ROCKVILLE — Kally Hanifin, who grew up in the village of Rockville, was living in Boston in 2015 when she heard that the Seventh Day Baptist Church in her hometown was for sale. Hanifin moved back to Rockville and her family bought the church, which has once again become the center of a community.
Hanifin, 39, founded Rockville Root Cause, a nonprofit group whose goal is to fight hunger through sustainable agriculture. In addition to growing food in the organic community gardens on the church’s property, Hanifin plans to renovate the church, transforming it into a community center with a commercial kitchen. A farmers’ market is also planned for the property.
Rockville was once a thriving mill town, and Hopkinton historian Lauri Arruda said the church, which was built in 1844, had a robust congregation.
“Most people were Baptists,” she said. “The church was everything to families. They read their Bibles at night because there was no radio in those days. During the week, they were busy working at the mills but on Sunday, they all got together. It definitely bound the community together.”
The church was originally located closer to the Camp Yawgoog Scout Reservation, but in 1868 the Rockville Mill donated 2 acres of land and it was moved to its present location half a mile away.
“They kind of picked it up and rolled it down the road, pulled by horses,” Hanifin said. “The way we think of things now, everything’s kind of disposable. If a thing is built in the wrong place, you just tear that down and build a new one. At the time, they really valued the resources that they had.”
When the mills began to close, people left the village.
“The mills closed in the 1950s and little businesses went into the mills,” Arruda said. “People were moving to Hope Valley to get jobs.”
Hanifin said that by 2015, the church's leadership realized that it was time to sell.
“They were down to, I think, five members and all of them were getting on in years and weren’t attending the church,” she said. “The church itself wasn’t active but they still had their nonprofit status and it was costing them money to keep the church and it wasn’t bringing any money in, so they approached us and said, ‘Is this something you’d be interested in?’”
Hanifin needed no convincing, nor did her parents, who love the village and the church as much as she does.
Hanifin’s father, Brian Crandall, a post and beam reconstruction carpenter who specializes in restoring old buildings, had done some work on the church years ago. Her mother, Nancy, is a landscape designer and gardener who took on the design of the community garden.
Before the purchase could go through, it took years of research to decipher the church’s convoluted ownership history.
“It was a very complicated process to buy it,” Hanifin said. “It took two years of title-searching for us to close on it.”
After considerable wrangling and substantial legal fees, Crandall’s business, Rockville Woods, bought the church for $70,000 and closed on the property in 2017.
With support from the congregation, Hanifin’s family was able to start on some urgent repairs at the church, and its name was changed to Old Rockville Church, “so people recognize where it is and what it is,” Hanifin said.
A youth ambassador for the Chariho Youth Task Force, Hanifin also had plenty of support and volunteers.
“I do work pretty closely with the Chariho Youth Task Force and they spent a lot of time there with us,” she said. “The place hadn’t been heated or cooled in 10 years, probably more than that, so everything was kind of peeling off on the inside.”
Rockville has remained tiny since the mills closed and currently has a population of only 215 residents. But Dan Fitzgerald, executive director of the task force, said that Rockville Root Cause "will be pivotal in reinvigorating energy and bringing new resources to the community of Rockville.”
“Through an emphasis on establishing a place for residents to coexist, learn new skills, and access healthy foods, Rockville Root Cause will address the issues our community is facing at the source — the root causes,” he said.
Registered as a nonprofit with the state, the group will eventually receive its 501(c)(3) federal tax designation. In the meantime, Hanifin will spend the winter months writing grants and trying to raise funds. Digging a new well is high on the list of priorities.
“Water, for a garden, is really important,” she said. “The money, I think, is the biggest roadblock because we do need to raise money to do the repairs on the church, but I’m an optimist in that way. I think there’s a lot of support for what we’re doing.”
This project, however daunting, is exactly what Hanifin feels she should be doing.
“The minute that I found out that this church was going up for sale, and the ideas all kind of clicked into place, I left Boston and I never looked back,” she said.
More information on Rockville Root Cause is available at: https://www.rockvillerootcause.org/