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By Jack Minch

MediaNews

SHIRLEY — Ralph Waldo Emerson preached there.

Hallmark Cards used it on a greeting card.

That’s why some Shirley residents consider the Shirley Meetinghouse one of several elements that make Shirley Center one of the most quintessential town commons in New England, said Robert Adam.

He’s a member of First Parish Meetinghouse Preservation Society, the private nonprofit group that owns and maintains the building.

The society is beginning talks on how to approach maintenance issues for the large building.

“Buildings of this size and age need increasing attention as time goes on,” said society member Don Reed, who is also chairman of the Historical Commission/Shirley Center Historic District Commission.

The society owns the meetinghouse, but the town owns the land on which it sits.

The society will hold a series of meetings to develop a fundraising plan, but details have not been worked out, Adam said.

“Our upcoming efforts are hopefully going to bring us up to the 21st century,” he said.

There are about 12 members in the society, according to its website.

“The whole function of anybody who belongs to the meetinghouse is to raise money for repairs,” said member Sylvia Shipton, a former town clerk.

There is no firm fundraising goal yet, and although the building has issues — the slate roof undulates and shingles appear loose near water stains on the eaves — it is not in distress.

The society recently replaced two hot-air furnaces with a gas-fired furnace in the building’s cavernous basement, Adam said.

Changes to the building have been made throughout its history, Reed and Adam said.

Shipton’s father-in-law, Clifford Shipton, along with Robert H.J. Holden and a few others, formed the society to care for the building in the 1940s.

“Dr. Shipton was afraid the building was going to deteriorate and he and my father and a few others formed the society for upkeep,” said member Harley Holden, whose property abuts the meetinghouse.

The meetinghouse is used mostly for a handful of weddings and concerts every year, Haase said.

The pulpit was removed in the 1990s to make more room for concerts and other events, Adam said.

Selectman Armand “Andy” Deveau said the town does not contribute to the upkeep of the 3,288-square-foot building, but agrees it should be maintained.

“It’s a historical building in a historic part of town and to change that building, from a historical point of view, would be a bad mistake,” Deveau said.

Well-maintained historical buildings reflect well on the community, said Selectman Kendra Dumont.

“Thank goodness we have people willing to take care of it and do the work,” she said.

The building is more than history, said Holden. It can still be functional.

“I think it can still be a building that lives up to its original purpose — a meetinghouse for meetings, concerts and other purposes,” Holden said.

To rent the meetinghouse, contact Haase at holly@shirleymeetinghouse.org, or by calling 978-425-2600, ext. 211.

Rental forms are also available on the society’s Web site, www.shirleymeetinghouse.org.

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