BANGOR, Maine — One of the oldest standing churches in Bangor could soon change hands and likely will add to the trend of converting old houses of worship for other uses.
The 165-year-old structure was built as the East Bangor Congregational Church at 401 Pushaw Road off outer Broadway. The white, wooden building with a steeple is flanked by fields, farmland and a cemetery.
Bill Riley, a real estate agent with Maine Commercial Realty, said it’s possible the sale could close within a month; it’s under contract. The church has been on the market for about 18 months. It originally was listed for $99,000, but the asking price has since dropped to $50,000.
Though the deal isn’t yet final, Riley said the potential buyers want to convert the building into a single-family home.
Converting churches for nonreligious purposes is becoming a trend in Maine, as the old places of worship fall out of use. For large groups, such as the Catholic diocese, churches have been closed and sold as a means of downsizing and cutting costs. For smaller congregations, closures and sales may be the result of increasing oil prices or deteriorating buildings, making it cheaper to relocate to a newer space.
The former St. Patrick’s Catholic church in Lewiston is undergoing renovations in the hope of reopening as an events venue, called The Agora Grand Events Center, under the auspices of The Inn at the Agora. That space could open its doors sometime in 2015, according to the inn’s website.
In 2009, Grace Restaurant reopened the doors of a Gothic-style former church in Portland. In Gardiner, a family recently started seeking approvals to launch a hard cider brewery inside the former Gardiner Congregational Church.
In 2010, an Eastern Maine Medical Center surgeon and her husband purchased the former St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Orono with plans to invest more than $500,000 to repair the stone facade and foundation. In 2012, they opened the doors to the public for the first time in years for a community arts event and announced their plans to use the church as a community center.
More stories like this are scattered across the state.
Kathy Harvey, director of Hands of Hope thrift store in Bangor, is the daughter of the current owners of the former East Bangor Congregational Church. She said during a recent interview that her parents purchased the church several years ago with the intent to launch Open Arms Ministries, but they were forced to halt the project and sell the building because of illness. Her parents now live in Florida, and Harvey is overseeing the sale on their behalf.
The church is located in a rural residence and agricultural district, so there are limits to what it can be used for: The property is restricted to a single-family dwelling, nonprofit or municipal use. Riley said he received interest from people who wanted to use the space for commercial purposes that were not permitted in the district.
The church was built in 1849 and served as the first and only meeting house of the “East Bangor Society,” according to a book on Bangor architecture written by historian Deborah Thompson.
An 1867 building directory said it was “built for the use of all denominations under the auspices of Martin Mower, Esq.,” a farmer who was based on Pushaw Road.
The church changed hands and switched denominations many times over the years. In 1877 it was run by the Freewill Baptist Society. By the 1980s it was used by the University Baptist Ministry, but the building was in “somewhat deteriorated condition,” according to Thompson’s book.
Thompson called the “suave” building a “fine example of the type of village Greek Revival church built from the 1830s to 1850s” in towns around Bangor. “As such, it does not belong with the consciously ambitious and urban forms sought by religious societies in Bangor Proper,” she added in her book.
In the 1850s through the 1870s, Bangor saw a boom in church construction, with worshipers upgrading their spaces in an attempt to attract new members. Many of those in-town churches pushed to “mirror the wealth” of their members and financiers, Thompson said. Most of those took on a more “Italianate” style.
The churches tend to be an investment. After Harvey’s parents purchased the Pushaw Road church, they invested a “significant” amount of money, replacing the leaky roof with a new metal one in 2010, remodeling the sanctuary, installing new hardwood floors, carpeting, new ceilings and painting the interior. The space still needs some work downstairs, with a kitchen and restrooms that could be remodeled. The steeple also needs some TLC.
“I just hope someone restores it and makes it as beautiful as it should be,” Harvey said.