Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2014 Preservation Award Winners
Needham Town Hall

First Church of Christ – Fifth Meeting House • Lancaster


Designed by prominent American architect Charles Bulfinch and erected in 1816, the First Church of Christ – Fifth Meeting House is widely recognized as a building of paramount architectural and historic significance. The church’s dedicated congregation has preserved the building and generously shared it with the public for nearly 200 years. A remarkable collection of records, dating from 1815 to the present, documents the building’s upkeep in great detail, including accounts of the installation of an experimental furnace in 1827, an unsuccessful attempt to subdivide the sanctuary into two floors in 1869, and the restoration of the horse sheds in 1923 by preservation architect Joseph Everett Chandler. More recently, several investigative studies—including conditions assessments in 1986 and 2005 and a 2010 Historic Structure Report funded by a Getty Foundation grant—have provided a roadmap for the church’s preservation of the building’s structure and fabric, now and into the future. The grant also allowed the congregation to sponsor a workshop on strategies for historic structures, which culminated in a consensus document, the Lancaster Resolution, providing recommendations for environmental systems in historic buildings.

First Church has worked to increase awareness of the building’s significance and to secure support for the preservation of its historic fabric. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. In 1986, the congregation entered into a preservation restriction agreement with the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Since that time, Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grants have helped fund multiple restoration projects—most recently, comprehensive roof, window, and masonry repairs, as well as painstaking restoration of the cupola and belfry and its Paul Revere Bell. In 2008, the Bulfinch Fund was established to provide an endowment for the church’s ongoing maintenance and repair. The Bulfinch Fund’s main objectives are to develop resources for the preservation and restoration of this building, and to educate the public about Charles Bulfinch through tours, educational programs, and publications. The fund raised more than $320,000 for the cupola’s recent restoration.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission recently added the Stewardship category to the Preservation Awards Program in order to recognize owners who have responsibly maintained their historic properties for a minimum of ten years. As the first property to receive the Stewardship award, The First Church of Christ – Fifth Meeting House sets an excellent example for its diligent and continuous maintenance, the high standards of research employed in its preservation, and the extraordinary steps that have been taken to ensure its place in our future.

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