“First Roman Catholic Church”
Found on State Route 103 at the intersection with Plains Road in Claremont, New Hampshire
Inscription: “Southerly on Old Church Road is located the first Roman Catholic edifice in New Hampshire. It was erected in 1823 under the direction of the Reverend Virgil Horace Barber, S. J. The building serves St. Mary’s parish and contained the first Roman Catholic school in the State.”
We also found this history of the Old St. Mary Church on the St. Mary’s Parish website:
Old St. Mary Church in Claremont, New Hampshire, is the first Roman Catholic Church in the state.
The original building was erected in 1823 under the direction of the Reverend Virgil Horace Barber, S.J. It is located in West Claremont on Old Church Road. The building served St. Mary’s parish and contained the first Roman Catholic school in the state.
The unusual two-story brick building was erected at the north end of the Barber home and next to what was then the only cemetery in Claremont. The contractor was Andrew Comings (1776-1853) of Cornish, and when finished in 1824, the sanctuary and its gallery had above it a large “study room” and “two small rooms for the classes.” The church is twenty feet by forty-eight feet, six inches (including the sixteen by eight-foot front section), and thirty-four feet to the eaves. The main part of the Barber house was probably twenty-one by forty-two feet in size. The church was directly accessible from the adjoining house, where Virgil opened the Claremont Catholic Seminary in the autumn of 1823. It was the first Catholic boys’ school in New England, and was for some students a preparatory college for the Jesuits. The term “seminary” was often used in the 19th century as we now use the term “high school.”
The church was regularly used until 1866, but was rarely in good repair. Although it was put up for sale, it never sold. Late in the 19th century, old furnishings from the new Church were placed in Old St. Mary’s–pews, reed organ and an altar. Also, the walls were repaired and the church was rendered habitable. Fr. Simard began the practice of an annual Mass there in 1905. The church also served as a storage place for cemetery equipment.
Daniel Barber’s house was rented out and apartments were often occupied by immigrants. By 1914 the Barber house was demolished. In 1921 a new brick wall at the rear of the left side of the church was built, where the Barber home had been attached. A small door on the left side of the entrance was bricked up. Also, two windows that match those on the other side were added, along with a new roof and eaves, turnbuckles and rods through the classroom to stabilize the side walls, plastering and painting. The staircase from the gallery to the classrooms was altered, and may not have been part of the original floor plan.
By 1939, the Knights of Columbus made some repairs and had a bronze plaque placed over the door. In 1942, the present pews were given and in 1948 the altar was given, as well as new roofing. The building had no electricity until 1965. In 1964-65, the Knights of Columbus gave funds for renovations.
In 1949, Fr. Buckley began the tradition of Saturday morning Masses during the summer, “…in order to increase visitational devotion to that of a shrine.” After a lapse, the practice was revived by Fr. LaMontagne and has not ceased to this day.
Old St. Mary’s is the second oldest Catholic structure standing in New England.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to actually read the sign before heading off on our journey–this is especially unfortunate since we are Catholic. Had we done so, we would have known to go searching for Old St. Mary’s church. Alas we did not so, for now, we will have to rely on these images from Google Maps. The next time we are in the Claremont area we will stop to get our own pictures and update this post accordingly . . . stay tuned!
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