The Friends of the North Cornwall Meeting House is a tax-deductible not-for-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the structural health and beauty of this beloved community meeting place. Funds raised by the Friends will help pay for repairs and renovation projects undertaken by the United Church of Christ in Cornwall, Congregational, a separate organization. The long term goal of the campaign is to establish an endowment for the upkeep of the building in time for its 200th birthday in 2026..
We have our tax exempt 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. Any donation you make to the Friends is tax-deductible.
Please send your contributions to:
Friends of the North Cornwall Meeting House
P.O. Box 162,
West Cornwall, CT 06796
The North Cornwall Meeting House was erected in 1826, fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, thirty-five years before the Civil War. Today the same steeple towers over nearby houses and fields. One local architect has written, “The building in an Architectural Gem – unspoiled, without question the most beautiful building in Cornwall – with its Christopher Wren steeple, eight hand-fluted columns, ninety-one wrought-iron candle holders, etc.”
Back in 1826, even with the help of local farmers and other volunteers, the building reportedly cost about $2,500. Meanwhile, the cost of renovation and repair has multiplied many times. A 1926 extensive renovation has served the building well. Preservation of some sections of the 1826 wooden structure is needed before its 200th birthday in 2026, so that the building can continue to serve the people of Cornwall. This statement describes what the landmark needs to survive now and how the community can help.
Role of the Meeting House: This has been the place often chosen for family milestones, times of rejoicing, times of sorrow, and times for the community to listen and learn, even laugh.
- Countless couples have been married there, and the tradition happily continues.
- Memorial services still continue to fill the building.
- A community Christmas Eve candle-lit service is now offered at both 5 and 8 pm because a single service left people standing in the vestibule.
- You may have attended a reading or other cultural event , such as Michael Pollan’s “sermon” on the foods we should eat, or the annual Boxing Day reading.
The Capital Campaign: In July 2012 the members of the United Church of Christ in Cornwall, Congregational, authorized a $300,000 to $500,000 Capital Improvement Project to restore the NCMH to good condition. The scope of the work included:
- Restoration of the overall structural integrity of the building.
- Reconstruction of the steeple
- Repair or replacement of the exterior siding, roofing, shutters, and paint.
- The same for interior walls, ceiling, and floor.
Projects Completed: In 2012 the cellar of the building was sealed against moisture by pouring a concrete “rat slab” over the dirt floor. At that time too, nine rotting posts supporting the sanctuary floor were replaced by steel columns set on firm concrete bases. A year earlier, a sagging beam over the balcony that had caused the building to be closed for five months was reinforced by a heavy transverse beam at the base of the steeple. During March 2013, the floor of the vestibule, which had become spongy and weak, was removed and replaced with new carpeting installed. All these improvements were funded by the UCC, the Chapel of All Saints (Episcopal) and one private donation.
Priorities: The most urgent need is to reconstruct the steeple of the meeting house. The spire, the topmost section of the steeple, is in stable condition. Its underpinnings, however have been patched and mended too many times since 1826. The timber framing below the spire has begun to rot from exposure to the weather. Roofing on both levels must be flashed and replaced. The entire top half needs to be lowered to the ground and rebuilt using modern construction techniques. The estimated cost is $200,000.
Next in priority will be large-scale maintenance projects such as exterior painting and interior plaster repair and resurfacing.
Endowing the Future: How can we best ensure that the meeting house can be cared for and safely maintained in the years to come? The UCC, which owns and has primary responsibility for the building, has two churches, a parsonage, and the parish house to maintain. Since the North Cornwall Meeting House “belongs” to the Cornwall community at large, the task of preservation falls to all of us.
I wanted to give you an update on the effort to restore and preserve the historic North Cornwall Meeting House.
The Friends of the North Cornwall Meeting House, an IRS approved 501(c)(3) non-profit, continues to work with the United Church of Christ in Cornwall (the owner of the building) preparing for repairs to the meeting house, some of which should begin this year.
This spring, plans were received from a State of Connecticut-approved historical architect addressing not only the steeple but other structural issues found in the building. These plans will help the project qualify for some state matching grants.
The good news is the plans require a less invasive technique for steeple repair than previously thought. It doesn’t appear the entire steeple will need removal, which, of course, is good. However, we are still short of our goal.
As you may know, the Friends have received a very generous challenge: an anonymous donor has offered to match, dollar for dollar, donations contributed to us, up to $50,000. Although we have made significant progress, we are still less than half way towards completing the challenge. Any dollar you contribute to this cause becomes two dollars.
Progress might seem slow and deliberate but everyone wants this project done in a thorough manner and in a financially prudent way.
Whether you live near the meeting house, have attended services, lectures, music events and have fond memories of it from the past, or appreciate beautiful structures and want to help preserve them, we hope you will support us in our efforts.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please contact anyone on the board. I can be reached at 672-6175. The architect’s plans will be available in the fall. If you’d like to see them then, just ask. And steeple tours are still available.
Jim Longwell, Chair
PS: Stay tuned for a Friends event this fall in conjunction with Cornwall’s 275th birthday!
~ Don Bachman ~ Paul Baren ~ Anne Coffin ~ David Hubbard ~ Joan McGuire~ Bob Potter ~ Julia Scott ~ Hunt Williams ~