The Upper Village Hall - Derry's First Town Hall

Richard Holmes

sample1.jpgIn the earliest years of the town there was little separation between town and church. Up until 1790 all citizens were required to pay tax for support of the local Presbyterian Church. For the first 154 years of the town's history the town meetings were held in the sanctuary of the church on East Derry Hill. Starting in the 1850's there began a series of unsuccessful attempts by some voters to get Derry to build a town hall instead of meeting at the "parish hall."

The will of Mrs. Pamela Nowell of East Derry (1805-1874) made several bequests to the town of Derry. Article #4 of this will states: "I give and bequeath to the town of Derry the sum of two thousand dollars on the condition that said town do within two years after my decease build a town house suitable for the wants of said town, the same to be located within one forth of a mile from the meeting house in the East Village. Said sum to be paid over to such persons as may be authorized by said town to receive the same upon completion of said town house above named."

A town meeting on March 8, 1875 voted to accept the bequest of Mrs. Nowell. Article 8 voted to build the hall on the lot near Frank W. Parker's store. This land was "graciously offered" by Mrs. Sarah Taylor Parker (1822-1880) the town purchased the property for the sum of one dollar from her estate.  Article 10 voted $7,000 to build the hall. Article 11 voted a committee of five men to be a committee to build the hall. A second town meeting was held on April 20, 1875 to reconsider building the hall on the Parker lot. At this special town meeting the vote of March 8, 1875 was reaffirmed. In 1876 the town paid George Weston for recording two deeds for the new town hall.

sample2.jpgA third town meeting was held on December 14, 1875 to allow the building committee to purchase "heating, lighting and seating" for the new building. The meeting also authorized the selectmen to "accept the town hall on behalf of the Town." The first gathering at the hall was a New Years gala held on December 31, 1875. On Wednesday, March 15, 1876 the first town meeting met at the Upper Village Hall. The voters continued to meet there annually until March 3, 1909 when Adams Memorial Building became Derry's new town hall.

The cost of erecting and furnishing the hall came to $7,987.12. While this was several hundred dollars above the initial estimate, the committee explained they spent the extra money so its foundation would be on "solid ledge". They also added heaver window moldings and roof brackets.

The committee further assured the tax payers that their hall was built on "a thorough manner" and constructed of material of "the best quality." This sum can be put into perspective by realizing that Derry in 1876 spent just $13,178.51 to operate its schools, maintain its roads, care for its poor, pay Derry's county and state taxes, etc. The lower level of the hall was refitted into the town's jail in 1877. That year there were 167 tramps given "shelter" for a night stay in the iron barred cell in the basement of the Upper Village Hall.

sample3.jpgIn subsequent years the Upper Village Hall has served many functions within the community. It was the Taylor Library from 1878 through 1930 and the East Derry Fire Station from 1934 to 1970. It was the official home of the George Upton post of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Women's Relief Corps until the last of these survivors of the Civil War passed from this world in the 1930's. The Nutfield Grange acted as custodians of the building until 1967. From 1969 to 1982 the Derry's Boy's Club ran the Hall. After the club moved to their own building the East Derry Village Improvement Society to over the responsibility of the Upper Village Hall until 2004.