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Hampsteadís Old Meeting House
Thereís a Method to the Peeling Paint
By:  Sean Joncas, Tri-Town Times - August 16, 2007

(Reprinted with permission.)

HAMPSTEAD The paint on the side of the Old Meeting House has been slowly peeling for some time, and for good reason.

Several residents have contacted the Hampstead Historical Society, wondering why the town is letting the paint peel off the historic building near the corner of Emerson and Main streets.  Society president Rob Morris said it's all part of keeping the more than 150-year-old structure intact.

"People ask us why we don't just paint it, but there's a method to our madness," said Morris.

The Meeting House, which dates back to 1745, has what First Period Colonial's Bob Pothier estimates to be 80 to 100 coats of paint on it.  In some spots the coats of paint are up to a quarter inch thick.

[Instead of scraping, sanding, and/or sand blasting off the paint and ruining the original historic clapboards beneath, the Historic District Commission decided on a newly recognized process being used on historic properties.  In addition, it will realize significant cost savings to the town.]

"We're doing what's known as a self stripping method," said Pothier, who has been restoring old homes and other buildings for over 25 years and has been involved with the restoration of the Old Meeting House since 1994.  (  He previously worked on the restoration of Sandown's Old Meeting House.

The process going on now involves carefully removing layers by popping water blisters in the paint.  The clapboard dries out as the paint peels off.

"Because of the way the paint peels, it looks awful," said Pothier.

In place of the stripped layers of paint is a temporary, thin whitewash paint to cover the bare wood of the original exterior clapboards.  The light, watery paint will help protect the clapboards from weather exposure.

"You can lose a half inch of wood over a hundred years if that wood is exposed," said Pothier.

Although it will be several years before the entire building receives a fresh, permanent coat of paint in place of the light whitewash, Pothier said the process will help the building last for a long time to come.

"The self stripping process saves the town a lot of money too," said Pothier.  He and his crew expect to be finished with the paint scraping by the fall.  

They have previously worked on the Old Meeting House bell tower, which houses what Pothier estimates to be one of two Paul Revere Jr. bells still in existence.  The bell is believed to originate from Paul Revere's foundry.  Morris said the Historical Society is currently looking into estimates to restore the bell.

One thing is certain the original building has passed the test of time.

"Those guys knew what they were doing back then," said Morris.  "The clapboards still have the original hand wrought nails throughout."

The building has been used as a place for worship and, for nearly a hundred years, had no second floor.  It has seen its share of famous New Hampshire people too, including Daniel Webster, who attended a trial there in 1814.  Today, the building is open for public use and can be rented from the town.

Pothier's First Period Colonial will also begin reconstruction work this fall in Londonderry on a 1722 home dismantled and relocated to the Londonderry Historical Society's Pillsbury Road museum.

    Photo of Hampstead, New Hampshire
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