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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 farm.

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 in 1890.

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 fair committee.

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 Ballard Hall.

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.

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