The Meeting House is open to the public and
group tours may be arranged during the months of May through October.
As tours are staffed by Association volunteers on an as-needed basis, it
is important that you schedule your planned visit at least three days
before the actual visit. Admission is free; donations, however are
greatly appreciated. Donations may be sent c/o Treasurer, Chestnut
Street Meeting House and Cemetery Association, P. O. Box 132, Millville,
Arrangements for tours may be made by calling 508-883-6383
Some of the interred in the historic
Chestnut Hill Meeting House:
Now and Then by Bob
|This story begins with a riddle; the answer to which will appear at the end.
The Chestnut Hill Meeting House has been in three towns during its two hundred and thirty six years of existence. The building has never been moved so much as one inch in all that time. How is this possible? Take a guess! *
I finally was able to visit the interior of the Meeting House recently, and observe one of the most remarkable examples of colonial construction I have ever viewed. As a matter of fact, the structure is notable as being the one of oldest meetinghouses in Mass. that remains in its original condition.
I have passed the plain square white building in Millville at the junction of Thayer St. and Chestnut Hill Rd. countless times. My wife Peg and I have found it to be a convenient back way from Uxbridge to S. Bellingham and the malls beyond.
Being a curious person by nature, I promised myself frequently when I made the turn down Thayer St. that someday I would see the interior of the 2-1/2-story building. I am so glad I finally did.
I wonder if the Reverend Benjamin Balch - the first minister of the Congregational Parish who arrived the year the building was completed in 1769 - was as awestruck with the structure at first sight as I was. I also pondered if he was greeted by an interested, devoted group of citizenry as I was (see costumed photo).
As I stepped through the entrance accompanied by Margaret Carroll, the current Vice President of the Association that maintains the building, I felt I was slipping back in time some two hundred years. Before I even entered, I had to marvel over the immense stone that served as a threshold. It must have been a Herculean effort to get it, and the ones at the other two doors in place.
I have been in several similar structures in Boston and Virginia, but for me this was a marvelous experience to realize that right here in my own back yard was an exceptional piece of Americana.
For anyone who appreciates construction and carpentry, the building is not only a monument to those that built it, but a wonder that it has survived this long. Looking down on the interior from the second floor, the 26 box pews give mute testimony to the talents
of the builders, and the family closeness that must have existed during those times.
Obviously boredom at meetings knows no boundaries of time as attested by the names carved into the railing on the second floor. As I stood studying what is really a historical record of past members of the parish, I couldn’t help wonder who they were, and what they were thinking the day they unknowingly projected themselves into history.
I couldn’t help but feel very privvied to be able to view the upper story as it is closed off to the public at the present time.
Against the north wall, a Georgian pulpit rises fifteen feet, and the minister or speaker must have presented an image of supreme power standing there looking out over his captive audience. I’m sure there was a great celebration when the finishing touches were completed, and the citizens of the area were able to hold their first meeting. One of the finishing touches I refer to is the phenomenal wainscot paneling all around the interior of the balcony.
| I pride myself at being able to identify many types of local wood, but I really don’t have a clue as to what tree this gorgeous paneling came from. It doesn’t appear to be grainy at all, and in places has almost pink hues. Also, “fluted Pilasters” frame the pulpit. A wide isle from the South entrance, beckons the visitor to walk slowly forward, absorbing the surrounding beauty and craftsmanship.
Originally known as the South Parish Meeting House, local citizens were required to live close by for protection from the Indians that even in the late 18th century posed a threat to the colonists. The Meeting House was built to serve as a gathering place for civic and political meetings, church gatherings as well as a stronghold for protection.
If only those incredibly strong walls and pews could talk and tell the secrets they have heard. It can certainly be assumed that considerable discussion was held within its walls during the Revolution, Civil War and all times of National crisis.
Strangely enough, it seems that over the first hundred years of the building’s existence, little maintenance was performed, and little by little the harsh New England weather began to destroy the handy work of the talented craftsmen. By 1869 the building is described as being “dilapidated”.
Just in time to save it, local families - ancestors of the original parish members - raised funds to repair the ailing structure, and in a short time it was back in pristine condition, in which it remains to this day. Also, at that time the Chestnut Street Meeting House and Cemetery Association was founded, and still exists today. The prime function of this group is to maintain the building and grounds.
The wonder and historical eminence of the building doesn’t end inside. Facing the south entrance is a large cemetery containing 330 burial sites. Interred here are the remains of local citizens from as far back as 1761. Many of the stones are in remarkable condition considering their age. Some of the early residents were buried there before America was even a country, and also include several revolutionary war veterans. Along side them are their heirs that helped keep America a nation undivided in 1861, and more.
Now, for the answer to my riddle.
It stands to reason that if the building hasn’t been moved, then the town boundaries have! Indeed, they have been moved not once but twice. The original location of the Meeting House was in S. Mendon Parish, in the village of Chestnut Hill, so named for the many chestnut trees in the area. So evolved the name Chestnut Hill Meeting house.
In 1845 this Parish became part of Blackstone; and finally in 1916 it was adopted into Millville.
For history buffs and others, visiting the Chestnut Street Meeting House will be a rewarding experience. The Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor is brimming with similar adventures, but this is one of the most enriching. Chestnut Hill Road can be reached from just off Rte. 122 in Millville at the fire station, and from Rte. 16 in Mendon.
For admission to the interior of the structure, and lots of helpful information, contact Margaret Carroll at: 508-883-7079; Evelyn McNamara @ 508-883-8959or Roberta & Leo Gauthier @ 508-883-7202. You’ll be glad you did.
These folks, all members of the Association, provided most of the background for this article, and for that I am grateful.