The Stone Church is a venerable music club in downtown Newmarket, New Hampshire. Some say it is on the cultural summit of Zion Hill. Its history is as colorful as the vibrant murals of Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and Frank Zappa that decorate its exterior walls!
Oh, If These Stones Could Talk!
Erected in 1832, the building first served as a Universalist Meeting House, setting into motion a dynamic lifetime of providing a hub in which people from all thoughts and walks of life could congregate and share ideas and culture. The building became a Unitarian Meeting House twenty years later. In 1865, it was sold to the Roman Catholic Church, thus establishing the first Catholic Church in Newmarket.
The building then shuffled through various secular personalities, including a roller-skating rink, playhouse, and VFW hall. In the 1950s, a shoe factory inhabited the building. In 1968 the building was ravaged by a fire. Visitors can still see evidence of this event in the charred beams of the main room and upstairs in the Ballroom. The story goes that the firefighters were reluctant to break the cut-glass windows of the church in order to vent the fire, much to the dismay of the Fire Chief.
In 1970, the building was sold to two UNH students and a good friend. John Williamson, Rod Philbrick and Arnie Taylor originally planned to open a coffee house, but quickly realized they couldn’t sell enough coffee to pay the bills. They decided to sell beer, but weren’t old enough to drink…legally. So Rod’s mom, Jane Philbrick stepped up and got the liquor license in her name.
Inspired by a “Forever Woodstock” mentality, these students set about creating a rock club that would keep music alive in the community. Quickly, the club established itself as a nationally known small venue. Previous owners Ellie O’Connell & Rick Hurd (1980-1993), Paul LeBrun & Steve Capron (1993-2003), John Pasquale, Paul Nessle, Pater Hamelin & Chris Hislop (2003-2008), Susie and Adam Schroadter (2008-2017) all carried the torch to save the small music venue and build on its amazing reputation. With a capacity of about 200, the venue is now kept alive by Mike and Cheryl Hoffman, who continue to host local, regional and national acts of many genres.
Visitors to The Stone Church often come to relive their memories of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Many speak fondly of when the room was heated by a wood stove, and customers brought their dogs inside to see and hear the music. For some, these memories are but a vague, happy haze, an indication of the time that they grew up in. And for those current students at UNH and others, they come to create new memories, to put their fingerprints on this historical landmark.
That history can be read from the artifacts still strewn about the interior of The Stone Church including hand-painted signs from local farmers’ markets, leftover union propaganda from the Newmarket mills, anti-Vietnam sentiments that were scrawled on the Church’s walls, condom and earplug machines containing long-expired products, decades-old empty liquor bottles, roller-skate scuff marks, a piano and other instruments in various states of disrepair, numerous ancient fliers that tells the tale of a spirited, 180-year old community meeting house. Yeah, these stones have absorbed a lot of good vibes. Some say you can feel the spirit!
Some of the more notable talent that has graced the stage of The Stone Church are:
Phish (5 times)
Country Joe McDonald
Luther Guitar Johnson
Ramblin Jack Elliott
Luther Guitar Junior Johnson
New Riders of the Purple Sage
Aztec Two Step
North Mississippi Allstars
JGB (formerly the Jerry Garcia Band)
Matt Guitar Murphy
(by Matt Hoffman)