History of the Meeting House
1653 The First Meeting House, 36 feet long x 20 feet wide x 12 feet high was constructed of logs, had a thatched roof, and was located by the brook. It held the first town meetings, religious gatherings, and public events of the Town of Medfield. Residents were summoned to meeting and prayer by the beating of a drum.
1659 A “gallery with two seats on the side of the meeting house from one end gallery to the other” was built.
1665 An addition was made to the original building. Records do not describe it but do provide a bill of materials. It is believed to have been an “L” attached at the end of the building.
1675The building was shingled and the roof re-thatched.
1677 A new frame to hang the bell was voted. The bell hung near but not on the meeting house.
1705 It was voted to build a new meeting house facing east toward North Street. It was constructed in 1706. There were no chimneys and no heat in the building. Exterior walls were covered with clapboards. The roof was shingled. It lasted for 83 years.
1737 The Town “voted, that the town will build Pews in the short seats and long seats in the East end of the Meeting house,” showing growth in population.
1743 Repairs were made to the Meeting house when the town “voted, that the Town will Clapboard the South East side and South West end of the Meeting House & make convenient Windows & under pin sd House and do what may be best to keep it from spreading.”
1754 The appearance of the meeting house was changed with a projection added to the end facing North Street. It extended from the ground to the ridge with a turret to hold the new bell.
1762 More repairs needed. “voted, To Clapboard the East End of the meeting House and Take the old Clapboards to mend the Backside, and to make four new windows in the Room of the four Large ones on the back side of the meeting house and such casements as are wanting, and Glaze the Same with Dimon Glass”.
1786 The erection of another meeting house was voted. During the next two years estimates and specifications were brought in and the old building was to be pulled down. Pews were sold, a total of 58, on the lower floor at prices ranging from 9 pounds to 20 pounds and 17 pews in the gallery at 4 pounds and up. The tower was 52 feet in height and surmounted by a belfry and cupola.
1789 The meeting house was finally built and still stands today. The original pulpit was high in the center of the north side of the House, and at the foot of the pulpit stairs, directly in front of the preacher, stood the table with the deacon’s seats by it. Galleries on the other three sides and that opposite the pulpit were occupied by the singers. The sides of the two rows of pews, with an aisle between them, were some four feet in height, built with banisters; that is, in the sides of the pews near the top and open space some six or eight inches in height was left, which was filled in with small uprights of turned wood. The pews were rectangular, six or eight feet in length and breadth, having seats on all sides. The seats were hung by hinges to the sides of the pews and were raised for convenience in standing at prayer time.
The frame is of mortise and tenon construction – the tenon on one beam fits into the mortise cut in the other beam, which is positioned at a right angle.The tenon is secured with a wooden peg, which gradually adopts the form of the drilled hole, making for a joint that will last for centuries (compared to nails that eventually rust).
Many of the timbers are 14″ square and were steamed and bent in a Boston shipyard to fit the specs of the Meetinghouse. Many of the beams were hand sawn, and many were recycled from earlier buildings.
William S. Tilden’s “History of the Town of Medfield Massachusetts 1650-1886” records the following account describing ‘Raising the Meeting House’:
Bustling days in the village were those when the ‘raising’ took place. People came from all the surrounding towns; the street were lined with teams; booths and bakers’ carts supplied the hungry and thirsty crowd which came to witness the great sight. The fame was immensely heavy, and a strong force of men was required to place it in position. Owing to the want of suitable appliances, or of sufficient daring on the part of the men, the higher parts of the building baffled their efforts. In this emergency, Captain Downs, of Walpole, was called to their aid. By the help of his experience and courage, accompanied, it is said, with considerable rough language on his part, the work was completed on the third day.
The supplies for the raising consisted of four barrels of beer, twenty-five gallons of West India rum, thirty gallons of New England rum, thirty-four pounds of loaf sugar, twenty-five pounds of brown sugar, and four hundred and sixty-five lemons.
(Tilden, p 188)
1793 A form of curfew was established in town with the meeting house bell to be rung at 9:00
PM for one year. [Note: Although the bell is no longer rung, still more than 200 years later, the town’s alarm siren is sounded at 9:00 PM]
1801 The bell was removed and recast. The town also voted to take charge of the clock that had been furnished for the meeting house and have it wound at the expense of the town. Today, the town is still responsible for the maintenance and repair of the clock.
1813 After 162 years the Parish and the Town took the first steps towards separation with the First Parish starting organization in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth.
1826 Two new stoves purchased by public subscription were started on December 24th providing the first heat in the meeting house since the founding of the town.
1839 The building was extensively remodeled. The building was elevated and turned 90 degrees to face Hartford Road (Main Street). A vestry was constructed at ground level under the sanctuary, a spire, colonnade and portico and rose window were added. New pews were installed. The wainscoting in the vestry was made from the old pew enclosures.
1861 A new town clock was installed in the tower, having four faces. The original clock had a pendulum – the weights that drove the pendulum were hung from chains that went allowed the weights to dangle in a wooden channel all the way down to the ground.The keeper of the clock had to raise the weights every week. The clock weights, pendulum, and channel can be seen in the attic today.
In the clock room there are pencil notes about clock maintenance from keepers of the clock over the years.
1868 A new bell, made in East Medway by Mr. Holbrook, was installed in the belfry of the steeple. [Note: an interesting history of Mr. Holbrook and his foundry may be found online]
1872 Town meetings held in this building since 1789 moved to the then-new Town Hall.
1875 The first pipe organ was installed in the gallery, later moved to the floor of the sanctuary.
1889 A second, more elaborate spire was constructed over the existing spire.
1938 Two years of renovation and redecorating completed. The organ no longer in view of the congregation and the choir was seated behind the minister. September 21st, hurricane winds blew the steeple structure from the bell tower. It went top first through the roof at the North end of the building causing considerable damage.
The steeple tip that pierced the roof in the 1938 hurricane is visible at the north end of the attic, pointing toward North Street. It is covered with slate shingles.
1968 The weight-driven mechanism of the clock was replaced by an electric motor.Before the clock was electrified, the church bell used to strike the hour.The striking mechanism was damaged during the electrification, and it has not struck since. In the old days, the clock struck and told people when to come in from working the fields.
1974 Meeting House added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 18th.
1988 A new spire was installed to replace the one lost in the hurricane of 1938. In the process the belfry was rebuilt with a revised design incorporating an epoxy coated fiberglass roofing component and eliminating the old fascia.A dove of peace weathervane, designed by Joseph and Susan Parker was installed.
1997 A new lead coated copper roof was installed on the clock turret per vote of the 1996 Town Meeting. The four clock faces were restored replacing wooden numerals and minute marks with gold leafed solid black plastic that will be unaffected by the weather. The wooden clock hands were sealed and re-gilded.
1997 An ambitious plan was undertaken to make the Meetinghouse universally accessible. A three-year fund raising campaign was started to raise enough money to install an elevator, make the bathrooms accessible, and renovate the Vestry.
1998 The belfry was rebuilt incorporating a lead coated copper roof, new fascia and replacement of water damaged sheathing and siding. The weathervane was reinforced to resist bending in high winds.
2006 After much work, the elevator was finally dedicated, allowing universal access to the Sanctuary/Auditorium.
2007 For the first time since 1789, all the existing paint was carefully removed from the entire building, and the Old Meeting House was repainted.
2008 The preservation of the building exterior is completed with the stripping and repainting of the steeple. The weathervane was regilded.