The Town Hall
At the first legal meeting of the town held in the home of Samuel Leavitt on January 30, 1766, a committee was chosen to “Look out for a Suitable Place to set a Meeting House”.
The first annual meeting was held at the home of Wadleigh Cram on March 18, 1766, and a new committee was appointed to look for a suitable place “for to Sett a meeting house.”
In the warrant for March 1766, there was an article to see if the parish would choose “a committee of Indifferent men not residing in Deerfield to make the center of the Parish” and “to build a meeting house of such bigness as the Parish shall think proper and to board and shingle such house and lay the under floor”. These articles were not favorably entertained.
The warrant for the meeting of June 2, 1767 contained an article “To see if the Parish will board and shingle the meeting house and clapboard the gable ends and lay the under floors of the meeting house frame where it stands”. This article also failed.
In 1768, the meeting was held in the house of Henry Tucker on the 18th of April “to see if the parish will agree on a Place to sett a meeting house”. This effort was unsuccessful.
On January 12, 1768, the town voted to build a meeting house fifty-five feet in length and forty feet in width. It further voted “that the meeting house be built where the frame now stands on the 7th Lott in the 4th Range. On the 24th of that same month, it was voted that “there be a meeting house built on the 12th lot in the Second Range”. But on the March 1769 annual meeting it was voted “that all the votes what was passed on the twelfth of January last and 24th of February last was reconsidered and Intirely Disannulled and revoked.”
On July 13 1769, “at the house of Wadleigh Cram” it was voted that “Mr. Stephen Batchalar's House be the place to meet.” On November 16, 1769, the town voted “that a certain place on the Suncook Road on Lott 9 in the 4th Range, convenient to Chase's Lott is the place to build a meeting house on”. On July 2, 1770, at a legal meeting it was voted to “Except of an Acre of Mr. Stephen Batchalar to set the meeting house now framed on Lott 9 in the 4th Range.”
On May 30, 1771, it was voted that the meeting house from on land given by Stephen Batchalar be taken down and moved to Josiah Chase's.
The meeting of September 24, 1771, was the first held at the meeting house, and as so many frames had been erected in so many different places, it was necessary to notify the people in the warrant that the meeting would take place “on Chase's Hill, so called”.
Today's location of Chase's Hill would be the “Old Center” on “Meeting House Hill” [the location of the Old Center Cemetery]. The Meeting house was also used for town meetings. [It's primary purpose being for worship. Town Historian Joann Wasson writes in her Tales of Old Deerfield: “This forerunner of the present Congregational Church was apparently the official church of the community and everyone was obliged to support it by taxation with the exception of those who could prove that they were contributing to the support of some other religious group in the community.”]
The date of the change of the location of the Town Hall in the “New Center”, its present location, is difficult to determine. However, it appears that the Old Center “Meeting House” was used for three generations and probably until 1839 when it is stated the “Union” meeting house was burned down and that Rev. Timothy Upham and Rev, Nathaniel Wells “held forth” at that place. The Rev. Timothy Upham passed away on February 21, 1811. Rev. Nathaniel Wells served until September 1841.
It is to be noted that the Baptists moved to the “new center” and completed their church in 1834.
The Freewill Baptists organization in 1799 worshiped in the “Union” meeting house which burned in 1839 and then built their own church in the “new center” in 1840. [The building is now the Deerfield Business Center, formerly the Deerfield Grange Hall.] It therefore appears that the present Town Hall was constructed sometime subsequent to 1839. Some say 1856.
[In her book Tales of Old Deerfield, Town Historian Joanne Wasson confirms that the hall was built in 1856 and was ready for use in 1857. Ms. Wasson writes: “In February 1857, a special town meeting was called at the Free Will Baptist Church to see if the town would vote to accept the town hall as completed according to the contract with Peter O. Woodman. He had given the subcontract to True Washington Currier of Ridge Road, the carpenter who did most of the building.]
Legend has it that a building was moved from the “Old” Center to the “New” Center to be the basic substance of the “New” Town Hall. However, no record could be found to substantiate this. [Joanne Wasson writes: “By 1846 a contract was let to Benjamin F. French to build a town house 52 feet long and one story high on a site which was approximately that of our present Town Hall. The contract called for the use of all suitable timbers in the meetinghouse on the hill which Mr. French tore down. By 1852 the town was apparently dissatisfied with the building which may have proven too small for the use of the population of over 2,000. It was, however, voted that year to indefinitely postpone action on a motion to see if the town would build a new hall or enlarge the exiting one. The fate of this first town house is obscure but it is clear that it was not longer in existence by 1856 when a meeting was called in the Baptist church to vote on the erection of a new town house, our present building. It was constructed 74 feet long and 44 feet wide with the ell at the back, or the fire escape, added later.”]
The Town Report of 1885 shows the expenditure of $679.62 for building a Fire Escape. One must assume that this was the back stairs now present in the Town Hall. In 1895 the Town Report shows an expenditure of $192.66 for repairs on Town Hall and includes two window frames and shutters. This indicates that the Hall was equipped with shutters at this time.
The exact “layout” of the Town Hall at the “new center” is not certain. The first picture indicates that it did not have shutters. However, at some time shutters were attached and then taken off and stored in the attic.
Legend has it that the original kitchen was downstairs. The original hall had no running water and there was no well. Toilets were of the privy type and located in rather inaccessible places. Heat was by individual box stoves.
At the town meeting in March 1963, it was voted to rehabilitate the Town Hall. At that time paint was peeling from the ceilings, plastered walls were severely cracked. The foundation needed considerable repair. A well was drilled over 500 feet deep and water became available. The kitchen was moved downstairs, two toilets were installed. Two control heating units were installed, one to keep the kitchen and toilets from freezing, the other to heat the hall upstairs and the “meeting room” downstairs. Plywood in general was installed over all walls to assure permanency and low cost maintenance. The outside of the building was painted two coats. The blinds were repaired or replaced.
This rehabilitation did not include the stage which was rehabilitated the following year. In all over $19,000 has been expended to give Deerfield the Town Hall as you see it today. [Published 1966 on the occasion of the town's bicentennial. Much maintenance has been done on the building since, including installing a sprinkler system, repairing the spiral staircase, and adding handicapped access.]
Deerfield's Town Hall in 1966.