Site Number 49. Five Granite Street. The Stone Church was built because of the Newmarket Manufacturing Company. The early mill directors and stockholders were from Salem, Massachusetts; and they hired Salem area men as accountants and supervisors. No longer into witch hunting, Salem was a center of liberal Protestantism; and these men brought their religion with them. They formed a Universalist Church Society in 1833, purchased Zion Hill and built their stone meeting house. There were 12 handcrafted pews inside. The exterior featured a plain stone cornice and gothic arched windows were set with clear glass. The steeple with its round windows became part of the town skyline for over a century.
During its 54 years as a church, it did change religion a few times. In 1853, as abolitionist fervor ran high, it became Unitarian. In 1878, as Newmarket’s Irish population grew, it became St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. By 1886, mill workers from Quebec were arriving in town. The new priest Father Thomas Reilly added the second floor and the entryway, known as the narthex. He installed a heating system and added the brick sacristy at the rear. He then opened a parish school here, known in town as the “French School.” About 100 pupils were enrolled. Classes were segregated, with boys in the front of the sanctuary and girls in the back. In 1891 Father Reilly opened the top floor in the evenings to young men, part of his newly formed St. Mary’s Temperance Society. If he only knew.
After 1910 two fraternal organizations moved in. First it was the Catholic Order of Foresters, and after World War II the Veterans of Foreign Wars owned it. It was sold in the mid-1950s and housed a small factory—the Newmarket Heel Company. That factory went under when a fire broke out, gutting the building in 1969. Firefighter hose streams sent a torrent of water and shoe heels down Church Street, and the windows have been boarded up since.
Its resurrection began shortly after, when two UNH students and a friend cleaned out the burned-out church with the intent of starting a coffee house. With the realization that they could not sell enough coffee to pay the bills, they decided to sell beer—not an easy task, as none of the boys were old enough to drink legally. One of their moms stepped up and got the liquor license in her name. (Go, Mom!) The intimate space drew a variety of musical genres up the hill—from folk to jazz and the blues, from country and gospel to rock and funk. There were even some Mongolian throat singers.
Since 1970, the Stone Church Music Club has survived and thrived under several different owners. Its hundreds of performers include the likes of Ritchie Havens, Phish, Suzanne Vega, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. It also hosts private celebrations of all sorts. Recent changes include solar panels to reduce the carbon footprint, outdoor concerts during the Covid pandemic, and a renovated upstairs lounge.
This building has done it all—from religious sanctuary to factory to nationally known music mecca. As one of its first owners, John Williamson said after his first night up here on the hill, “What has gone on here before is filtering down to what’s going on now. You can’t get away from the energy.”
Continue up Granite Street for Site Number 50. If you need a rest, Judy Wall’s garden park is across the street and has plenty of seating.
END OF AUDIO TEXT. See below for photos and more information.
Site # 49 The Stone Church (5 Granite Street)
This is one more stone building that came about due to the Newmarket Manufacturing Company. Many of the company’s first agents, directors and stockholders had come up from Salem, MA, where the old Congregational roots had spawned a more liberal Protestantism: the Universalists and Unitarians. So it’s not surprising that these folks formed a Universalist Church Society here in 1833. The company donated land at the top of Church
Street to build this “church on the hill” and the company was also directly involved in obtaining the stonework for its construction (as was the case with the adjacent Stone School built in 1841).
The stone was hauled by oxcart from a quarry on Bay Road (then in Durham, now in Newmarket). We know by town records that the stone that built the adjacent Stone School a few years later came from the Jeff Hll quarry, then part of the Lubberland Farm of Robert and his son William P. Channell. William P. Channell was a stone mason and had been awarded that contract, a contract that stipulated that the stone used had to match the stone of the Stone Church. Without access to NMCo. records, we surmise that the stone of Stone Church was from the same quarry as the Channells owned the property back in 1833.
The end result was a beautiful building with 12 handcrafted pews and woodwork, with unique exterior stonework rarely seen anywhere else in New England. The stone masonry was decorated only with a plain stone cornice and gothic arched window openings holding only clear glass. It had a steeple with round windows. When the Church edifice was completed, Church Street, leading from Main Street, was opened to the top of “Zion Hill”.
Around 1853, it became a Unitarian church. While there may have been an increased focus on abolition and suffrage issues among its adherents, the architecture remained the same, still the highest point in town. But as the town below the church continued to receive immigrant families newly arrived to work in the mills, the church itself would change denominations once again.
(photo by Thibeault circa 1908 shows the building as a Catholic church with a cross atop its steeple)
Since the 1820’s there had always been a few Irish families in Newmarket; by 1848 various priests were visiting here every two weeks to celebrate Mass—at one point occupying an old carpenter’s shop near the railroad depot. As the Roman Catholic population continued to grow, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester purchased the old Stone Meetinghouse on Zion’s Hill. This was noted in the last line of the town’s 1872 history: The Universalists had quite a strong society here, but the house has recently been sold to the Roman Catholics. However in the accompanying 1872 directory listing of churches, there is no mention of a Catholic Church.
Fr. Thomas Walsh (of Exeter) supervised the conversion of this building into a church that Newmarket’s Catholic population would now call home. By 1878 Newmarket’s Irish Catholic population had grown to “about 800.” That was the year that this building was dedicated as a parish church—St. Patrick’s. Some of the priests who served here after its dedication included Fathers McDonnell, O’Callaghan and Ryan. Meanwhile, Newmarket’s Catholic population was changing. More and more French was spoken in the streets as the next wave of immigrants came in from Quebec.
In 1886 the Diocese assigned Father Thomas E. Reilly, whose 25-year stay drastically changed the landscape of the town. He first made major changes to this building,
putting in a basement and installing a heating system; and he added the brick sacristy on the rear. And in February 1886 the building began doing double duty—as both church and school, with thirty pupils enrolled in this “French” school taught by a “Frenchman.” This was mentioned in the 1886-87 Newmarket School Report: The establishment of a French school in the old “Stone Hall” building has diminished the number of scholars by more than 100; but should that school be discontinued, then the question would arise, what shall be done with the children?
It must have been a challenge to transform the downstairs from church to (segregated) school and back again, week in and week out for well over a decade. Boys were in the front half of the bottom floor and girls in the back half. There were living quarters in the building for the School Marm and Master. Doctor Beaudet’s daughter Marie Eleanore was a schoolteacher in the parochial school for three years until 1902 when she left the school and moved back to Quebec Province. She was replaced by Octavia LeClerc who also taught for three years—until she married Marie’s father, the recently-widowed Doctor Beaudet.
(Father Thomas E. Reilly, Pastor of St. Mary’s Church from 1886-1906, and again 1908-1911. He died March 1915.)
During Father Reilly’s time as head of Newmarket’s Catholic congregation he established the St. Mary’s Temperance Society. In a few well chosen words he laid out that the object of the society was to point out the evils of intemperance and the good effect of having a place for young men to spend their evenings. The first meeting of the Society met Oct 18, 1891 in the club room on the top floor of the old Stone Hall (Stone Church) and the room would be open every night in the week. The elected officers were James Barrett, President; Robert Byrne, Vice President; William Reilly, Recording Secretary; and Michael Carroll, Treaurer. [Editorial note: all the newly elected men were of Irish descent.]
When the new St. Mary Church opened its doors on Main Street in 1898, this building continued as “The French School.” The 1900-1901 school report mentions a parochial school enrollment of 130. This building wouldn’t get a rest until the opening of St. Mary School in 1910. After 1910 there were still evening classes here in French and English, taught by the St. Mary School nuns. These classes were for the French Canadian adults who worked in the factories.
On December 9, 1910 this notice appeared in The Newmarket Advertiser among the listing of property transfers : The Bishop of Manchester to Joliet Court Catholic Order of Foresters, land and buildings - $1. This Catholic fraternal organization owned the building for well over 30 years, hosting meetings, whist parties, dances and gatherings of all sorts—including roller skating, and a playhouse/theatre.
At some point after 1910, the Stone Church lost its steeple - it is believed to have fallen during the Great Hurricane of September 1938. However, the steeple’s unique round windows were reinstalled in a local private home. The Veterans of Foreign Wars purchased “The Old Meeting House” in 1946, and it became their meeting rooms: a club room and lounge were constructed downstairs and the upstairs was refurbished with a new dance floor.
When the Veterans of Foreign Wars disbanded about 1954, Andrew Kruczeck purchased the building.
He in turn rented it to the Newmarket Heel Co. and in June of 1966 George and Jennie Griswold became the owners.
A fire Aug 6, 1969 gutted the building, and the pressure from the fire hoses sent a flood of red heels out the main doors and down the wooden stairs into the bay below.
Firemen were successful in removing 50 cans of flammable lacquer, otherwise nothing would be standing today. All the machinery and other equipment were destroyed.
(illustration by Sarah Low)
A young UNH student had moved from Rye to Newmarket and had in mind a coffee house for the old building. John Williamson had a feeling: “after I spent the first night on the hill, I knew what has gone on here before is filtering down to what’s going on now. You can’t get away from the energy.”
He along with Rod Philbrick and Arnie Taylor signed a lease and spent three months cleaning out the charred debris – and the Stone Church Meeting House opened Dec. 19, 1969 at 6:00 pm. Quickly realizing they coldn’t sell enough coffee to pay the bills, they decided to sell beer. Not being old enough to drink legally, Rod’s mom Jane Philbrick stepped up and got the liquor license in her name. In the summer of 1972, they purchased the building for $30,000 and what started as a coffee house turned into a mecca for live music in the Seacoast that has lasted over 50 years and over 15,000 live shows.
Since then, the Church has showcased the talents of both up-and-coming and established musicians. In the early days, as coffee quickly gave way to beer, there was a lot of stoic beer drinking during the week. The weekends featured performers or groups strong on traditional music. The intimacy of the space and the energy of the patrons ensured that live music would ring out from atop the hill.
Inspired by a “Forever Woodstock” mentality, a rock club was created which hosted the likes of Ritchie Havens, Suzanne Vega, Johnny Winter, Phish, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Patty Larkin, Bela Fleck, David Grisman Quintet, Joan Osbourne, Guster, N.R.B.Q., Jonathon Edwards, Parliament, The Wood Brothers, Soulive, moe, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Radiators, John Butler Trio, The Jerry Garcia Band, John Scofield, David Francey, John Fullbright, The Stray Birds, Dom Flemons, Donna Godcheaux, Susan Tedeschi, and Session Americana, Percy Hill, Say Zuzu, Scissorfight, Thanks to Gravity, Bill Morrissey, Truffle, Dub Apocalypse, Ghosts of Jupiter, Dan Blakeslee, Adam Ezra Group, The David Wax Museum, Lula Wiles, and many, many, more.
Several different owners would take over the Stone Church in the ensuing years, and the building would go through a few renovations. Boards came off the windows, the psychedelic vibe of the 70s faded into yesterday; upstairs morphed into a reception hall.
Among the prior owners were: Ellie O’Connell & Rick Hurd (1980-1993), Paul LeBrun & Steve Capron (1993-2003), John Pasquale, Paul Nessle, Peter Hamelin & Chris Hislop (2003-2008), Susie & Adam Schroadter (2008-2017).
Owners Michael and Cheryl Hoffman (2017-2022) sought to bring in families and older patrons who could eat dinner while enjoying a jazz, blues or folk show—while the college kids and rockers straggled in for a late show after the kitchen closed. The menu changed with the times and music would play for five nights a week from regional acts.
In 2022 the old Church changed hands with new owners Eric Greenler, Tyler McDonald and Jake O’Sullivan of the Oak House.
The Stone Church went for clean solar energy panels in November 2019, with energy savings offsetting expenses.
(Photos courtesy of Stone Church)
In addition to concerts and comedy programs, The Stone Church opened its doors for weddings, anniversary and birthday parties, and charity events. Many a political campaign stopped here for a Meet & Greet as local and national candidates came through town. The Stone Church also fostered local artists by displaying their works and hosting photographic competitions.
Whether it was Irish sea shanties, ballads, blues, country, gospel, rock or funk, or even Mongolian Throat Singers, the Stone Church has hosted them all.
Weddings are now held outside as well as inside.
Reunions, showers, birthday & retirement parties are held here as well as wakes and remembrance services. There’s more information about this venue on their website:
During the Covid pandemic, 2020-2021, The Stone Church held outdoor concerts in the parking lot between the Church and the Stone School Museum.
WUNH-FM Folk Show music host, Jack Beard, created a two-hour radio documentary in celebration of Stone Church’s 50th anniversary.
A forthcoming book called Stone Church: The Early Years (1970 to the early 90s) is scheduled for fall 2022.
The Music Museum of New England recently published (July 26, 2022) a piece written by Matt Hoffman on the Stone Church, in which the writer lists past performers as well as owners.
You can read the article in its entirety at:
The original round window frames in the old steeple are still around. They ended up in a back yard shed on Spring Street.