Driving through South Harwich you may notice the beautifully restored 1836 South Harwich Meetinghouse, the proud recipient of the 2019 Massachusetts Historic Commission Preservation Award. The restored building with its historic lighting, unparalleled acoustics and candlelit ambience is now the perfect venue for a wide range of musical programs, cultural arts, education and community enrichment throughout the year.
History of the South Harwich Meetinghouse
The South Harwich Meetinghouse was built in 1836 and still stands on it’s original site. The meetinghouse was founded by Amasa Nickerson, who was a ship owner and sea captain.
In its early days the meetinghouse served as an important place for worship and social gatherings for the people of Harwich. The congregation size of the meetinghouse ebbed and flowed throughout the years; however, eventually the struggling church merged with the East Harwich Methodist Church in 1979.
A local Harwich man Rufus Walker and several others lobbied for the town to save the abandoned building. Their efforts paid off in 1984 as the meetinghouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its new title, the building fell further into disrepair. Then finally in 1996, the Town of Harwich purchased the meetinghouse but was never able to restore it to its former glory.
Restoration of the South Harwich Meetinghouse
In 2003 Judith Ford, the former director of the Brooks Academy Museum and a lover of historic buildings, took up the torch and formed the Friends of the South Harwich Meetinghouse, Inc and began serious fundraising efforts for the buildings eventual restoration. The town then licensed the building to the Friends with the understanding they would complete the restoration and present a program of cultural arts, musical performances, education and community gatherings without the financial support of the town.
Through several generous grants of the Harwich Community Preservation Commission, the diligent fundraising efforts of the newly-formed Friends and donations from the community, the restoration process began with the intention of converting the building back to the way it would’ve looked in the 1830s. Attention was given to every historic detail of the restoration including rebuilding the grand stairway, replicating the original design, reupholstering the pews and even using original paint colors and stencil designs.
The South Harwich Meetinghouse Today
Today the Meeting House serves as a hub of cultural activity in the town of Harwich and throughout the lower Cape. With the support of the community and the enthusiasm of its volunteers, the Meeting House has been able to keep the doors open even in the off-season, providing much needed local entertainment throughout the quiet winter months.
This Fall they hosted their 2nd season of monthly Chamber performances, the “Masterpieces at the Meetinghouse” series which received rave reviews! The outstanding Lighthouse Chamber Players opened with a spectacular concert in October, followed other highly acclaimed ensembles including Celtic Crossroads and Celtic Riptides, enchanting audiences with outstanding music, performed by dramatic candlelight in this intimate historic setting.
Upcoming Events Not To Be Missed
The Meeting House will bring an international flair to the town of Harwich this Spring with an array of performances for their International Celebration Series. For the first production, the Meetinghouse will partner with the Highland Light Scottish Society to present “Tartan Day ~ Celebrating Scotland” on April 22nd at 3pm.
This truly unique experience will feature the music & culture of the fascinating country of Scotland! This high-energy concert is sure to dazzle the audience with Scottish song & dance, featuring the local talents of the Highland Light Scottish Pipe Band, the Chatham Fiddle Orchestra….and more! The ticket price of $25 for general admission ($15 for Children 12 & under) includes a traditional Scottish supper & dessert. Tickets may be purchased through their website or at the door while they last.
Check their website for announcements of the next shows in the International celebration series and mark your calendars for September’s upcoming ambitious production of “Oh, Captain, My Captain”. The Meetinghouse will retell the vivid story of the early Harwich seafaring history, through this original musical drama.
The 1836 Meetinghouse has been at the heart of early Cape Cod ancestry throughout its long and colorful Harwich history. Watching over the early seafaring families, serving as a safe harbor during times of sickness, fires and storms, she has always been a beacon in time.
If you have seen any performances at the South Harwich Meetinghouse please share in the comments below: