Project Glossary

More information about people and places mentioned.

Elias Carter, architect

Elias Carter was a Worcester (MA), architect and house-builder active in central/western Massachusetts in the early 1800s. 

His first church commission was at Brimfield (1805), but the building has since been replaced. His Templeton (MA) church, built in 1810, was replicated along a string of meetinghouses extending 60 miles north to Newport (NH) in 1822. His church at Mendon (MA), built in 1820, was also widely copied throughout the area. Both had distinctive steeple designs.

Isaac Damon, architect

Isaac Damon was born in 1781. At age 30, he moved from Weymouth (MA) to Northampton (MA). His wife died the following year, and he married Sophia Strong (pictured), who delivered eight children. 

Over the course of his career, Damon built at least 13 churches, 14 other buildings, and 25 bridges. Most of his buildings were constructed in the Connecticut River Valley, but his bridge work took him farther afield. His fully-enclosed bell towers and steeples are easily recognized throughout his region of influence.

He retired in 1852 at the age of 71 and died ten years later. 

James Breck, merchant

A 24-year-old merchant of Scottish descent, James Breck moved from Claremont to Croydon (NH) in 1804, the same year that the Croydon Turnpike was chartered. Breck served Croydon as selectman and representative in the state legislature. In 1816, he moved down to Newport and constructed a brick store at the corner of Main and Elm Streets. The structure was removed sometime after April 1979, for road improvements.

Breck belonged to the Congregational Society but was not a church member. Nevertheless, he financed a new meetinghouse, made of brick, on the eastern side of the Sugar River—quite near his own store. Often listed as the highest tax-payer in Newport, James Breck served for many years as selectman and state representative. 

In 1842, he moved his large family to Rochester (NY) where new opportunities stemmed from the completion of the Erie Canal. He again opened a mercantile business, which he and one of his sons operated until his death in 1871; the son died just five years later.

James Wheelock, pastor

The Rev. James Ripley Wheelock, grandson of Dartmouth College founder Eleazar Wheelock, served as pastor during the time the brick meetinghouse was constructed. Because the building was financed by James Breck and others on the building committee, the minister and congregation appear to have contributed little to its design. The new building was erected in full view of the 1793 meetinghouse across the river, and Wheelock is reported to have visited the construction site, perhaps often, but he makes no mention of the new meetinghouse in church minutes.

James Wheelock's father practiced law in Hanover (NH), and James practiced law in Royalton (VT) after his graduation from Dartmouth in 1807. In 1816, he quit the law and moved to Middlebury (VT) to study the ministry with the Rev. Thomas Abbot Merrill. Called by the Newport (NH) congregation, James Wheelock was ordained in the old meetinghouse on December 2, 1818. During 1819, he added over 100 new members to the church; among them was his new wife, the former Delia Bass of Middlebury.

John Leach, carpenter

John Leach was paid $6 for the drawings of the South Church of Newport. He was also paid for raising its timber frame and later waived his design fee. A lesser known architect/builder, he left a lasting imprint on our built environment.

John Leach was born in 1778 at Manchester (MA). His family moved along with several others to the southern part of Dunbarton (NH), around 1795. In 1805, he married Nancy Tenney, daughter of local builder William Tenney, who constructed many homes and also the town's meetinghouse. Leach may have worked for Tenney for some period, but one source states that William Tenney left his family over a dispute with his father-in-law, Judge Page, in 1796, several years before Leach’s marriage to Nancy. Dunbarton town records list John Leach as a house carpenter, and he may well have built the Capt. Joseph Leach House for his father in 1808; he was later hired as carpenter and joiner for construction of Concord's first Phenix Hotel in 1818, but presumably he remained busy in the interim. 

Meetinghouse Tragedy in Newport

Artist rendering of the old meetinghouse.

In 1791 the town of Newport purchased property on Unity Road for a new meetinghouse to serve both the town and its Congregational Society. The structure was erected two years later in 1793. Published sources cite different dates, but this transcript of a private letter seems definitive:

Dear Grandmother, I have sad news to write you. Dear brother Charlie is dead. June 26th, Father and Charlie went to Newport to help raise a meeting house. Charlie fell from the building 27 feet, striking his head. He lived only a short time. Father and Mother are so sad; everybody loved Charlie. He was 19 his last birthday. He was brave, and so helpful to Father. He taught school last winter....

Sarah Seamans, daughter of New London's Baptist minister, Job Seamans, related news of the accident. In a journal entry on the first anniversary of the event, the Rev. Job Seamans wrote:

Thursday June 26, 1794 — This day a year ago my son was killed at the raising of Newport meeting-house; upon this day too, they raised their meeting-house in Croydon. This circumstance brought troubles fresh to my mind and I could not avoid another bitter spell of mourning. When will the days of mourning be ended? I felt as though I never should forget this heavy stroke; but I wish I may never murmur against God.

The 1793 meetinghouse served well the town's original settlement west of the Sugar River, but over the next 20 years the center of activity shifted to the eastern side of the river. When the new, brick meetinghouse was constructed in 1822, there appears to have been no dissent: it would be situated along the new turnpike running up the east side. In 1823, the old meetinghouse was sold, moved down the road, and used as a barn.

Newport Brickmaking

At the time of its construction, the South Church must have been Newport's largest man-made structure. Its financial patron, James Breck, no doubt insisted that it be made of brick (as he had done earlier for his own store), and each brick was hand-made from local clay. Local craftsmen laid them by the thousands in order to complete the church.

Edmund Wheeler's "History of Newport" lists several brick-makers, with the earliest dating back to 1776. The Nathan Mudget yard on Sunapee Street, the Wilcox yard on Spring Street, and the yard at the B.W. Jenks place at the corner of Oak and Pine Streets all employed several workers. Smaller makers included David Brown, Clark Emerson, Albert Hurd, and "a Mr. Bachelder made brick in the marsh above the school-house in District No. 14."

John Silver is credited as mason of the early brick buildings in Newport, including the Newport House (1814), the South Church (1823), the Eagle Hotel (1825), the Courthouse (1826). Working with him were John Silver Jr., Samuel Noyes, James Carr, Joseph Carr, George Tasker, and J.W. Sargent.

The "Templeton Run"

"Templeton Run" was a term used by Peter Benes of Boston University in his 1978 study of geographic patterns in New England church architecture. While it is common to see clusters of similarly-designed churches, he observed a more linear dispersion for a particular, distinctive design.

The double-octagon steeple at Newport's South Church establishes the building as the northernmost member of the Templeton-style churches. 

The first in the group was designed by Worcester (MA) architect Elias Carter and dedicated in 1811 at Templeton (MA). From that point the design was carried, with modifications, northward 60 miles through western New Hampshire over the span of a dozen years. Elias Carter did not build these other structures, but towns dispatched building committees to study and adapt his design, and some of the same craftsmen migrated from one site to another. 

The official Templeton-derived meetinghouses are located at Troy (NH), Fitzwilliam (NH), Dublin (NH), Hancock (NH), Acworth (NH), and Newport (NH).  Of these, Fitzwilliam is the prime example. The Troy meetinghouse, now the town offices and fire station, has undergone major changes. The Dublin meetinghouse was demolished in 1852. All the others are immediately recognizable as you travel through southwestern New Hampshire. In 2008, only the meetinghouses at Templeton, Hancock, and Newport offered year-round religious services; Acworth is used during the summer months. Troy, Fitzwilliam, and the lower portion of Hancock house their respective town offices.

William Cheney, merchant/industrialist

Born in Alstead (NH) in 1776, William Cheney moved to Newport in 1807. His first store was located in the Enoch Noyes house, west of the Sugar River. He built the Richards Block east of the river in 1810 and relocated his business. He then built Nettleton's Hotel and the Tontine, a huge, wooden building with stores and mechanic's shops. During 1815, he constructed dams and several mills. Four years later he purchased the water rights at the Sunapee Harbor outlet and built saw-, grist-, and carding-mills there. 

A deacon, he provided the land for a new Baptist church, built in 1821. Working with James Breck, he established Newport as the seat of the newly-formed Sullivan County, ensuring a steady business for the town's hospitality industry as people traveled to Newport to conduct their legal affairs. 

William Cheney died of consumption in 1830. His business interests were assumed by his sons, most of whom left Newport within a few years of his death. Cheney's youngest son, James Edwin Cheney, then in his early twenties, started a mercantile in Rochester (NY) where James Breck had also resettled in 1842. A coincidence?

© New Hampshire Steeples, 2012