ROCKVILLE, Maine — The last public building in the once bustling village of Rockville has undergone three years of restoration and its few but devoted volunteers want to show off the community chapel to the public.
An open house at the Rockville Community Chapel has been scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at the chapel located on the Old Rockland Road.
“We use to have a town hall, a post office, a school, a butcher shop, all in my lifetime,” said Rockville Community Chapel Association President Martha Morrison.
She said as late as the 1950s, the community was still vibrant, with its own Fourth of July parades.
“Rockville was a close-knit little community,” Morrison said.
The association has worked hard to preserve the chapel, which is the last standing public building in Rockville. Morrison recalls the annual Christmas celebrations at the church in which the villagers would gather and have readings by children and a visit by Santa Claus.
But as the church’s membership dwindled and the town hall, post office and other public institutions closed, the church fell into disrepair.
Rockville is a village located off Route 17 within the town of Rockport in the center of Knox County.
The effort to restore the 161-year-old church has been undertaken by the officer and trustees of the Rockville Community Chapel Association.
Morrison said the church was in very poor condition as recently as 2010.
“We were ready to close it,” she said.
But as had been done a few other times in the history of the 161-year-old building, volunteers came together to restore it.
One of the trustees of the association is Roy Bennett, who also has a special interest in the chapel and the neighborhood.
Bennett was born and raised in Camden. After graduating from the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, he served as a merchant mariner and then had a career that included a long stint with General Dynamics, first in Massachusetts and then San Diego.
He retired in 2006 but returns to spend each summer at a home at nearby Chickawaukie Lake in Rockland.
Bennett said his brother Al Bennett from New Hampshire compiled a family history and Roy began reading it and became interested in the history of Rockville, where his mother was born and where the family roots there go back to his great-great-grandparents.
“When my brother completed the book, and I read it, I became inspired to take the opportunity to help,” he said.
The focus of his help was the chapel, which was in need of significant repairs.
The roof and belfry were in need of replacement. The exterior of the chapel needed painting. The windows were old, opaque and nearly impossible to open. Leaks from the roof had damaged the tin ceiling inside the chapel.
Starting in 2010, the major restoration began.
The roof was reshingled and the belfry rebuilt. Bennett and other volunteers then tackled the job of scraping the paint off the old church and applying two new coats.
Then came the new, energy-efficient windows.
“The old ones couldn’t be open and they were opaque. During the summer it became extremely warm inside,” Bennett said.
The tin ceiling had rusted and its 2-by-2-foot tiles were replaced. Cracks and holes in the drywall were fixed and the interior was painted with two coats. The pews were all taken up so that the carpet that had been installed during a major renovation in 1913 could be replaced.
A bathroom was installed.
The Community Chapel Association hopes to rent out the chapel for weddings, funerals, receptions and meetings so that the income will help pay for future repairs. Bennett noted that the replacement of the roof and belfry drained nearly all the association’s money and a small loan was taken out to cover the remainder of the cost. Bennett and other volunteers have donated their time and supplies.
The Community Chapel was built in 1851 as the Rockville Free Baptist Church through the effort of a charismatic minister, the Rev. Jason Marriner. His popularity attracted a congregation that swelled to 200 parishioners.
The new chapel replaced the smaller 1815-built “Old Church on the Hill” that was located nearby on the Gurney Road.
According to “The History of Free Will Baptist Church,” done during the country’s bicentennial observances, Marriner “drew large crowds from all around to listen to the good word” and thus a larger church was needed.
The site was selected because it was located in the center of Rockville, where “homes were being built quite thickly up and down the main street.”
The church has not supported a regular pastor since the early 1930s. The church was decommissioned in the 1970s and renamed the Rockville Community Chapel.
Some of the original furnishings of the church remain. The cast-iron bell was purchased in 1851. The bell in the belfry is still rung with the pull of the rope inside the front entrance.
The chapel has undergone other major renovations over the past century and a half.
Ceiling lamps, originally oil, were installed in 1877. They were converted to electric lights in 1946.
In the 1913 renovations, a new carpet and pews were installed.
Bennett said the next goal is to build a spire. He said he hopes that it will be erected in 2013.
As for his efforts, Bennett downplays them.
“This is payback time for me,” Bennett said.
Bennett said punch and cake will be offered at the open house, which he encouraged people to attend.
The Old Rockland Road runs parallel to Route 17 in West Rockport.