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Before rehab, preservationists wrap Grafton meetinghouse ahead of winter

  • Elaina Bergamini, of Grafton, N.H., and Jamie Jukosky, of Canaan, N.H., work on installing quilt panels on the windows of the Grafton Center Meetinghouse on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Members of Mascoma Valley Preservation and community members spent the day preparing the building for winter in Grafton. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left Sue Jukosky, Andrew Cushing and Chris Jukosky, all of Grafton, N.H., work on covering a large hole in the Grafton Center Meetinghouse during a workday in Grafton on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Members of Mascoma Valley Preservation worked on the building to get it ready for winter. Cushing is the president of the nonprofit.. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Melissa Allen, left, of North Canaan, N.H., and Judith Kushner, of Canaan, N.H., decide which quilt panel will be used during a workday at the Grafton Center Meetinghouse in Grafton, N.H., on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Members of Mascoma Valley Preservation and the community were getting the building ready for winter. Both women are members of the nonprofit. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2019 9:22:10 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 6:27:23 PM

GRAFTON CENTER — The Grafton Center Meetinghouse will look a bit less haunted this Halloween than it did the last three, thanks to its new owners.

In addition to cleaning debris from inside and around the historic former church Saturday, volunteers from the nonprofit Mascoma Valley Preservation started cloaking it against winter, in part by covering windows with more than a dozen plywood panels painted in bright, quilt-style designs.

“It’s going to look so much better, not just a rough building” treasurer Elaina Bergamini said after the first panel went up on a first-floor window. “It’s been through a rough time.”

Besides sprucing up the facade of the 1797-vintage meetinghouse, almost four years after a fire tore through the then-Peaceful Assembly Church, the art installation will jump-start the preservation group’s campaign to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore it as a community gathering place. After new windows are installed in 2020, Mascoma Valley Preservation will sell the panels, expected to number at least 20, for between $300 and $500 each.

“We were doing some brainstorming, and somebody said, ‘What about barn quilts?’ ” board secretary Melissa Allen, a Lebanon schoolteacher who lives in North Canaan, said while carrying debris from inside to a dumpster. “As we went along we got to the point of saying, ‘We could use it as a fundraiser.’ ”

Allen, a traditional cloth quilter, came up with the patterns — “mostly from Civil War-era designs” — and artist Sandy Griffin, who lives on the village common across Route 4 from the meetinghouse, invited volunteers into the studio behind her house to prepare the panels for painting of the designs. Griffin and an assistant were putting the finishing touches on several panels on Saturday.

“Once they’re installed, I’m going to be able to sit at my kitchen window and see them smiling back at me,” Griffin said.

And once the panels are sold, she said, she looks forward to watching the meetinghouse become a hive of activity again, if in a more secular form than the Congregational Church that occupied it when she and her husband moved here from Connecticut in 2007.

“It was the quintessential New England setting,” Griffin recalled. “We could hear the choir practicing. We’d see the youth groups out on the green playing afterward. It was very embracing and heartwarming.”

It was, well, different, after the Congregationalists sold the building in 2010 to John Connell, who founded his Peaceful Assembly Church. Connell made changes that include painting the church’s outside trim purple and painting the parking lot in rainbow colors — which remain to this day.

(A fiberglass spire on the Grafton Center Meetinghouse was installed by the Grafton Congregational Christian Church in the 1980s and the vinyl siding was attached in the 1990s.)

Along the way, Connell ran afoul of town officials, claiming that because he was running a church, he should not pay taxes on the property. After the arrears in taxes grew to $14,000, the Selectboard voted in early 2016 to start the process of taking possession of the building by tax deed. Shortly thereafter, the church caught fire, and after firefighters saved the structure, Connell was found inside, dead from smoke inhalation.

Peaceful Assembly’s leaders subsequently pledged to restore the meetinghouse in return for receiving tax-exempt status, but while some work was done in the immediate aftermath, the charred holes in the north-facing wall and roof remained covered by unsightly tarps, and renovations appeared to stall.

“It was sad to see the deterioration,” Griffin said. “It sat there for years.”

In October 2018, the town won a temporary restraining order that prevented Peaceful Assembly from selling the meetinghouse until the church met its tax obligations, which had grown to $22,000. Finally, this past summer, the Selectboard cleared the way for Mascoma Valley Preservation to buy the property, in return for the nonprofit covering the back taxes the church owed, as well as the legal fees the town incurred.

Once the sale went through, donations started coming in, including $10,000 from a man in Manhattan who said in a letter that he had admired the building while pedaling by on a bike. Mascoma Valley Preservation also is working with the statewide preservation groups on grant arrangement for the first phase of renovations.

In the meantime, the barn quilts are up for everyone to see.

“I think people will appreciate it,” Bergamini said. “I think we’ve managed to turn around the consensus in town about keeping the building up and turning it into something for the community.

“It shows that we’re going to be OK.”

To learn more about the rehabilitation effort for the Grafton Center Meet inghouse, visit mascomavalleypreservation.org/ .

Davi d Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction

The spire on the Grafton Center Meetinghouse was installed by the Grafton Congregational Christian Church in the 1980s and the vinyl siding was attached in the 1990s. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described who was responsible for the changes.

 




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