Demolition Alert 24: St. Charles Church in Dover, New Hampshire

Picture of St. Charles Church in Dover, New Hampshire

St. Charles Church in Dover, New Hampshire, Source: Google Maps

The Foster’s Daily Democrat recently reported on a proposal that has been floated to demolish St. Charles Church in Dover, New Hampshire to make way for “workforce housing:”

The property is owned by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester.

Tom Bebbington, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester, previously told Foster’s Daily Democrat that the Housing Partnership would be turning the church into workforce housing with approximately 42 units.

In April, he said the idea of turning the church into workforce housing “makes the bishop happy.” It was not clear in April that the plan would be to remove the church and a smaller rectory from the property.

Bird said today, that according to the plan to be aired Tuesday, the church and rectory would go and two other buildings would be constructed.

Bird said the first new building would be a large four-story structure facing Central Avenue and housing 14 residential workforce housing units. It would be a mixed-use building offering retail and commercial office space on the first floor.

The second building would be a two-story, six-unit residential building with a front on Park Street, which runs parallel to Central Avenue and already has a substantial workforce housing project nearby.

Fortunately, the quest to save the church is not yet lost. It is now reported that local residents have started circulating a petition to save the church:

Following a presentation by representatives of the Housing Partnership, the first applicant to bring a proposal before the board, Miller took to the podium to state her displeasure at the thought of a beloved place of worship being torn down.

St. Charles closed years ago due to a dwindling number of parishioners. 

Taking matters into her own hands, she began a petition to preserve the church, a document which gained its first signatures during the meeting.

Asking whether her step is too late at this point in the process, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Ciotti answered Miller by saying, “It’s never too late to start.”

Resident Rick Hebbard made his the first signature on Miller’s petition while his wife, Mary Hebbard, spoke to the board.

We can only hope the petition is successful. But, as we noted recently in another Demolition Alert for St. John the Evangelist in South Portland, Maine, plummeting church attendance has  left a glut of unused churches throughout Northern New England. It is very difficult to re-purpose an old church, so many are bound to meet the wrecking ball.

However, St. Charles epitomizes the problem with tearing down our churches–the lost historical architecture. We can pretty much guarantee that any new housing development that has been deemed “workforce housing” will architecturally pale in comparison to the church.

We aren’t a big fan of the “facadectomy” as generally practiced in the bigger cities because it usually just results in the plastering of the the old facade onto a new building. In many cases, this process results in an architectural Frankenstein.

However, in this case, the church building itself could be joined to a new building, built in the adjoining parking lot, and the church interior reconfigured to contain the proposed retail and/or office space. And we are at a complete lost as to why the rectory can’t be turned into apartments as is.

Some of this will surely cost a bit more money to the developer than starting with a blank slate (though they would save on demolition costs). Yet, in our opinion, the project would gain by preserving the church’s architecture and goodwill of the neighbors.

If there are any New Hampshire Catholics reading this, perhaps you might want to to send the Diocese of Manchester an email about such a solution . . . it’s better than demolition.

Check out our other “Demolition Alerts” posts which, alas, are starting to be dominated by old churches.

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