Built in 1681, Old Ship served two purposes: as a Meeting House where civic issues of the day were discussed, and as a place of worship on Sundays. Lively debates over the Revolution, the form American Democracy would take, and local issues such as property taxes, have taken place under its distinctive timber roof. Architecturally, the Meeting House is an example of Elizabethan Gothic style found in the early settlers native Hingham, England. The great curved timbers that support the roof were cut from bowed oak limbs grown in local forest. Axe hewn, no two are exactly alike in dimension. Although it’s still a mystery, the name Old Ship may have been inspired by the unusual roof structure, which resembles the hull of a ship.
The frame and walls of the church stand as built in 1681, within the additions of side galleries in 1730 and 1755. The seats were originally backless wooden benches; the first box pews were installed in 1755. The interior went through a renovation in the Victorian era in which drapes and wallpaper were added and the distinctive boxes replaced with more ornamental curved back pews. Old Ship was restored to its original, understated 17th and 18th century characteristics in 1930, and remains true to that spirit today. For over 300 years, Old Ship has borne witness to every aspect of our growth as a nation. Early Old Ship ministers and prominent local citizens were part of the political and religious debates of their time, thereby helping to influence the evolving social and philosophical fabric of our nation. The simple meeting house design is itself emblematic of the principles on which our country was founded. Hingham is home to this matchless piece of American history, recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The Old Ship Meeting House is a monument to the past, and an inspiration for the future.
“Landmark buildings are a part of our life; they are not just buildings. They are aids to navigation through daily life. They are where and who we are in time.”
- David McCullough
Author, Historian & Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
For a "Social History" that links the social history of First Parish to the five major physical expansions or renovations of the Meeting House, from 1635 to the present, click here.
In 2014, the Old Ship community completed a comprehensive restoration project that ensures the long-term preservation of the historic Meeting House. The project included a new roof, major structural repairs, refurbished windows, updated safety, security and mechanical systems, interior plaster repair and whitewashing, exterior carpentry and painting, and construction of a "privy," the first toilet facilities in its history. During the 5-year project, the Meeting House revealed many exciting discoveries, like a square of wallpaper from the 1869 renovation, original sheathing inside and out, the original color of the east entry way, and more. Perhaps most unusual was the discovery of the original, 1681, exterior doors within the wall behind the current pulpit.
A report documenting the restoration work, including photos of the work in progress, and listing all who worked on it is attached here. It was written by Andrea Gilmore, the conservator who oversaw the project, as a nomination document for a Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award. Old Ship is proud to be a 2015 recipient of this prestigious award for Restoration and Stewardship.
THE OLD SHIP MEETING HOUSE
"A History of the Old Ship" - Now on DVD!
English colonists settled in Bare Cove as early as 1632, but over the next few years, over 40 Puritan families arrived from Hingham, England, and re-named the community Hingham, which then became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1681, the sons and grandsons of the original settlers built the meeting house that still stands today, which is the only remaining meeting house of its kind, as well as the oldest church in America to have been in continuous use. It is now a Registered National Historic Landmark.
"A History of The Old Ship Meetinghouse" was originally produced by Jeff Spencer in 1996, televised on the History Channel® in 1998 and is now available on DVD. It tells the fascinating story of the evolution of both the building and the community of Hingham, as the town and the Old Ship Meeting House are now well into their fourth century.
Click here to order a DVD online. $20 plus shipping.
OR purchase one in person at the Old Ship office, during regular office hours.
To see Old Ship in a travel blog that includes other historic churches, click here.