The Origins of Newbury’s Meeting Houses
In the language of today, a building of this type is often referred to as a church. But two hundred years ago, a distinction existed between a church and a meeting house. Where a church was a group of people who came together to worship in a common belief, a meeting house, on the other hand, was the place where all churches could meet. Over its lifetime, the Center Meeting House has hosted Methodist, Free Will Baptist, and Universalist services.
The first meeting house in Newbury was built on Bly Hill in 1791. At that time, the town’s population was 331 and both civil and religious focus was on Bly Hill. The decision to build was made at town meeting, with management of the project placed in the hands of the selectmen. Financing was accomplished through the sale of pews rather than taxes.
By 1830 the town’s population had grown to 797, and focus shifted to the southern end of the lake. As a result, a second meeting house was built in South Newbury village in 1831. A group sold pews to raise money and, by that act, became proprietors of the South Meeting House.