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The Jamesport Meeting House was built by Puritan settlers in 1731. (Illustration by Kelly Franké)

THE SMELL OF OLD BOOKS is something I can remember being drawn to at a young age. I’ve always had a love for old things, things with history and stories and past lives, so it came as no surprise that when I was planning my wedding, I looked to tie the knot in a place filled with meaning: a place that persisted and endured.

My then-fiancé and I stumbled upon the Jamesport Meeting House and with just one look through the wavy glass window panes, we knew it must be the place. 

I recall meeting with Richard Wines who was — and still is — the president of the Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust and a local historian with a wealth of knowledge that’s almost unfathomable. At our meeting, Wines talked about the Meeting House with such a deep admiration. Every word filled with nostalgia and light. Fast-forward to the present day when I recently called him to chat about this very piece and the same tone and fondness filled his every word.

Wines went on to tell me the complete, and I do mean complete, history of the Jamesport Meeting House dating back to 1731.

“What is now the town of Riverhead was the largely unsettled western reaches of Southold Town. Pioneers had begun drifting into the area a few decades earlier, often younger sons of or grandsons of Southold’s founding generation. 

“Traveling to church services in Southold village was difficult and time consuming. As a result, these pioneers of today’s Riverhead came together to build their own Meeting House,” Wines told me.

Built by the hands of the community members, the Jamesport Meeting House began to take shape. An account book that is still intact today was kept by Daniel Wells documenting the build and those who participated — 31 names altogether.

A tour of the Jamesport Meeting House from 2018.

Wines went on to say that the Meeting House’s history “hasn’t been smooth and uneventful.” Instead, the structure has witnessed much controversy and dissension through its 292 years. The building has been altered, enlarged and modernized many times, including the addition of the 95-foot spire, a lecture room on the building’s east side, a kitchen, restrooms and other improvements.

The Meeting House even endured a natural disaster as lightning struck the steeple setting it on fire. “With no fire department next door to save the building, community members chopped the steeple off while it was aflame over their heads,” said Wines. Then in 2006, the building came under a different type of threat when the parish that had owned the historic structure listed it for sale as “commercial real estate.” Yet again, community members came to the Meeting House’s rescue, forming the nonprofit Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust and raising funds to purchase the building in 2008. Since then, the Preservation Trust has worked to restore and preserve the building and its heritage.

Today, in addition to serving as a local meeting space and ceremony venue, the Jamesport Meeting House is a special place where visitors can often hear music of all kinds in a beautiful, unique and acoustically vibrant setting.

“Over the past 14 years, the building has welcomed classical musicians, such as the quartets from the New York Philharmonic and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra that performed there last year. But we also have featured concerts by local bluegrass musicians, the popular East End Trio, gospel groups and experimental modern music,” Wines added.

I encourage you to visit the Jamesport Meeting House to feel the historic beauty for yourself — soak in the way golden hour spills into the textured white interior, hear the 1866 bell ring echoing sounds from long ago or, perhaps, tie the knot yourself in a space that’s brought so many people together.

The Jamesport Meeting House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is organized as a nonprofit Preservation Trust. The best way to support the effort is by attending concerts and other events held within its historic walls. Supporters can also make donations at