Starksboro Village Meeting House

 

Starksboro Village Meeting House
Starksboro, Vermont
Founded 1840


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Building Description

 

The Building

The Meeting House is located in the middle of its 82 1/2 foot wide and 132 foot deep lot on the west side of Vermont Route 116 in the center of Starksboro Village. It is the only building on the lot.  The building is three bays wide and three deep.  It is a one story high rectangular clapboard sided wood frame structure on a tall fieldstone basement wall.

In the center of the east gable end is the formal entrance. Double doors, each with four panels edged by simple Greek Revival style molding, are framed by a surround derived from the Federal style with entry pilasters and an entablature. Above the door is a fixed pointed arch sash, and a similar sash is found in the gable peak. Centered on the roof peak above the formal entrance is a two stage belfry.

All of the corner boards on the building are plain. A simple Greek Revival style molding enriches the cornice line of the gable ends and the eave sides, wrapping around the building corners under the returned eaves to give the effect of a capital.

Old wooden steps leading up to the front door were replaced by cement steps, and in 1972 a fieldstone retaining wall was re-built around these steps and across the front width of the building.

The moderately pitched roof has returned eaves and is presently covered with a metal roof.  A brick chimney emerges from the northwest corner of the building.  The original roof was wood shingles.  This was replaced with metal which was in poor shape and blowing off by 1957.  The building was then re-roofed with a dark asphalt shingle roof.  Today, the building has a metal roof.

It is not known who designed or built the Meeting House.  However, it is similar to other Gothic Revival style churches in Vermont from the same period that were designed or influenced by the work of master builder John Cain of Rutland.  This indicates the building committee’s awareness of architectural trends and the newly emerging Gothic Revival style in Vermont.  It is the only one of its type in the region of Starksboro and its surrounding neighbor towns that remains unchanged.  Prior to renovations completed about 1905, the Methodist Church in nearby Bristol had similar details.

Construction was completed in 1840 at a total, cost of $2400.

The Belfry

Rising above the formal entrance on the east side is a two stage belfry, also sided with clapboards.  Each side contains a fixed pointed arch louvered shutter. The top stage of the belfry is crowned by a simple cresting with pinnacles at the corners.

A trap door in the ceiling of the balcony leads to the attic where the massive post and beam trusses that support the roof and belfry can be seen. The belfry, where the church bell sets is reached thru another trap-door from the attic. A third trap door from the lower belfry where the bell is located leads to the top stage.  The bell was made by  Jones & Co. in Troy, New York sometime after October 7, 1868.

About 1957 the top stage of the belfry and cresting was removed due to it's deteriorated condition. This top stage was recreated and reinstalled in 1976.

The Windows

The tall pointed arch Gothic Revival style windows of the first floor are made up of two narrow vertical sashes.  The top sash has twelve panes, the bottom has nine regular panes with six smaller panes in a geometrical pattern at the bottom.  These are topped by a fixed pointed arch sash with curved intersecting muntins.

The wide basement windows have twelve (two rows of six panes) over twelve sash.  On the south eave side wall, the three basement windows are placed directly under the sanctuary windows. The west or rear gable end has two evenly spaced basement windows, but but there are no openings on the first floor.  The north eave side basement wall has five regularly spaced openings - three windows separated by two deeply recessed doors.  Both doors have four beveled edged panels, and the one to the left retains its original hardware.  Much of the original glass in the basement windows remains intact however.

In 1868, louvered shutters for the clear glass windows were made by Howden, Bosworth & Company of Bristol for the eight large first floor windows and two small pointed arch sashes on the front facade. They were screwed fast over the windows instead of being hung by hinges to “obviate the danger of blowing open and breaking the blinds & glass.” Installing them required removing “beadwork,” probably thin strips of molding edging the window surrounds in imitation of columns in Gothic style vaulting. These shutters were removed sometime between 1911 and 1919 when the clear glass windows were replaced by opalescent stained glass.  The shutters remain in storage today.

The pointed arch windows of the north and south walls are now filled with panes of opalescent stained glass that were given in memory of deceased members of the congregation, many of whom were descendants of Starksboro’s earliest settlers. Their names are painted in black on the bottom glass pane in each of the lower sashes.  The boards that form each window reveal extend out about one inch beyond the wall surface and have rounded edges. They are framed by two small half-round strips of molding with a small rounded wooden impost block at the spring of the arch - this simple surround a carpenter’s version of Gothic vaulting.

The First Floor

The first floor of the interior is divided into two spaces,  an entry hall across the width of the building, and the sanctuary with a balcony above the entry hall.

The walls are lined by a wainscot made of two very wide horizontal boards topped with a thin simple molding, and above the wainscot the plastered walls are papered. All interior doors have beveled edged panels. The inside of the main double doors, two doors from the hallway to sanctuary, pew doors, and pew ends still have their original graining, while almost all other woodwork is painted in a solid color. All floors, wide pine boards, are original.

The Entry Hall

In the hall, the short north and south walls each have two doors, a narrow door  with two panels closest to the east wall and a wider door with four panels near the west wall. The left door on the north wall has its original latch and leads to the balcony stairs. The right door on the north wall is a closet. On the south wall, the left door opens onto the basement stairway, which was installed in 1911 when the Town of Starksboro moved from it's basement meeting room to the new town hall. The right door is fastened shut, the balcony stairs on the south side having been removed for the stairway.

In the middle of the west entry hall wall is a small lidded storage cupboard made out of twelve of the original sanctuary pew doors. A horizontal panel, another pew door, is framed in the back wall on the sanctuary side of the box and opens into the sanctuary. This box was used to store firewood for the stove that once heated the church.

On the west wall of the entry hall, on each side of the storage box there is a door that leads into the sanctuary.  These doors are made up of six panels and still have the original hardware on them.

The Sanctuary

The rectangular sanctuary retains many of its original features. The north and south walls are lined with twelve rows of pews facing west, with nine rows of double width pews up the middle of the church. In the southwest corner to the side of the altar area are four short pews facing north.

Each pew seat is made of one wide board, while the back has two beveled edged panels and is topped by a simple rounded molding. The pew doors and the pew ends have two beveled edged panels.

The pew doors were removed at some point to make the lidded storage box in the entry and were also used as part of a partition that walled off the balcony from the sanctuary.  The doors were installed in pairs that were nailed together top and bottom and installed in a channel so that they could be raised or lowered like a window, resting on the balcony wall cap.  The rest of the wall above the pew doors was finished off with beaded boards.  The partition was removed and the doors were re-installed on the pews sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's.  The pew door numbers are painted in gold on a small square black painted field in the middle of the top panel of each pew end.

The altar or pulpit area, across the west wall, is raised about nine inches from the main floor and is set off by a simple altar rail with thin square balusters. The smaller altar and pulpit platform, raised about one and a half feet higher, has a Greek Revival style baseboard molding and cornice under the floor lip. It is reached by inset steps on its north and south sides.

Two piers, about one and a half feet wide, project from the west wall on each side of the altar area. The one to the right contains the present chimney stack.

Although the interior has less Gothic Revival style details than the exterior, it is also distinguished for the high quality craftsmanship of its furnishings and the grained woodwork.  The interior pews were built by George W. Ferguson, who had a casket and carriage making shop across the street, and Mark C. Hanson. For many years these pews were bought and sold like real estate.

Hanging from the center of the ceiling is a large kerosene lamp chandelier installed in 1884, perhaps also when the ceiling was covered with the present narrow beaded edged boards. The chandelier is made up of a circle of fourteen glass kerosene lamps, suspended by a cord inside a thin tube under a fourteen sided mirrored reflector. The lamp circle, which can be lowered for lighting, is counter-balanced by a bucket of stones hanging in the attic at the other end of the cord.

Just in front of the back (east) wall between the sanctuary and hallway are two evenly spaced tapered eight sided posts that reach to the ceiling. On top of this wall is the solid paneled three bay wide balcony railing. The balcony floor, rough wide pine boards, has two levels with a built-in pew on the upper level.

The Basement

The basement was originally one large room finished by the Town of Starksboro for use as a “Town Room”.  This room was reached only through the doors on the north side.

Each side of the deep angled window reveals are paneled with one wide pine board.  All the basement walls are plastered.  The original pine floors still remain.

The basement was divided into two rooms sometime after 1911 when the present town hall was built and ready for occupancy.

The front (east) basement room, has a straight run of stairs, which were installed in 1911, with simple square balusters and a square newel post along its south wall.. In the middle of the room are two evenly spaced eight-sided posts, located directly under the posts in the sanctuary at the balcony. The main room on the west side of the basement is reached through a four paneled door. Along the outer north and west walls are simple wooden built-in benches, which are original to the Town Room.

The southwest corner of the room was later partitioned off for a small kitchen.  In the 1960s or 1970s a small restroom was added.

A small room on the the west wall houses the furnace.

The building description on this page is based in part on the application by the Meeting House for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  The full application can be seen here.


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