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The following activities engage students in a number of ways that let them discover the importance of meeting places.

Activity 1: Meeting Places
Every New England village had a meetinghouse. Often they were used for religious activities, but they had other functions as well. As population centers grew, people needed larger meetinghouses. Mechanics Hall architect Elbridge Boyden had constructed a number of meetinghouses prior to receiving the commission of the Mechanics Association. He drew on his earlier experiences to provide state-of-the art acoustics, ventilation, and amenities to patrons of Mechanics Hall. Ask students to conduct research and prepare a short report on public meeting spaces in their community using the following questions as a guide:

1. What location is available in your community for large groups to gather?
2. Does your town or a nearby urban center have a concert hall, auditorium, theater, arena, stadium, or convention center? If not, is one under discussion or construction?
3. Do some public facilities have multiple uses, for example concerts and sports? What is the advantage of having a multi-use public meeting place?
4. What are the purposes for building convention centers in urban areas? If there is one in your community or region, has it accomplished its purpose? Explain.

Activity 2: Technology and Community
When television brought sports to a wide audience, Mechanics Hall lost business, yet attendance at many stadiums grew. Similarly, when television brought music and dance to a wide audience, some concert halls folded, but overall attendance at cultural performances grew. Recent developments in mass communication, especially the Internet, have sociologists concerned that public meeting places may become obsolete. Divide the class into two large groups. Have each group complete one of the following activities and then hold a classroom discussion based on the findings:

1. How did television impact your community? What meeting places thrived? What meeting places declined? Evaluate whether television made people in your community more isolated from each other or whether it brought them together.
2. Compare the educational, cultural, political, and civic benefits of a brick and mortar meeting place, such as Mechanics Hall, with the virtual meeting place of the Internet. How are they similar? What advantages does a real meeting place offer over the Internet? What advantages does the Internet offer over a building?

Activity 3: Local Research
Ask students to investigate the area in which you live and compile a list of historic structures or sites. Divide the class into five teams. Each team should select one site, conduct research into its history, and prepare a report on the site. The report may take the form of a written essay, an oral presentation or skit, a poster or computer display. Students may use any of the following research resources available to them:

1. Interview the current resident and/or owner of the site, or someone who presently works there. Locate older members of the community who may be able to contribute recollections, old photographs, or vintage news clippings to the investigation.
2. Check the school library, including vertical files, for information about the site.
3. Go to the public library and check out the local history and genealogical resources there, as well as vertical files, local periodicals that may be on microfilm or microfiche, and Internet sources about the community.
4. Contact the historical society or historical preservation commission in the community for information about the site.
5. Public records, including old maps, available at the county courthouse or town clerk's office may help trace changes in ownership, subdivision of land, and building modifications.
6. Determine if a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places exists for your site. For more information, visit the National Register of Historic Places web site.

When finished with their research, students may wish to share their findings beyond the classroom:

1. If the community has a tour of historical homes, students may wish to volunteer to act as docents for sites into which they have conducted research.
2. Students may offer to make a presentation of their findings to the historical society or local architectural preservation group; they may wish to deposit copies of their reports with these groups, especially if there is an ongoing effort to nominate the site to the National Register.

 

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National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.