The Rockingham Meeting House
Courtesy photo
The Rockingham Meeting House
Town and Village

‘Gravestones as Touchstones’ is theme for Rockingham Meeting House’s annual pilgrimage

ROCKINGHAM — Wednesday, Aug. 6, marks the 117th annual gathering at the Rockingham Meeting House to celebrate its 1906 restoration.

"Gravestones as Touchstones" is this year's Pilgrimage theme. Part of Rockingham Old Home Days, Pilgrimage activities include food, music, and historic reflection. Keynote speaker Dennis Montagna will explore cemeteries as settings for public history with an eye to the importance of the meeting house graveyard as a source of community awareness and mindfulness, underscoring the need for preservation of this important Rockingham archive.

Montagna directs the National Park Service Northeast Region Monument Research and Preservation Program. Based at the Park Service's Northeast Region Office, the program provides comprehensive assistance in the interpretation and care of historic cemeteries, outdoor sculpture, and public monuments to managers of National Park sites and to other constituents nationwide.

He writes and lectures on commemoration in burial spaces, with a particular interest in those found outside of traditional cemetery environments. Among these are Franklin Roosevelt's gravesite at Hyde Park, N.Y., and Father Divine's mausoleum on his estate near Philadelphia.

Montagna has assisted historic cemeteries with a wide range of preservation efforts and also helped plan the conservation response to vandalism at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia, and advised Arlington National Cemetery on the conservation of the Tomb of the Unknowns. He holds a bachelor's degree in studio art and art history from Florida State University, a master's degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a doctorate from the University of Delaware.

He participated in the 1989 ICCROM Architectural Conservation Course in Rome, Italy, with grants from the Kress and Getty Foundations, and in subsequent years returned to Rome as a course instructor.

He currently serves as the president of the Association for Gravestone Studies and as an advisor to the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor.

Historian and folklorist David Deacon will provide a program of local history through music and storytelling to remind those in attendence of the lives of those now resting in the graveyard.

"I'm especially interested in songs that tell us something about social attitudes or songs that had a social purpose. People sang when they gathered or danced," Deacon said in a news release. He will accompany himself on fiddle and guitar to demonstrate what the music sounded like once upon a time.

Deacon moved to Bellows Falls in 1980 and graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 1981. He went on to Marlboro College and then to the University of North Carolina for a master's degree in folklore. His concentration in American history was at Syracuse University, where he earned a master's and doctorate.

The Bellows Falls paper mill industry features prominently in his doctoral thesis: "Paper Town: Sense of Place in Industrial Small-Town New England 1869–1927." He is an adjunct professor of history at SUNY and at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York. He is currently researching the role of John Atkinson in the building of the Bellows Falls Canal, 1791–1801.

The meeting house opens at 10 a.m. with ongoing tours of the meeting house and graveyard. David Deacon's program starts at 11:30 a.m. Dennis Montagna's presentation starts at 1 p.m.. Participants are encouraged to bring along a picnic or grab a meal at the food tent that opens at 11 a.m.

The event is sponsored by the Rockingham Meeting House Association. Donations made to the Association and food sales during the Pilgrimage are used to help the Town of Rockingham preserve this National Historic Landmark.

With its timber frame raised in 1787, the meeting house served the community as both a place of worship and as town hall until 1839. The annual town meeting continued to be held at the meeting house until 1869, when the new Town Hall opened on the village square. After 37 years of abandonment, citizens of the town restored the meeting house in 1906.

An annual selectboard meeting still convenes at this place every August. Music events, weddings, and memorial services are regularly scheduled during the summer and fall.

Old Home Days Weekend begins on Friday, Aug. 4, at the Bellows Falls Recreation Center, with events and fireworks on Saturday from 3 to 10 p.m. at the Waypoint Center.

This Town and Village item was submitted to The Commons.

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