baptists, was listed as one of the “Seven to Save” by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance in 2017.

The Mascoma preservation group has said it wants the building to again be community space, and perhaps a library.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.