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Rocky Hill Meeting House

Situated in Amesbury, Massachusetts, Rocky Hill Meeting House is one of a few 18th-century structures that have survived to the present with their interiors intact. It was built along the only road crossing the Powow River (via ferry) on the way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The meeting house, originally part of Salisbury, Massachusetts, is now a non-profit museum owned by Historic New England, previously known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiques (SPNEA), and is open to the public several afternoons a year. Situated on a rocky ledge, the remarkably unaltered meeting house is an example of traditional New England church architecture. It replaced an earlier structure used by the West Parish of Salisbury. In the beginning, the house accommodated the two central elements of New England society: church services and town meetings. Today, the Rocky Hill Meeting House stands as a powerful reminder of a time when community life centered in a plain, wooden building — a symbol of the stout fiber that is New England's core. The original meeting house dates to the early 1700s. Parishioners who settled in newly cleared lands of Salisbury requested that a church be built closer to their settlement. In 1710, the town’s voters agreed to build that new meeting house. The first Rocky Hill Meeting House for the West Parish of Salisbury was completed in 1716. Its parsonage was erected in 1718 on a site north of the building. By the 1780s, the first meeting house was beyond repair. In January 1785, the citizenry voted to build a new meeting house west of the parsonage house near Rocky Hill. The new house was completed in time for a December 1785 town meeting. George Washington stopped there in 1789, to greet the townspeople on his way north. The meeting house became a part of Amesbury and was no longer used for town meetings. To maintain the building, a group that included descendants of some of the original pew holders formed the West Parish Society. They transferred the building and its land to SPNEA in 1941-42. SPNEA also acquired the parsonage in 1964-65 and moved it near the meeting house to spare it from demolition. The interior of the meeting house has remained nearly unchanged since it was built. It preserves the original high pulpit, pentagonal sounding board, deacon's desk, marbleized columns, box pews (complete with graffiti and foot warmers), unfinished stairs to the gallery, and a sloping gallery on three sides. The pews have never been painted, and the marbleized pulpit and pillars supporting the galleries still bear their original paint.