Wood-burning Furnace Took Out the Town Hall

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By Horace Hobbs

Hampton Union, (Date unknown)

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Town Hall after the 1949 fire
The aftermath of the March 19, 1949 fire.
(Photo not in original article)

The first floor of the old town hall was used largely for such affairs as the early Town meetings, for dinners for special occasions, for harvest suppers and the like. A large tin shrouded wood-burning hot air furnace took up an area backing up to a wood storage area beneath the stairs to the second floor. Their heating unit is given credit for the source of the fire that destroyed that venerable building March 19, 1949, after 153 years of historic service. It was around this heating unit that we used to gather at intermission at our high school dance to hand-eat our 4X4 paper-wrapped frozen blocks of harlequin ice cream, spangled red, white and brown (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate).

The northwest corner of the first floor was the fairly large kitchen equppied with sink, stoves and cupboards necessary in preparing the food.

The northeast corner was occupied by the local jail. This consisted of two cells for prisoners. There were small openings in each door which were iron-barred. You could look in to see the prisoner who was usually a tramp or some inebriate who was very familiar with the Jones Brewery in Portsmouth or had let his sweet cider "ripen" too much and become "hard." Furnishings consisted of mostly of just a single bunk bed with something called a mattress on top of it. It showed its use! The corridor which led from the main hall and the kitchen to the toilets in the rear was something that the women had to endure as they made their choices. Although not subject to physical attack, the "face in the barroom door"s and the greetings coming from within left a lot to be desired.

The main floor downstairs was the dining area. It was set up with long tables made of rough boards resting on wooden horses and covered with rolled-white paper. The long yellow-painted settees, seating about six to seven each, were pulled up alongside the tables to allow those eating to be at ease.

A report of the unfortunate, destruction of the old town hall by fire: March 19, 1949, gives us the following facts:

"The building was built in 1797, and was used as a church by the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians. The first minister of the church was Rev. Jesse Appleton who was later president of Bowdoin College, and whose daughter married Franklin Pierce, New Hampshire's only president.

"The firemen saved the belfry tower and the 200-year-old bell.

"The loss of the building was placed, at $100,000. Selectman Harry Munsey announced there was only $10,000 insurance. Fifteen years ago, a, concrete and brick fireproof vault had been built, so most of the town records are intact, according to Town Clerk William Brown.

"Janitor Marvin Young stated that the auditorium was used last night for a dance."

Thus ended the 150 year life of that, venerable structure that had furnished most of us with so much that was, worthwhile over the years.

The 5th Meeting House
(Town Hall) bell

[Photo not in original article]

BELL
OF
FIFTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
BUILDING
1797 - 1844
"TOWNSFOLK TO THE CHURCH
I CALLED"

Meneelys', West Troy, N.Y. 1861
The 5th Meetinghouse (Town Hall) Plaque
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