Middleton, NH is one of those friendly, tightly-knit communities where folks meet weekly for a potluck at the old town hall. The center of town is at a place known as Four Corners, at the intersection of Kings Highway and New Durham/Ridge Road. Our subject, the Old Town Hall, stands at one of the corners; at another is the new town hall, a third holds a small ranch house, and the last of the eponymous corners is an uninhabited, treed lot.
From the outside, the old town hall looks like a lot of other rural New England municipal buildings, with peeling paint, amoebic additions and a neighborly highway maintenance garage. Walk inside, and the impression is confirmed; a church-like basement, with long tables, well-scrubbed kitchen and slightly moldy odor. But the upstairs of this humble building contains on of the most impressive and completely preserved early 19th century meetinghouses I have ever seen. Upon entering the second floor, I felt like Lucy passing through the back of the wardrobe. The walls are decorated with a fanciful landscape mural with feathery trees and stalagmite-shaped mountains. The floor plan is laid out with a complete set of box pews, their stained interiors showing the scalloped marks of the maker’s handplane. The box pew doors were numbered by the same hand that painted the mural, John Avery, in 1841, and although most have been touched up, a handful with the original calligraphy and paint scheme remain.
Last year, Middleton received a matching grant for a conditions assessment of the Old Town Hall and attached Corner School. The grant was provided the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance which receives funding for its grants program from the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). Currently, the New Hampshire state Senate is endorsing a budget that includes full funding for LCHIP, which would help more communities to preserve those buildings that define its history, and a sense of place.
Among the many historic buildings that I have had the good-fortune to visit, the Middleton Old Town Hall is one of the most charming and, sadly, most in need of immediate repair.