It’s hard to believe that the Rockingham Meeting House once sat unused and unappreciated.
The meeting house is the oldest unchanged public building in Vermont. It was built as a combination church and town hall between 1787 and 1801 to meet the needs of anticipated population growth in Rockingham village.
But the population expansion in the village never happened. As as time went on, the village of Rockingham remained small and settlement shifted to nearby Bellows Falls and Saxtons River. The church that used the meeting house for religious services only did so until 1839, and Rockingham’s Town Meetings stopped being held in the building after 1869.
Sadly, the meeting house stood unused for decades and suffered damage from vandalism. Its saving grace was a fire in the village in 1906 that destroyed many buildings and ultimately served as a wake-up call to residents.
Finally, townspeople recognized that the meeting house was indeed a historical and architectural treasure worthy of their attention.
A minor restoration in 1907 was one of the earliest preservation projects in Vermont. Much of what stands today at the Rockingham Meeting House is original fabric from the 18th century: king post timber framing, twenty-over-twenty windows, interior plaster and box pews.
Outside, the surrounding burial ground contains more than 1,000 graves, the oldest dating from about 1776. A nearby hearse shed and burial vault served the needs of the graveyard, and the burial ground is filled with thin markers bearing readable epitaphs.
A National Historic Landmark, the Rockingham Meeting House is among the best preserved 18th century New England meeting houses. If you appreciate architecture, history and a good comeback story, be sure to add this Vermont gem to your must list.
**If You Go: The Rockingham Meeting House is located on Meetinghouse Road, off Route 103 in Rockingham, about one mile west of Exit 6 on Interstate 91. The site is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day. An annual pilgrimage, first held in 1907, continues to this day during Rockingham’s summer Old Home Day celebration. Visit www.rockbf.org.