Description of Historic Place
The Free Meeting House consists of a New England style meetinghouse, its grounds and adjacent graveyard located at 140-152 Steadman Street in Moncton. Built in 1821 as an omni-denominational place of worship for early settlers of “The Bend” region of the Petitcodiac River, it stands in its original location at the corner of Steadman Street and Mountain Road.
The Free Meeting House is designated as a Local Historic Place not only because it is the first and oldest public building erected in Moncton, but also due to its unique architecture within this region. Constructed in 1821, The Free Meeting House sits on land donated by Hannah and William Steadman, the current street’s namesake. It was also the first building in Moncton to have a commemorative tablet during its centennial celebrations in 1921. This New England style meetinghouse is the only building of its kind in Moncton and its grounds contain the oldest burial site in the area. Most of the founders of the Free Meeting House are interred here, including The Steadmans and original trustees, Ichabod Lewis and Solomon Trites.
Research suggests that Shepherd Johnson Frost, a renowned New England architect who moved to New Brunswick in 1817, may have had a hand in the planning of, if not the building of, The Free Meeting House.
The Free Meeting House is also designated because of its lasting religious and community significance for Moncton. Designed by the earliest settlers of the area as a temporary place of worship for any denomination while permanent churches were being planned and built, some religious groups made it their home for as many as 57 years. Almost every religion present over the years in Moncton had its beginnings at The Free Meeting House. Denominations shared and occupied the Free Meeting House since its construction in 1821 until the end of its strictly religious function in 1963.
The spirit of religious and secular cooperation is exemplified by The Free Meeting House’s 1921 centennial preparations. After a century of remodeling and periodic neglect, the trustees of The Free Meeting House, along with religious groups such as the Seven-Day Adventists and secular groups such as the Flat Iron Gang, worked side by side to rejuvenate the structure and the grounds.
Further to its community significance, a complete restoration of The Free Meeting House became a City of Moncton Centennial Project in 1990. This same year, The Free Meeting House was designated as a National Historic Site. In 1996, The Free Meeting House was designated a Heritage Property through the City of Moncton Heritage Preservation By-Law #Z-1102.
Today, the fully restored Free Meeting House is not only the largest artifact curated by the Moncton Museum, it still serves as a gathering site for secular and religious groups of any denomination, as well as private rentals for weddings, meetings and special events.
Source: Moncton Museum, Moncton, New Brunswick - second floor files – “140-152 Steadman Street”.
The character-defining elements that relate to location and context include:
- original 1821 site at the head of Steadman Street;
- birch bark barrier over wide boards on walls;
- orientation of the cemetery, typical of New England meetinghouses;
- 4500 lbs commemorative stone on the north side of the property for all of the original denominations that worshipped at The Free Meeting House;
- original foundation stones used on site.
The character-defining elements relating to the exterior include:
- simple exterior design;
- hip roof with cedar shingles, typical of New England meetinghouse designs from this era;
- paired multi-paned square windows;
- original Roman arch pulpit window;
- clapboard siding moulded in a unique manner for this type of structure;
- Doric style pilasters adorn a solid portico;
- paneled doors located on the east side of the structure topped with an arched transom window.
The character-defining structural elements include:
- The log sills placed on hand-cut stones in the floor, the tree trusses that branched out to support the roof, the birch bark barrier placed over wide boards on the walls and the cedar shingles of the original structure were raw materials procured from the surrounding land.
- massive structural framing details;
- clean, symmetrical box-like massing;
- wherever possible, the original foundation stones have been kept;
- original hand-hewn tree trusses branching out to support the roof;
- original ceiling beams and rafters.
The character-defining elements relating to the interior include:
- original split-board lathe and dado boards;
- original hair and lime plaster on walls;
- double doors the same width as the main aisle leading directly to the pulpit;
- four original panels from the box pews used as a pattern for the re-construction of the pews and pulpit;
- box pews along the perimeter designed to seat on all four sides;
- random tongue-and-groove pine floorboards nailed with period nails;
- period hardware affixed to pew doors and vestibule door;
- National Historic Site plaque.