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Foster Town House (Second Baptist Church, later Elder Hammond's Meeting House)

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Second Baptist Church, later Elder Hammond's Meeting House
1796–1797. 181 Howard Hill Rd.

If Foster residents were to designate a single building to symbolize their town, this important meeting house would almost certainly be it. Until 1990 it stood in relative isolation, with field and woods as backdrop. Then a new town hall and adjunct building went up next to it. Stylistically, the new town hall blows up the clapboarded spareness of the meeting hall, meaning to complement what it subtly undermines by its outsized mimicry.

The meeting house again indicates the architectural impact of an elemental building shape, careful proportions, straightforward carpentry, and a commanding site. As is typical of the eighteenth-century meeting house, the westfacing entrance is placed at the center of one of the longer elevations. Here it is a double door, its dignity magnified by a broad frame with paneled pilasters and an entablature, while the equivalent side entrances are thoroughly vernacular in character. The two-story, five-bay format of the front elevation invokes that of a typical substantial house of the period, but made more monumental both by increased height and by stretches of wall at either corner which screen two interior stairs flanking the entrance, as well as by the entrance itself. A subtlety is the slightly smaller size of windows upstairs: twelveover-eight panes, in contrast to twelve-over-twelve downstairs. Consider the difference in visual effect on the front and the south side elevations because of the proportional relationships between the clapboarded wall surface and their openings: in front, the five-bay format of ten openings seems subtly stretched by the eaves immediately overhead and the expanse of wall at either end; on the south side, the reduced three-bay format of six openings seems further compressed around the entrance by its engulfment beneath the immense blankness of the gable wall above. The typical window of the period is not inset, but framed to project the sash forward of the clapboarding. This, too, intensifies awareness of the volume of the whole.

The meeting house formula decrees that the principal entrance on the long side face the platform for preaching, originally with a high pulpit for the elder and a lower one for the deacon. The stairs to either side of the entrance rise against the front wall, across the outer, downstairs windows of the elevation, to a landing fitted into the corner; then up another flight against the side wall to a balcony around three sides of the space. This is fronted by solid plank facing. It and the roof are supported on vigorously turned supports which, at their base, proclaim their origin as sizable square timbers. The simple, rugged structure is intensified against the white plaster walls and ceiling. Plank benches with open rail backs focus on the speaker. Light from all directions makes this an inverted lantern. Concentration on such essentiality intensifies the architectural experience.

The proceeds of a lottery originally financed this meeting house, after the Foster Center Baptist Church, under Elder John Hammond, split on doctrinal principles from the Hopkins Mills Baptist Church. Receipts from the lottery, however, proved insufficient, so the interior remained incomplete during the period of Hammond's ministry. With Hammond's departure from Foster in 1815, the rival Christian Church in nearby Rice City usurped his Calvinist fervor and enticed most of the congregation away. The decimated congregation of the Second Baptist Church approached the town in 1822 about the possibility of a transfer of ownership, especially since the building had been used for town meetings since 1801. (Town residents boast that in no other case have town meetings been held continually in the same place over such a stretch of time.) The town seems to have struck a hard bargain, since the church and town halved the cost of repairs and the completion of the interior—$86 apiece—before the transfer occurred. It has served as the Foster Town House ever since. By 1900, however, neglect had brought it again to serious disrepair. In 1904 the Ladies Home Mission Society of the Foster Center Christian Church held an Old Home Day to raise funds for restoration—the kind of action which was popular in the revival of enthusiasm for colonial architecture at the turn of the century. These festivities inaugurated a series of annual Old Home Days and fairs on the grounds of the Town House. They persist to the present, as another contribution to the life of the community centered in this building.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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