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Group raises enough cash to buy Grafton meetinghouse

  • This Aug. 21, 2017, photo provided by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance shows the Grafton Center Meetinghouse in Grafton, N.H., damaged by a fire last year. The meetinghouse, built in 1797, is on this year's "Seven to Save" list from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. (Andrew Cushing/New Hampshire Preservation Alliance via AP)

  • A newly-formed nonprofit, Mascoma Valley Preservation, signed a purchase and sale agreement with Peaceful Assembly Church board to buy the Grafton Meetinghouse on Route 4, which has been in disrepair for years. The preservation group now seeks to raise the funds to purchase and restore the building.

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

  • The town of Grafton in taking Peaceful Assembly Church to court, asking for more than $9,000 in back taxes and attorneys fees because the church hasn't meet deadlines to repair the building. The church burned in 2016, heavily damaging the building and killing founder John Connell. Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (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
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

GRAFTON — A Mascoma-area preservation group on Tuesday said it has raised enough money to buy and restore the Grafton Center Meetinghouse and was waiting for the Grafton Selectboard to take the next step.

The agenda for the Selectboard’s meeting on Tuesday night included an item to discuss, in private session, a contract under which Mascoma Valley Preservation would cover the back taxes owed by the building’s current owners, as well as the town’s legal fees. In October 2018, the town won a temporary restraining order that prevented the Peaceful Assembly Church from selling the fire-damaged building, which dates to 1797, until the church met those obligations, estimated at $22,000.

During the litigation, advocates for the preservation group said they feared the restraining order might deter potential donors from giving money toward acquisition and early renovation efforts. Despite those concerns, the group recently raised the $9,000 it needed to buy the building (for $7,000) and start patching the roof, which has been covered by tarps since the 2016 fire that killed the church’s founder and leader, John Connelly.

“We’re so excited,” Elaina Bergamini, a Grafton resident and member of the nonprofit’s board, said Tuesday, adding that if the Selectboard signed the contract, she hopes to close “sometime this week.”

Bergamini, founder of the Friends of Grafton Library, said 25 donors “pushed us right over” the goal of $9,000 three days ahead of MVP’s deadline, by contributing a total of $2,500 in response to a “challenge grant” of the same amount from “a group of individuals who pooled their money for us.”

“Word of mouth made a difference,” Bergamini said. “The age of social media makes a difference.”

The preservationists, representing all five Mascoma Valley towns, will continue to rely on interpersonal pleas as well as its Facebook page, both to continue to recruit volunteers and to raise the $50,000 they expect to need to whip the meetinghouse into shape as a community building.

“It’s been interesting to see where the donations are coming from,” Bergamini said. “We had one from Texas, and I think the farthest one so far is from Lithuania.”

As far as in-kind contributions to the group’s cause, Bergamini said a member of the community has volunteered to close the roof, and a timber-framer is advising the group on repairs to the interior, which will involve stripping the walls and floors “to the bare bones.”

If the group is able to jump into that work in earnest in the coming year, she said, the goal is to “repurpose” the building by 2024. In 2017, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance listed the structure as one of its seven most endangered historic buildings.

Mascoma Valley Preservation leaders took, as a good sign of community interest, a parade of volunteers who showed up for an early-summer clean-up day. They filled two trailers with debris from the damaged building, planted flowers and otherwise spruced up its appearance, sitting very prominently on a turn in Route 4.

“We felt this was a good, neighborly thing to do,” Bergamini said. “It’s been an eyesore for so many years. People were champing at the bit to make it look better. It looks a little more kempt now.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.