FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 12, 2020
Rye Town Hall named to National Register of Historic Places
The New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources has announced that Rye Town Hall has been honored by the United States Secretary of the Interior with placement on the National Register of Historic Places for both its architecture and for its role as a center for politics and government.
Originally a 1½ story church built by the Methodist Society in 1839, it was elevated and turned into a 2½ story town hall by the Town of Rye, which purchased it in 1873. The renovation also lengthened the building by 10 feet and added a two-stage square tower with a belfry.
The building’s Greek Revival architectural details include its broad gable front with a recessed panel door, as well as corner pilasters reminiscent of columns. While a double-arched window in the attic reflects the more ornate Italianate style that was popular at the time of the renovation, the building’s overall simplicity shows the frugality of both the congregation and the rural community.
Although its interior was modified in the late 20th century to accommodate town offices, Rye Town Hall’s interior retains many of its historic features. The first floor’s original beadboard walls and six-panel solid wood doors are connected to the second floor by a pair of wide elliptical stairways, added when the town purchased the building, that still have their original walnut handrails, round newel posts and turned balusters.
A large elevated stage, framed by decorative panels and with a bowed front, was added to the second floor circa 1875. Settees purchased for that space are currently in use on the first floor.
Payment records for bedding and heavy padlocks indicate that there may have been jail cells in the basement, as was often the case with local town halls.
A two-story addition to the rear of the building in 1890 added a rudimentary kitchen and privy, as well as more backstage space for the stage. In 1974, a smaller addition behind the 1890 addition provided more space for municipal functions.
As Rye’s first building purchased for and dedicated solely to the consolidation of town government functions, Rye Town Hall was the center of community life from late 19th through the first half of the 20th century. Dances, concerts, whist parties, singing schools, oyster parties and immunization clinics are some of the wide variety of events took place there. Community groups, including the local grange, Odd Fellows, Rye Dramatic Club, the Jenness Beach Society and several youth groups made use of the space.
Rye Town Hall has also been the site of town elections and town business meetings for generations. Town meeting was held there until 1966. Rye Municipal Court held sessions on the first floor from the mid-1960s to 1999.
In addition to the municipal court, at various times the building has housed offices for the town clerk, town tax collector, town treasurer, board of selectmen, police department, recreation director and mosquito control, among others.
Rye Town Hall is an integral part of the local Rye Historic District which was established in 1966 by town voters. In addition to the town hall, the district includes the Congregational Church (1961), Central Cemetery, Rye Town Library (1911) and other municipal, commercial and residential buildings dating as far back as the 18th century.
Administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historic resources worthy of preservation and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect our historic and archaeological resources.
Listing to the National Register does not impose any new or additional restrictions or limitations on the use of private or non-federal properties. Listings identify historically significant properties and can serve as educational tools and increase heritage tourism opportunities. The rehabilitation of National Register-listed commercial or industrial buildings may qualify for certain federal tax provisions.
In New Hampshire, listing to the National Register makes applicable property owners eligible for grants such as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program or LCHIP (lchip.org) and the Conservation License Plate Program (nh.gov/nhdhr/grants/moose).
For more information on the National Register program in New Hampshire, please visit nh.gov/nhdhr or contact the Division of Historical Resources at 603-271-3583.
New Hampshire’s Division of Historical Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, was established in 1974 and is part of the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. NHDHR’s mission is to preserve and celebrate New Hampshire’s irreplaceable historic resources through programs and services that provide education, stewardship, and protection. For more information, visit us online at nh.gov/nhdhr or by calling 603-271-3483.