The Meetinghouse today is still a house in which the community can meet. It is a place of worship on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, but it is also a village center and a town meeting place. The 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation is devoted to restoring and preserving this magnificent building. The Foundation is also dedicated to bringing the community back into the building with lectures, concerts and debates for the public to enjoy. The Meetinghouse is an exciting place to visit, whether attending an event or just stopping by to enjoy the peace and history of its four walls. The building is open to the public from 9 am to 4 pm from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. History surrounds you.
Life and Times of the Historic 1717 Meetinghouse
October 11, 1639 – Founding of the Town of Barnstable
- Rev. John Lothropp and his followers arrived in Mattakeese joining previous settlers including Rev. John Hull, Thomas Dimmock, and friendly Wampanoag Native Americans and thus founded the Town of Barnstable named after Barnstaple, England which shared the same topography – “miles of sand flats at low tide in a long narrow harbor…” The Town of Barnstable would become a thriving community and the colonists began to nurture the beginnings of a new nation in America.
1712-1717 – A New Meetinghouse in Barnstable
- By 1712 the Barnstable settlement had grown so large, that the main concern of the annual Town Meeting for several years was the division of the town into two parishes and the building of two Meetinghouses, East Parish and West Parish.
- In 1715 A piece of high ground on the land of John Crocker was chosen as the site for the West Parish Meetinghouse. Colonel Otis moderated a proprietors meeting on April 11, 1715 where town land was traded laying out 4 acres – three acres for public use (now the Town green below the Meetinghouse and an additional acre for where the Meetinghouse was to be erected.
1717-1719 – The West Parish Meetinghouse is Constructed
- Construction begins on the West Parish Meetinghouse in 1717.
- Records are largely silent on the actual builders, but the village craftsmen created a structure that later generations of architects and builders admire. Great oaks and pines were felled by hand; pine beams, posts and planks were sawn and trimmed over a saw pit dug at the building site; 12 inch square pine timbers were hewn with adzes and raised 48 feet into the air; oak roof buttresses were curved like a ship’s frame by hanging them with weights at either end for a year; chamfering, beading and woodworking on the high pulpit and sounding board, panels and sheep pen pews were all done with their simple tools.
- Construction of the Meetinghouse in West Parish was completed in time for the first worship service held on Thanksgiving Day 1719.
- The 1717 Meetinghouse became the permanent home of the church that gathered secretly in England, 103 years earlier. It was also to be the site for Barnstable town meetings for the next 130 years, reflecting the close union of State and the Congregational church as was the practice in early Massachusetts.
1723 – Expansion of the Meetinghouse
- After only 4 years, the Meetinghouse was deemed too small for its occupants and was cut in half, the ends pulled apart adding 18 feet of length in the middle. A bell tower, one of the earliest in New England was erected. The gilded cock atop the Meetinghouse today was ordered from England.
1717-1775 – The Meetinghouse Participates in the New Nation’s History
- Historians have researched that fifteen years before George Washington was born, the men of Barnstable debated town affairs in the 1717 Meetinghouse; they continued meeting during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Famous participants in the Meetinghouse debates during this era include James Otis, Jr., Mercy Otis Warren, Captain “Mad Jack” Percival, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, and many others.
1806 – The Revere Bell is Installed
- The half-ton bell was cast at the Paul Revere foundry for the Town of Barnstable in 1806. It was purchased with a bequest by Colonel James Otis (father of the Patriot) to the town of Barnstable for that purpose.
1717 through the 1880’s – The 1717 Meetinghouse becomes a School
- James Otis, Jr. (born 2/6/1725) and Mercy Otis (born 9/25/1728) were educated here.
- Rebecca Crocker made a pencil drawing in 1851 of the 1717 Meetinghouse while a student.
- Rev. Henry Goodhue, Pastor of West Parish Church from 1863-1883 established a high school in the upstairs vestry. This was the first high school in the Town of Barnstable.
1852 – Remodeled Meetinghouse
- The old Meetinghouse was remodeled to reflect the popular neoclassical design with major changes to both the interior and the exterior.
1852 – 1922 – The Meetinghouse in Decline
- Gradually the old Meetinghouse in West Parish started a physical decline and repairs were deferred due to lack of parishioners and funding.
1922-1952 – Restoration of the 1717 Meetinghouse
- 1922 – Miss Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins and Miss Elizabeth I. Samuel began their efforts to save the Meetinghouse from disrepair and restore it to its original form.
- 1929 – The Restoration Fund is formed to raise the money to pay for the restoration.
- May 17, 1950 – The non-sectarian, nonprofit West Parish Memorial Foundation was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “to preserve the West Parish of Barnstable as an historical memorial of early America and Americans, and in furtherance of this end to improve, repair, enlarge, alter, restore and maintain the present 1717 structure, to acquire land, to make any contracts to these ends.”
- 1953, Spring – Nearly half the $100,000 fund raising goal was reached and Arthur Goodell’s restoration plans were approved.
- June 29, 1953 – Restoration work began. A great crane arrived to take down the 1723 gilded cock weather vane, to remove the 922 pound Paul Revere Bell of and to remove the steeple added in the 1852 remodeling. The ceiling was removed exposing the 1717 timbers and old plaster was removed exposing exact locations of the original windows, pulpit, balcony and stairways. The 18 feet of length added in 1723 was removed and the building returned to its original dimensions.
- On March 24, Miss Jenkins died. A memorial service was held on March 27th in the almost fully restored the 1717 Meetinghouse. Tributes were made to the remarkable lady who truly had “saved the 1717 Meetinghouse” and ensured its preservation for future generations.
- August 24, 1958 – The Restoration was finished and a re-dedication Service was held.
2013 – The West Parish Memorial Foundation, Inc. is renamed the 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation, Inc.
2014 – The 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation wins a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for repairs
- The sorely needed roof replacement was begun during the Summer.
2015 – The Revere Bell was sent for refurbishment and returned in excellent condition!
- The bell was no longer able to be rung due to over 150 years of wear and tear, but now peals clearly (and safely) again.
2016 – A major initiative – refurbishment of the thirty-eight windows and six doors.
- This is not a “window and door replacement” project. Each window was carefully removed and transported to Providence, RI in lots of nineteen windows each, where Heritage Restoration expertly restored each window sash. Window openings were protected for the three months needed to restore and replace the windows. Openings were evaluated and refreshed to ensure proper protection against the weather before reinstallation of the window sashes.
- Providence Forge was selected to restore or recreate the hardware on the doors. Some of the hardware was too deteriorated to restore or had been previously replaced with materials that did not conform to original, hand forged materials. Attention to detail was the watchword, here.