Plainfield Town Hall
Plainfield, NH. Location: Route 12A
Site Type: Town Hall
UTMs: (Zone 18) E: 713750. N: 4823470.
National Register Nomination Information:
Exterior Architectural Description:
The facade of the Town Hall is dominated by a windowless projecting gable. The central entrance contains a six panel wooden door capped by a six light transom above which a wooden plaque reads: "Town Hall/Plainfield N.H./ Inc.1761". Three concrete steps with a cast iron pipe railing on the right, rise to meet the doorway. To the right of the entrance is a glass-enclosed notice board. To each side of the doorway is a twenty light fixed sash window, half the size of the windows on the slide elevations. Although it may appear that the windows were originally larger and the upper portion was filled-in with clapboarding, the original construction agreement for the building specifies the half windows seen today. Blinds. apparently originally flanked the windows. The only other window on the facade is a small 6/6 doublehung sash above and to the left of the main doorway. Six inch wide plain cornerboards and a wide clapboarded baseboard frame the simple structure which features a projecting boxed cornice. In the front gable the eaves do not protrude from the front wall surface. Symmetrical plantings on either side of the concrete steps partially obscure the the facade. This landscaping consists of lilac trees, fir trees and assorted shrubbery. In front of the greenery on either side of the stairs is a concrete flower box, presently unfilled.
On the south elevation, three tall 20/20 doublehung sash windows with simple surrounds mark the original section of the building. A single casement window is cut into the fieldstone foundation. In the original section but adjacent to first addition, is a four panelled wooden door. Seven cast iron steps complete with a handrail lead to this side entranceway. The south elevation of the stage addition contains two 15/15 doublehung sash windows. There are only two other features on this section's south elevation: a single light casement window in the concrete foundation and a single panelled wooden door leading under the stage area. The south side of the shed addition, which.is only ten feet wide, contains a square panelled door leading into a storage area.
The rear or east elevation of the shed section contains two 15/15 doublehung windows, behind which are the dressing rooms for the stage area. A tall brick chimney projects from the shed roof north of the ridge.
Five windows light the north elevation. Like those on the other side elevation the two of the rear section are 15/15 while the three in the front are 20/20. A corbel-capped brick chimney protrudes from either side of the ridge near the front of the building.
A dirt driveway is located along the south side of the Town Hall with the remains of an outbuilding's concrete foundation located at the end of the driveway.
The original floor of the town hall was laid with floorboards salvaged from the old meeting house located in another part of town. The Town Meeting of 1846 describes the seating: "The seats are the same thickness stuff as those in Lebanon (NH) townhouse and finished in the same manner with good merchantable pine stuff."(1)
In 1908 the tiers of seats were removed and the floor relaid. The seats were replaced with benches and .tables, and at the same time kerosene lighting was installed. In 1915, the kerosene lighting was replaced with electricity.
The most important aspect of the interior is the stage set designed by local resident, Maxfield Parrish in 1916. The backdrop portraying nearby Mt.Ascutney, adds color and life to the entire auditorium. Painted in tones of blue and purple, the backdrop was designed to portray varying skies, from daybreak to dusk depending on the stage lighting used. Parrish also designed the six side props which flank the woodland scene, consisting of birch and oak trees with large boulders. The set and props were painted by unidentified professional scenepainting technicians, following Parrishıs design, using gouache or tempera paints.
The Plainfield Town Hall has both local and national significance. At the local level, the building is significant because of its importance in the areas of architecture and theatre. At the national level, the Town Hall is significant because it contains a stage backdrop and wings designed by famous painter Maxfield Parrish.
The builders of the Town Hall were Bradbury Dyer and Col. Charles Eggleston. Eggleston (1787-1858), a master builder in the Plainfield-Cornish area also is thought to have been responsible for the Baptist Church (1840) and Blow-me-down Grange in Plainfield and the United Church of Cornish Center (1841-2) among other designs. Much of his work resembles that of Ammi Burnham Young (1798-1874), a Lebanon architect who later gained national prominence.
A detailed account of the erection of the Plainfield Town Hall was recorded at town meeting in March of 1846. The Town of Plainfield paid the builders eight hundred dollars to complete the job. The contract include the dismantling of the first Plainfield Meeting House built in 1804, and reusing its materials on the new structure. The specifications given at the 1846 town meeting recreate a structure very similar to the one now standing minus its two rear later additions. Constructed in 1916 to accommodate a stage these additions continue the lines of the original structure without diminishing its simple effect.
In 1885, the famous American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens arrived in Cornish, the town south of Plainfield, where he set up a studio. His presence in the area attracted other artists and eventually this group of artists was refereed to as the Cornish Colony. The Cornish Colony was composed of both summer and year-round residents who were writers, poets, artists and actors. Among the more famous residents of the Cornish Colony were: Winston Churchill (1871-1947) a novelist; Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959), actress; Peter Finley Dunne (1867-1944), humorist; Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), an artist and illustrator; and William Vaughn Moody (1869-1910), a poet and playwright. Another famous frequenter of the Cornish Colony was etcher and painter Stephen Parrish. In the summers when Stephen Parrish would set up studio in Cornish, he would bring his son Maxfield with him.
Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was born in Philadelphia in 1870, graduated from Haverford College in 1888, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1892. After gaining fame as a magazine cover designer for Harpers, Scribners, Colliers, Life and the Ladies Home Journal, Maxfield decided to settle in Plainfield to be able to work in peace and quiet. His original home, The Oaks, burned in 1979,but the studio, begun in 1905, still survives about a half mile south of the Plainfield Town Hall.
Beside designing magazine covers, Parrish also designed posters, advertisements, calendars, greeting cards, murals and theatre scenery. So when William Howard Hart, a landscape artist of the Cornish Colony, asked Parrish to design the set for the Plainfield Town Hall Stage in 1916, Parrish gladly obliged, Parrish's 16 x 22: rendition of Mt. Ascutney was then gridded and enlarged by a professional painting firm on the backdrop canvas, painting each square separately from the corresponding grid of Parrish's original.
After the stage was built, the Town Hall was the scene of many plays by groups such as the Ladies Aid of the Baptist Church and the Mother's and Daughter's Club. Perhaps its most famous group of actors and actresses was the Howard Hart Players. Albert Boyd, a writer, artist and Plainfield summer resident, created the Howard Hart Players Group in honor of the benefactor of the Plainfield Town Hall stage, William Howard Hart. Many of the Cornish colony artists who spent their summers in Plainfield and Cornish participated in the Howard Hart Players.
Briggs, Frederick A. "Rambles in Plainfield." Claremont, NH: The National Eagle, September through October 1886.
Colby, Virginia. "Stephen and Maxfield Parrish in New Hampshire," Antiques Magazine, June 1979.
Hood, Vernon. A History of Plainfield: a collection of papers. (No specific date)
Ludwig, Coy. Maxfield Parrish. New York, N.Y.: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1973
Quimby, William C. "A Brief History of Plainfield, N.H." Wesleyan University Thesis, 1952. (Town Library)
Assorted playbills for Plainfield Town Hall Theatre production over the years. (Cornish Historical Society)
Parris, Maxfield, Jr. Letter to Stephen H. Taylor, former Plainfield selectman, regarding the Plainfield Town Hall set and props designed by his father. June 18, 1977. (Plainfield Historical Society)
Sketch for backdrop by Maxfield Parris. Owned by Harold Knox, West Lebanon, New Ham=pshire.
DATE ENTERED: June 6, 1985.
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