The Old Ship Meeting House: A Brief History of Renovation

1633 - 1635

After Rev. Peter Hobart and 40 Puritan families from the town of Hingham, England settle in Bare Cove, the town is incorporated as Hingham, the 12th town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first Meeting House was a crude fort-like log structure near where Old Derby stands today.


The Massachusetts Indians of the Algonquin Nation deed the land for the town of Hingham “from the beginning of the world” to the settlers, with the mark of their Sachem, Wompatuck.


The current Meeting House was built in a post-Medieval style using timbers of virgin red oak, 600 year-old New England white pine, and wood from the original Meeting House. Curved limbs were specifically selected to create the distinctive hull shaped hip roof.
Townspeople raised the Meeting House frame in three short days; by January 1682 it was ready for use for civic meetings and day-long religious services. People sat on backless wooden benches and used foot warmers for heat.


To accommodate the growing population at town meetings, a two-story wing was built on the cemetery side. To conserve heat, walls were plastered and a low ceiling was added, concealing the iconic timber kingposts and roof trusses for 200 years.


To express the prosperity of the community, the Meeting House was expanded again. A gallery wing was built on Main Street side and a new east entry porch sheltered the door. Two new arched Georgian windows lit the new raised pulpit, moved to the northwest wall. The first box pews were installed around the edges of the church; benches remained in the center.


A series of parish meetings determined the fate of the Meeting House. Three times, voters decided to tear down the Meeting House and replace it with an updated style. The fourth vote reversed the other three, in favor of repairing the existing structure instead.


First heat! Stoves were added to each side of the center aisle.


With weeds poking through the floor, major restoration was in order. A stone foundation was laid, with a furnace installed in the new cellar, and the sills and floor replaced. The Meeting House was made over in a Victorian style, with wallpaper, carpeting and drapes, and the boxes were replaced with cushioned curve-backed pews. Diamond-paned windows and the first lamps were installed. The exterior was repainted from yellow-ochre to gray.


The name "Old Ship" was first used. The term is believed to come from the distinctive roof trusses, but a ceiling installed some 200 years before had hidden the structure.  Origin of the name remains an unsolved mystery.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its new American Wing with a reproduction of Old Ship’s roof timbers on display, an important recognition of the building’s iconic architecture.


Old Ship was restored to a harmonious mix of 17th and 18th century elements. Victorian embellishments were removed, and the low ceiling was taken down, exposing the roof’s beautiful kingposts & curved trusses. Townspeople returned many of the box pews they had rescued in 1869; the others were built to match. Old Ship was essentially restored to the style you see today.


Original doors from 1681 were discovered within the northwest wall, possibly the only exterior doors in the United States from the Colonial period to exist in their original location.


An extensive restoration is underway to update systems and maintain structural integrity.  For a full list of restoration tasks go here.