ROCKINGHAM — A state historic preservation group has awarded the town close to $20,000 for local historic preservation efforts.
The Vermont Advisory Council on Historic Preservation awarded the town $19,750, which will be divided between work at the Rockingham Meeting House, a national historic landmark, and the town’s ongoing historic preservation office and programs. The council made a total of $73,750 in grants to several Vermont towns.
Rockingham wants to use the grant to hire an expert to conduct an analysis of the painted finishes at the 1787 meeting house, to help conserve both interior and exterior woodwork.
The meeting house served as Rockingham’s town hall until the Civil War. It was largely abandoned and then restored in 1907-08. It is one of the only 18 Vermont structures deemed by the National Park Service to be a national historic landmark, which comes with honor but no cash toward its upkeep. Other Vermont landmarks include the State House in Montpelier, the birthplace of President Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth Notch, and in Windham County, Naulakha, the Dummerston home of author Rudyard Kipling.
Walter Wallace, the Rockingham’s historic preservation coordinator, said Friday that the interior woodwork had last been treated during the 1907-08 restoration.
“Much of the original interior woodwork at RMH is in need of conservation and restoration to ensure future generations will enjoy our meeting house. It is anticipated the project will entail a mix of field and laboratory work to establish the paint and finish chronologies including variations in paint colors and composition over time and to establish presence of any other decorative or preservative finishes,” Wallace said in an email.
He said the town will then use the data “to determine the most appropriate treatments for areas of damaged and degraded finishes. We want to make sure that what we do today is consistent with what was done in the past. The project will also provide information to help interpret the history of the building for use by both docents in their tours and for scholars.”
Paint and finish analysis is separate and apart from the plastering project, he said.
He said the interior woodwork is in need of conservation and in some cases restoration.
“Two hundred plus year old pine and chestnut is severely dried out to the point of powdering and cracking. More and more pew frames will no longer hold hinge screws as the wood splits rather than enveloping the threads,” he said. As a result, pew doors can no longer be hung for safety reasons, he said.
In addition, there is damage to the wood due to the presence of birds, bats, and spiders.
“The finishes analysis will help guide conservation and restoration to ensure authenticity and that no damage be done to the wood’s fabric. First thing, do no harm,” he said.
Wallace said that Phase I of the plaster work was done during summer 2020, and included the walls and ceiling along the east side aisle, and both levels of the east and west side porches. The cost was just under $70,000, with the bulk of it coming from the meeting house reserve fund, along with $8,000 in private donations.
Wallace said the $22,000 article before the voters at Town Meeting is the annual town contribution to the Rockingham Meeting House reserve fund for major capital projects, such as the plaster repair. “This fund is used to only to support major, capital projects associated with Rockingham Meeting House conservation,” he said.
Last summer’s major restoration work on the original historic plaster at the meeting house largely depleted the town’s reserve fund, town officials said during the budget process.
Rockingham is one of 17 Vermont communities, including Bennington, Montpelier, Hartford and Burlington, that receive a certified local government grant to support local historic preservation efforts.
The meeting house is open during the summer season as a museum and is used for varied public events, from concerts and lectures to meetings and weddings.