South Eaton Meeting House the site of town's celebration
Offering pulled pork, baked beans, salads from the season's freshest ingredients and desserts to die for, along with a white elephant sale and several artisans selling their creations, the 36th annual Fair and Gourmet Luncheon was held immediately after the Freedom Old Home Week Parade.
Indeed, the luncheon was listed as part of the Old Home Week celebration, and most of those sitting at the tables shortly after noon had been to the parade.
That was true of 5-year-old Isaac Allred of Asheville, N.C., who was enjoying a hamburger at the luncheon with his mother, great aunt, and great-grandmother. Isaac was looking forward to finishing his meal so that he could eat some of the candy that those on the parade floats had tossed to eager children, including him.
Isaac may live miles away from the rolling fields and hillsides of southern Mount Washington Valley now, but he's got deep roots in the area. His great grandmother, Rachel Ward of Center Ossipee, said their relative, Margie Allard, donated the Allard House to the Freedom Historical Society. The house and barn serve as the society's museum.
The South Eaton Meeting House is just a stone's throw from the Freedom town line, and a love for the beauty of the area and its rural life knows no boundaries.
Sandy and Rich Gleeson, seasonal residents of Freedom, bought their desserts at the bake table before going through the food line, then enjoyed the neighborly conversation in the coolness under the canopy set up on the cool side of the meeting house.
Built in 1844 by South Eaton resident Stephen Allard, the First Free Will Baptist Society Meeting House served a local population that was primarily engaged in agriculture. More than 60 years after New Castle native Benjamin Randall founded the northern line of the sect. Around the time the meetinghouse was built, there were about 850 Free Will Baptist churches, with around 42,000 members.
The Randall movement taught the doctrines of free grace, free will, and free salvation. The southern Freewill movement, established in North Carolina by Paul Palmer in 1727, taught those same principles. The two movements might have connected more on a national level as they both grew, but a difference of opinion in the middle of the 19th century likely squashed any alliance until three decades into the 20th century.
In 1935, representatives from the two groups met in Tennessee and formed the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
The church was built by subscription, and its membership grew until the time of the Civil War. Eaton's population showed a similar trajectory, with about 1,700 at the time the meetinghouse was built, and regular services were held until the mid 1930s. According to the 2010 U.S. census, Eaton's population is now less than 400.
The simplified Greek Revival meetinghouse was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Its rectangular frame is set on a foundation of unmortared fieldstones and braced with mortise and tenon construction and a rafter and purlin roof frame.
“In its careful planning but simple detailing, the building revels the means by which design elements from the Greek Revival style were accommodate to modest budgets in rural areas of relatively sparse population,” the National Register application, prepared in the late 1970s by Bruce Acker and Rev. Raymond Stineford of the Old White Meeting House Parish Association.
On Sunday, the annual Summer Ecumenical Service was conducted in the historic building.
The meeting house is available for weddings, baptisms, memorial services and other similar functions. For more information call Marilyn Verney at 603-8080 or Rev. Marie-Antoinette “Tony” Hampton at 603-2764.
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