Epsom History

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The Old Meetinghouse
There are no pictures of the old meetinghouse, but it is known that once the various different church affiliations built their own structures, the town abandon and sold it, and it was moved to Concord. A new town hall was built in 1850, where it still stands today. The only true record of someone remembering the old meetinghouse was in a speech given at Old Home Day in 1901 by Mary L. Cass. Read the article.

Reminiscence of an Old Lady
By Mary L. Cass

August 21, 1901 – Epsom, New Hampshire

Probably there are but a few present this afternoon that ever attended a church service in the old meeting house that stood on the hill at what has been called the “Center.”

I wish I could show a picture of the building, but I do not think there is one in existence. I used to go to the meeting there (as it was called, - not attending church) more than seventy years ago and can remember perfectly well just how it looked and the people who attended the service.

It was a large square building with three outside doors – one facing the South, the front door; one on the East and another on the West; each of these doors entered directly into the meeting room; no entries or halls.

A walk or aisle led directly from the front door to the pulpit stairs. There were several steps up into the pulpit which was enclosed by a partition so high that when the minister was sitting down he could not be seen by anyone upon the floor.

Over the pulpit was the sounding board, as it was called; a sort of canopy attached to the ceiling by a slender rod.

The top of the pulpit or desk was covered with a dark cloth trimmed with a fringe. Upon this desk lay the large Bible and the hymn book.

At the front of the stairs directly in front of the pulpit was the communion table which was a plain pine board hung to the partition by hinges so that it could be let down when not needed for use. Between this table and the pulpit was the Deacon’s seat.

There was an aisle around the room far enough from the wall to give room for a row of seats or pews; these pews around the outside were raised one step. There were sixteen of these square pews in the center of the floor – eight upon each side of the center aisle.

There were two long seats in front of the pulpit known as the old men’s seats; the tythingman also sat there.

There was a large gallery upon three sides which was reached by two flights of stairs. A row of pews was built against the wall, while in front of the gallery over the front door and opposite the pulpit were the singer’s seats.

Upon the East side of the gallery was a long seat where the young women and girls sat, called the girls seat and upon the West side was the boys seat.

Whenever the boys got to whispering or making a noise, you would hear a sharp tap-tap-tap on the floor and see the cane of the tythingman pointing toward the offender. I do not remember ever seeing the cane pointed towards the girls seat; perhaps that was because I never sat there myself.

This building was guiltless of paint either upon the inside or out.

The “meeting” began at half past ten and the form of worship was similar to what is followed at the present, except that the long prayer was a long one indeed; the people were all expected to stand during it and, as many of the seats in the pews were hung with hinges, it was customary to turn them up while the people were standing so that the preacher’s “Amen” was frequently supplemented with the slamming of the seats as they were dropped down.

In any of the pews you might see two or three flag bottomed chairs for the use of the older members of the family. These pews could accommodate perhaps a dozen people and were frequently occupied by two or more families.

The morning service lasted until noon, the sermon often being an hour long. Then came an hour’s intermission when there was a general handshaking and inquiry after each others welfare etc.. The dinner baskets or bags were opened and their contents enjoyed; and after luncheon was eaten, the snuff boxes were passed and they had a jolly good time. I remember particularly the big bright snuffboxes of Dea. Ira Sanborn and Moses P. Gray, Esq. and how the old ladies seemed to enjoy the treat.

The young women and girls usually went out for a stroll in the graveyard just back of the church if the weather was favorable and then over to squire Merrill’s shed to get a drink of cold water from the deep well.

older men usually remained in the house but the younger men and boys took their dinners out doors and either on the doorsteps or out on the common in groups, ate their lunch and enjoyed themselves.

In the cold weather the men folks would go to Capt. Heath’s Tavern (last owner was Watson Ambrose) and warm their feet by his big fire and their goodies with a generous mug of flip. I have frequently been to that same place for coals to replenish the fire in my Mother’s foot stove, for during the cold weather they always carried these and went to some of the neighboring houses at noon for new fire.

There were no conveniences for a fire in the old meetinghouse and in the Winter the services were held in the vestry where there was a fire.

At precisely one o’clock the minister came again and everyone at once took his accustomed place and the services were renewed. Before the pastor began his long prayer, he frequently read a note from some of his parishioners asking for special prayer in their behalf; if a person were sick, prayer was asked for him; were there a death in the family, prayer was asked that this dispensation of Providence might be sanctified to the relative and friends; if a child was born, thanks was returned; all joys and sorrows were remembered. The afternoon service was equal to the morning and the last prayer was followed by the singing of the Doxology.

It was generally past three o’clock when we got home from meeting and as we were obliged to leave home by half past nine, we made quite a day of it, - yet there were others who had farther to go.

I could tell much about the occupants of the different pews for they come distinctly to my mind as I think of this old meeting house in which my parents and grandparents worshiped; and not only my ancestors but the ancestors of very many – perhaps most of this company, but lest I weary you, I close.