National Register Nomination Information:
The Meriden Town Hall, constructed in 1895, is a two-story frame building, three bays by five, sheathed in clapboards. It measures 42 feet by 72 feet and is rectangular in plan with a small addition (approximately 12' x 16') to the rear. It rests on a brick foundation and is topped by a slate covered hip roof punctuated with two interior chimneys near the front (southwest) elevation.
The building's front (southwest) elevation is symmetrical. It is dominated by a wide one-bay central entry porch, added in 1901, which shelters recessed double leaf doors. The porch has a peaked roof with clapboarding in the gable; plain balustrades define the sides between the doors and a short flight of stairs. There are two windows on the ground floor and three on the upper. These are two-over-two double-hung wooden sash with molded window heads and flanking louvered blinds.
The side (northwest) elevation is lighted primarily by four tall six-over-six double hung wooden sash evenly spaced and in the center of the wall. However, adjacent to the front corner, there is a single two-over-two on the ground and upper floors which match those on the front elevation. The opposite side elevation matched the northwest prior to 1995, when the two-over-two window on the lower level was converted to a door accessed by a ramp.
A wood shed was built onto the rear in 1896. In 1908 a road machine shed was also added for the snow roller and town hearse. This portion of the building was renovated in 1995 to house the police department.
The 1995 renovation made few changes to the town hall. The building was repaired and upgraded in a manner respectful of its character and history. Exterior walls were scraped and painted and an accessible entrance was introduced on the southeast side elevation. On the interior, floors were sanded and refinished; water, sewer, and bathroom facilities added; the stage removed, and town offices installed. In the course of the work the original tin lamps were found; they were rehabilitated and electrified for use in the main office. This investment in the town hall will ensure its viability for years to come.
Behind the building is a parking area, with a stand of deciduous trees beyond it. The balance of the lot is lawn.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
The Meriden Town Hall is eligible for the National Register under Criterion A for significance in Politics/Government. It has been the seat of government in the Meriden section of Plainfield since its construction in 1895. In a town that has been served by two centers of government for most of its history, this is the only building constructed exclusively as a town hall. It retains integrity of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association for the year of its construction, 1895.
The town of Plainfield, in which Meriden is located, is unusual in New Hampshire for having two town halls. The source of this may be that each was preceded by a meeting house.
As was the custom in the settlement of early New Hampshire towns, a meeting house was to be constructed and a minister settled early on. In Plainfield it took a number of years to determine the site for the meeting house. In the meantime, the East Parish (Meriden Parish) was established for ecclesiastical purposes. The first meeting house of 1780 was succeeded by that of 1797. Town meetings began to be held there beginning in 1797. As was typical, the meeting house was used for town purposes and religious worship, in this case the home of the Meriden Congregational Society.
Efforts to establish a meeting house "at the Center of Travel" resulted in the construction of the West Meeting House c. 1811, also home to the West Congregational Society. The first town meeting to be held there was in March 1812. Town meetings were held at each meeting house in alternating years.
In 1846 the town voted to acquire the former West Meeting House which had been vacated by the congregational society when it constructed its own brick church in 1839. The frame was moved and the building reconstructed into what is now the Plainfield Town Hall.
In 1797 East Meeting House in Meriden underwent some alteration at about the same time. As was common after the Act of Toleration (1819), which ended public support of meeting houses for religious purposes, traditional meeting houses were rotated a quarter turn and modified into church buildings. In instances where the structure was used for both government and religious purposes, a floor was added and the uses divided upstairs and down. In 1846 the town acquired rights to the lower level, thus giving Plainfield the distinction of having two town halls.
This relationship between the town and the congregational society continued until 1894, when the meeting house in Meriden burned. At this time the town and the church chose not to continue their partnership. A stone church was built by the Congregationalists and the Meriden Town Hall was erected by the town.
Norwalk, Nancy, and Zea, Philip, eds. Choice White Pines and Good Land. Portsmouth NH: Peter E. Randall, Publisher. 1991
Vernon Hood Papers. Baker Library of Dartmouth College, Hanover NH.
FORM PREPARED BY:
Gardiner and Kathryn MacLeay
Meriden Town Hall
27 Main Street
Meriden, NH 03770-0157
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources
Concord, NH 03302-2043
DATE ENTERED:September, 1998.
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