The history and antiquities of New England are a source of continuing interest and delight to those who travel through the towns and countryside of these six states. Old houses, collections of early furniture and artifacts, burying grounds, battlefields, and historic sites of many other kinds attract their thousands of visitors each year.
Among these treasuries of the past stands the New England meetinghouse. Its history is the history of a community. As one gathers the records, stories, and traditions about the men who raised these buildings of oak and pine, the people who worshiped in them, and the events that took place within their walls, he learns much that is not in formal histories. Especially does one come to realize that the meetinghouse was the focus of New England life, not only ecclesiastically but socially and politically. In these old structures, imagination still can reconstruct more readily than elsewhere the vivid pattern of the Puritan community. Scores of such buildings, fortunately, still are standing, and although most of them are fallen from their former high estate, they are among the most eloquent of all the voices of the past. Within their walls was nourished the Puritan tradition. Today, when this tradition so often is disparaged and when we are searching for the secret of its nature and the sources of its power, where can we turn with greater hope of success than to the ancient cradle in which it long was nurtured?
The present book, the outcome of an avocation pursued through many years, deals with the architectural and historical evolution of meetinghouse and church from the seventeenth century through about the first third of the nineteenth. Save for a few cases, there are mentioned in it only those buildings that still are standing and that were erected by the year 1830, a date that makes possible the inclusion of the Federal-period structures, together with early examples of the Greek Revival. Representative structures, about 200 in number, are discussed in some detail. The entire body, over 500 in all, are described briefly in the Appendix. This is a wider coverage than has been attempted before in any book on the subject. For the author and his collaborator to visit all of New England, village by village, has been impossible, and there may well be structures, particularly in smaller towns and away from the main highways, that have been overlooked. If any reader knows of such a case, I shall be glad to learn of it.
Many sources were used in gathering information about these buildings. In addition to the records and publications of the sort mentioned in Chapter 7, the following books were useful: J.