All across Vermont, church buildings stand empty or underutilized. At the same time, the need for affordable childcare is on the rise. In the Northeast Kingdom town of Peacham, residents have found a way to address both issues at once.
The 1806 Olde Meeting House of the Peacham Congregational Church is a visual icon in the heart of Peacham, and one of the most photographed buildings in New England. The church is used for town meeting, concerts, performances, church services, and more.
In the spring of 2019, the Peacham Children’s Center approached the church with the idea of housing the center on the ground floor of the historic building. Ever mindful of how to best serve the community, the two organizations came to an agreement and got to work fundraising for upgrades to the bathrooms, entryways, and energy efficiency of the building. A Preservation Grant in partnership with the Freeman Foundation supported the improvements.
Since the new children’s center space opened in October 2021, everyone has gained from the cooperative efforts, increasing the usability of the space for all. The Peacham elementary school is a short walk to the church, so expanded afterschool programming takes advantage of both facilities. Conversations are exploring all the ways the Meetinghouse can serve as a resource for many needs of the greater Peacham community. Bruce Wescott remarks, “If I were king for a day, I would ask how can we help make sure that everyone feels comfortable coming to the Meetinghouse for some or another activity or event.”
The project was awarded a 2022 Preservation Award.