ADDISON, Maine — Despite having just received a $97,000 restoration grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the historic Church on The Hill in Addison may still be lost soon.
Since 1798, a church has always stood on the top of the hill. The first, a community meetinghouse, was blown down in an 1839 gale, according to a history provided by the Friends of the Church on The Hill. It was quickly rebuilt, but then was struck by lightning and burned to the ground 21 years later, in 1860.
The existing building, with its belfry, nine-over-nine windows, choir loft, and sanctuary with a vaulted ceiling, was constructed later that same year. It then was used continuously by a variety of denominations until 2006. The Friends of the Church on The Hill were formed a few years later to preserve and restore the building as a community gathering place.
But Terry Grant, president of the Friends, said Monday that the belfry on the historic church is tipping backward. This is causing the foundation to slip forward and rain to leak inside the building creating a mold problem, he said.
“If we can’t get that belfry off the building this summer and restore the roof, I’m afraid we’re going to find that belfry down here in the main building,” Grant said. “If that happens, the building will be lost.”
The church, which has been deeded to the Friends and is no longer safe for services or gatherings, sits on a high peak overlooking the town of Addison and the Pleasant River estuary.
“From the belfry, you’d think you can see Europe,” Grant said. But the last time he climbed up there, Grant could feel the belfry moving backward and he quickly came back down.
He said his grandmother recounted stories that during Prohibition, an oil lamp would be lit in the belfry to signal the arrival of a ship carrying liquor.
Grant said the Friends, who meet monthly and consist of about a dozen Addison folks, will be meeting next with USDA officials to go over the terms of the grant. The Friends hope to remove the belfry and create a new foundation and basement area.
They now are seeking a restoration architect to work with them on the project. “We really need some advice,” Grant said.
Grant said the Friends’ efforts include a lawsuit against the Baptist Church Society, of which Grant also is a member. Grant explained that the society was created originally to support the Church on The Hill, mostly with handmade items, but was left about $4,000 a number of years ago by a former church member to support a pastor.
Grant said the funds have grown to an estimated $50,000 to $60,000, but the money may be used only to pay a pastor’s salary. Since the church is no longer certified and there is no pastor, the Friends group is seeking to use the funds for restoration projects.
No one appears to be against that proposal, Grant said, but the issue must be settled in court. No court date has been set for a hearing on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Friends will hold fundraisers to build up the renovation fund.
“We should have started this 10 years go,” Grant said. “If we just let it collapse, people are going to ask why we didn’t do something.”
Anyone who wants to make donations toward the renovations may send them to Friends of The Church on The Hill, P.O. Box 52, Addison 04606.