Amherst’s holiday house tour will help preserve town’s historic meetinghouse

AMHERST – Susan Fischer’s house was in rough shape when she and her husband, Tim, bought it in 1996.

Now, after years of renovation, it has the cozy charm of a place that’s been well-loved and cared for.

Their 19th century house, known as the Blunt House, will be one of six homes on the Christmas in Amherst Village House Tour scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14.

Joel Brown, who was the county’s register of probate, built the house on a lot that was close to the jail around 1835.

In 1852, it was purchased by a wealthy merchant named John Blunt Jr., and it stayed in the Blunt family for more than three decades.

The next owner was a doctor named Herbert D. Hicks, and the part of the house where he saw his patients is now part of the eating area of the Fischers’ kitchen.

Hicks only lived about four years after he bought the house, but it stayed in his family for 75 years.

Four rooms of the Blunt House will be open for the tour, including the parlor, with its ornate antique cast-iron fireplace insert that was used by the Hicks family.

The house tour is
from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and all the homes will be decorated by the homeowners and local florists.

There is free parking at nearby Clark and Wilkins schools and vans will take those who don’t want to walk to the homes and the church.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 the day of the tour. Lunch in the church’s Community Room is $10 and tickets must be purchased by Saturday, Dec. 7.

Proceeds will support the continued maintenance of the Congregational Church of Amherst, the town’s original meeting house.

Order tickets online at www.ccamherst.org/cav or buy they at the church office or by calling 673-3231. They are also available at the Black Forest Cafe, Moulton’s Market, Amherst Garden Center & Flower Shop, My Featured Nest and Milford’s Toadstool Bookshop.

From the Christmas in Amherst Village House Tour booklet

The Meetinghouse, constructed from 1771 to 1774 in the unsettled primitive frontier, displays incredible Yankee ingenuity and determination. On Oct. 4, 1770, 110 taxpayers voted to build a huge new meetinghouse and to raise 150 pounds of “lawful money” to defray the initial expense.

The winter loggers were sent to search the surrounding forest for five virgin trees to cut for the 70-foot long timbers needed for the sills, plates and ridgepole. Oxen dragged them out over the ice and snow. The green logs were hewn with broad axes. Green timber weighs tons; one log weighed approximately 4,550 pounds. A single truss for the roof weighed nearly 10,000 pounds*. Oak posts bear this incredible weight, and the post and beam design permits the huge interior spaces with no inside posts to obstruct views.

Using primitive hand tools, the builders created an engineering miracle.

No one knows how the steeple was lifted into place, but raising the meetinghouse was a townwide event calling for all the muscular strength of the countryside and “eight barrels of rum.”

The town voted to sell the meetinghouse to the First Congregational Church and Society in 1832, but retained ownership of the clock tower and the right to use the building for town meetings. In 1836, the church was moved off the common, across the street to its present site, turned 90 degrees and modernized with a pedimented Greek Revival facade that enveloped the clock tower.

Today you can visit the sanctuary decorated for Christmas in a simple traditional New England style. The present chancel was rebuilt in 1950, and two side alcove rooms that now hide two of the long exterior windows were added. The 1871, Johnson Tracker organ is hidden behind the back of the chancel.