DeMeritt Hall Closing to Make Way for New Building
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
May 9, 2007
Albert DeMeritt died of a gunshot wound in December 1914 while hunting
woodchucks on his Durham farm. The year before his death, he helped secure
the $80,000 needed to fund a new engineering building on campus that ended
up being named after him.
DeMeritt Hall is closing this month and, in June, will be torn down to
make way for the physic department’s new home on the same site. On
May 5 a farewell celebration was held marking the end of the 93-year-old
hall’s historical and scholarly achievements.
The offices, classrooms and teaching labs will be moved after commencement
with demolition to soon follow. Construction is expected to begin in June.
DeMeritt, born in Durham in 1851, was the youngest son of Stephen DeMeritt,
who owned one of the largest farms in town. Stephen died when his son was
just 16, leaving him to help his mother, Nancy Perkins Chesley, run the
Later, DeMeritt teamed with James W. Burnham to manufacture and sell wood
and lumber in Durham. In 1886, when he was in his 30s, he married Elizabeth
Thompson, 13 years his junior.
The timber business took DeMeritt all around New England and to Canada’s
Maritime Provinces, where he searched the remote areas for new wood lots.
Most of the letters DeMeritt wrote to his wife include descriptions of
his activities while he was away.
The Durham native was active in politics, serving as a selectman and a
school board member. He was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention
twice, in 1889 and 1912, served on the State Board of Agriculture and helped
draft the free textbook bill providing free text books for all public school
children. New Hampshire joined the rest of the nation and enacted the law
DeMeritt’s commitment to education was also revealed in his effort
to obtain books for the Durham Social Library and the Durham Agricultural
Library, and by helping to organize the Durham Lyceum. In 1882, prior to
their marriage, DeMeritt wrote Thompson, asking her to chair the library
From 1892 until 1898, DeMeritt was a trustee of UNH, then known as the
New Hampshire State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. To help meet
the ever-increasing need for student housing, he built what later became
It was in 1911 that he approached the legislature for the money to build
the engineering building that became DeMeritt Hall. The resolution was
initially vetoed but, in 1913, the bill was passed. DeMeritt was killed
that same year on the morning of August 22. DeMeritt Hall was dedicated
on December 16.
The new, 51,796-square-foot building will have three floors and a mechanical
penthouse and will have, among other things, a physics library, 180-seat
lecture hall with demonstration preparation room, a smaller lecture hall,
four teaching labs, two conference rooms, classrooms and offices.
Funding is through the NH KEEP project, with $18.3 million coming from
the state and UNH contributing an additional $2.5 million. Construction
is expected to be complete in August 2008.