BELLOWS FALLS >> It promises to be a most unique Rockingham Meeting House pilgrimage this year, turning an eye to the graveyard and the mysteries of the carvings of the stones.
The 110th annual pilgrimage to the Rockingham Meeting House will be held Sunday, beginning with welcoming bagpipe music and a picnic at 11 a.m. at the historic landmark structure.
The program "Memento Mori: Early Gravestones in Rockingham" will be led by Jamie Franklin, the curator of the Bennington Museum. The presentation will include a tour of relevant gravestone examples. The surrounding burial ground contains over one thousand graves, the oldest dating from around 1776, with some of the finest gravestone art found in New England.
Residents are asked to bring along their own picnic, or enjoy hamburgers and hotdogs cooked on-site by Lisai's, before the main program.
Tim Johnson will offer selections on the building's historic organ during the program.
Built in 1787, the building was the first church and meeting house in town. It was used for many years for both purposes, but as the population gravitated to Bellows Falls and Saxtons River, sadly it fell into disrepair. It was restored in 1907, and the first pilgrimage included a large gathering of local residents who brought picnic lunches and enjoyed a variety of activities and speeches for the building's re-dedication.
Those attending the pilgrimage annually have the opportunity to enjoy both the building and historic cemetery as well. From the building's brochure:
"Much of what stands today is original fabric from the eighteenth century: king-post timber framing, woodworking details of the exterior, many glass panes in the twenty-over- twenty windows, interior plaster work, and most of the material of the "pig pen" box pews.
"The pulpit was reconstructed in 1906, but the sounding board above it is original. In size and austerity, the Meeting House is very much a Puritan building of a style already considered old-fashioned in more urban parts of New England when it was built. The elegant Georgian details, however, relieve the austerity.
"The nearby hearse shed and burial vault served the needs of the graveyard."
Plan a leisurely lunch and afternoon. Bring a picnic or plan to offer a donation for our provided lunch, and settle in for music and enjoyment of one of the local community's treasures, your family and friends.