During Heritage Days weekend the Union Meeting House will be open to the public for guided tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 13. There will be docents present to point out the wonderful features of the building and explain why it was placed on The National Register of Historic Places as a cultural, historic and artistic landmark. Come and pay a visit.
Karen Dube of Heritage Days has selected the Meeting House as the “illustration” for the annual Heritage Days T-Shirt. While the UMH does not benefit financially, it does focus attention on the Meeting House as a significant Readfield historical building. Buy a Heritage Days T-Shirt and draw attention on the UMH. The Board thanks Mrs. Dube for her efforts.
Soon after Heritage Days residents will see heavy equipment and workmen around the building. In July the Board advertised for bids to re-grade the lot to prevent serious drainage problems and it awarded the low bid to Reay Construction & Trucking in Readfield. When the Board had an assessment of the building done in 2009 the serious drainage problems were noted as the very first priority that had to be tackled before building restoration could proceed.
The work will be done with a generous grant received in 2010 from the Quimby Family Foundation. Besides the reconfiguration of the lot the project will include important septic system improvements and work on the two sets of granite front steps that have cracked and badly shifted over the past decades, leading to additional foundation and drainage problems. When everything is completed it will appear as though all that has been accomplished is a nice newly seeded lawn, but close inspection will reveal a major step forward. The Board thanks the Quimby Family Foundation for its faith in its efforts to restore the UMH.
For years the building has been infected with thousands (???millions) of moths and spraying efforts did not solve the problem. In July we were advised to remove all 114 slip covers that had been placed over the original cushions because the moths were living and reproducing at a great rate inside these cushions. All the covers were taken to Rotary Cleaners in Augusta for dry cleaning. The Meeting House thanks owner Paul Poulin for doing this work at a reduced rate. The old cushions were dumped and new comfortable foam cushions were custom cut in Lewiston. Now all that has to be done is get a crew of willing helpers to stuff the foam into the covers. Hopefully this project, which cost over $1,300, will solve the moth problem forever.
FMI contact the UMH at: 158 Thorp Shores, Readfield 04355; (207) 685-4537
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Spring has arrived and the Union Meeting House is making plans for summer work. The restorer, Joseph Caputo, has taken the sashes out of the last window on the southern side of the building to his restoration workshop in East Pittston. The panes broken by a falling tree limb last fall will be replaced and the two sashes scraped, primed, puttied and repainted. In addition a kind gift from a generous donor will allow Mr. Caputo to tackle the second window on the north side and restore it completely, including the casing and sill. This is progress but many more windows need immediate attention.
We gratefully accept donations to assist with ongoing restoration projects. For your convenience a donation can be made online. We thank you for your generous support!
READFIELD — The historic Readfield Union meeting House this week completed the first step of a multi-year project to preserve and restore its rare and beautiful windows. Thanks from a grant from The National Historic Preservation Commission in Boston the exterior casings of the five most endangered windows were scraped, primed and painted and then covered with clear UV-resistant Lexan sheets. The work was done by a master craftsman, Joseph Caputo of East Pittston who is knowledgeable about historic buildings.
The Brick Church has 17 windows, the majority of which have not been painted and cared for in over 140 years. Some contain unusual colorful non-leaded stenciled glass panes while others are of more traditional stained glass of the Arts and Crafts era. The stenciled glass windows are most unusual, with only one other church in Maine have examples of this uusual mid-19th centiry craftsmanship. They were installed when the Meeting House was remodeled in 1866-68.
The National Trust Emergency Intervention Fund paid for half of the total cost, with the remainder coming from income the Meeting House received this year from its initial membership drive. “With restoration expected to reach into the six figures, the Meeting House Board wishes to recognize the kindness of both new members and the National Trust for making this advance possible,” said Meeting House Board President Marius B. Peladeau of Readfield.
For the current project the casings were carefully scraped to the bare wood. Samples were taken of the original paint so that it could be matched exactly. New primer and paint was applied. The Lexan was then carefully cut to fit into the arched window opening. Two sheets had to be used so that a horizontal rail could be placed at the middle to mimic the meeting rail of the two original sashes. Before the Lexan was screwed on spacers were placed around the casing so that the plastic sheets do not rest directly on the casing. This will allow condensation, which will form when sun strikes the cold Lexan, to dissapate through weep holes at the top and bottom.
To make the installation as unobtrusive as possible the round molding which forms a visual transition between the casing and brick wall was also allowed to show so that the original architect’s intentions have not been violated. In all, three windows in the facade and two in the apse were completed this fall.
“Now that the windows are closed in from the weather with the Lexan, the Board will now try to raise funds so that the badly deteriorated sashes can be taken out from the inside and removed to a restorer’s workshop this winter to be rebuilt, painted and reglazed,” Peladeau added. Most of the large windows will cost up to a $1,000 to rehabilitate, but some of the smaller sashes can be restored for $300 to $400. Anyone willing to “adopt” a window should contact the Meeting House at 685-4537.
The Meeting House is pleased to welcome Mrs. Barbara Boenke of Kents Hill to membership on the Board. Barbara has served on the Advisory Board and is familiar with what is going on with the Meeting House restoration, so it is a pleasure to have her as a full voting member. Barbara worked in the Chicago school system and also taught children of military personnel in Germany for the Department of Defense. More recently she was the librarian and a tutor at the Daycroft School in Connecticut and also served as a librarian/curatorial assistant at the Longyear Museum in Massachusetts. Barbara and her husband, Warren, have resided at Camp Menatoma since 2004.
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The work on five of the Meeting House windows was completed in November. Thanks to a matching grant from The National Trust for Historic Preservation the casings were restored and repainted and UV-resistant Lexan placed over the openings to preserve the sashes. They will be taken out and restored later as funds become available. If anyone wishes to adopt a window there are only 12 left to go!
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In November the Meeting House Board appeared before the Readfield Select Board requesting that the Town sign a Letter of Intent to the Office of Economic Development so that the UMH could apply in January 2011 for a Community Development Block Grant to assist in the Meeting House’s restoration. The Meeting House thanks the Select Board for voting unanimously to support the application.
To meet Federal grant guidelines there must be a legally advertised Public Hearing on the proposal so that everyone may comment. The legal notice will appear in the Kennebec Journal at least ten days before the Select Board’s next meeting on December 20th. At that time the public is invited to attend, learn about the UMH’s aims and make any comment they wish. Anyone not able to make that meeting may come to the UMH Board meeting on Thursday, December 9th and obtain information on the project.
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After the very successful Dave Mallett concert in August, Board member Flo Drake has heard from a number of musical groups wishing to appear at the Meeting House next summer. After listening to a demo CD the Board voted to invite one of the groups to give a benefit concert for the Meeting House next July. Look for more details. Also, as a reminder we wish to advise that brides wishing to book the Meeting House for a wedding in 2011 should be in touch shortly, as well as those hoping to hold some sort of cultural, musical or religious service. The Board has formulated a new, clearer policy for the public’s use of the building and it will be happy to mail a copy to anyone who is interested.
Today a visitor sees the sanctuary exactly as it was in 1868 since all the improvements made at that time remain untouched. Even the old hymnals rest in the pew racks. The entire building, inside and out is an outstanding survival. It is a time capsule or the proverbial “bee in amber.” A visitor truly gets the feeling that he or she is stepping back into the nineteenth century.
Charles J. Schumacher’s trompe l’oeil murals give the appearance of columns, arches, and wall plaques while in reality the effect is achieved totally with paint on the flat plaster walls. The apse is only four feet deep yet Schumacher has painted receding arched colonnade that seems to go on forever. It is a masterful optical illusion.
The black walnut and butternut pews, stained glass windows, kerosene chandelier, the wall sconces, painted ceiling, and the lectern are all original. The original Bible also survives.
Architectural historians, scholars specializing in old buildings and the proverbial man or woman on the street can recognize that the Union Meeting House stands out from all other similar religious buildings they have visited. When it was placed on The National Register of Historic Places it was called “a handsome late Federal style brick church unusally refined for such a rural context.”
But when one enters, it is the interiors – the sanctuary, apse and choir loft that makes people say “wow”. Yes people can travel to Pompeii or Italy or to the great cathedrals of France, Germany and Austria and see examples of Trompe l’oeil murals. But why spend all that time and money when one of the finest examples of the art, as practiced in mid-nineteenth century America, can be found in Readfield, a small rural community a few miles from Maine’s state capital of Augusta? For both the classic exterior and the striking interior the “Brick Church” was placed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
1. Federal period historic building constructed in 1827-1828 of brick and weatherboard.
2. The only surviving Trompe l’oeil Art done by Charles J. Schumacher in the 19th century (of his 51 creations).
3. Only one other church in Maine has rare stenciled glass windows. Those at Union Meeting House are more striking in design.
4. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
5. In 2009 a small group of volunteers came together and made the commitment to restore and preserve this National treasure for future generations.
Trompe l’oeil is French for “to fool the eye” and the walls and ceilings of the Readfield Union Meeting House, which are painted plaster, appear to be three-dimensional columns, medallions, wall plaques, arches and a receding colonnade that protrude from the walls and ceiling. They are, in truth all flat yet are so realistically painted they truly do “fool the eye”.
About 40 years after the “Brick Church” was completed the congregation decided to hire an architect to redesign the interior so it would look more appropriate for the mid-Victorian period. An artist, Charles J. Schumacher of Portland was hired to do the interior decoration. In his lifetime he completed 51 buildings in Maine but today the Readfield Union Meeting House is the only one that survives intact. Imagine if Rembrandt has created 51 painting and a mere single example had come down to us today?
After Schumacher finished his work, stylish carpet, handsome black walnut and butternut pews seating over 300, a large cast iron chandelier and matching wall scones were installed. Bright non-leaded colored stenciled glass” windows were added. These are most unusual, found only in one other church in Maine. A new pulpit and matching chairs for the minister and two deacon’s chairs in the Gothic Revival style were purchased. The choir was remodeled into a loft space, with a curved, artificially grained frontal painted to approximate butternut and walnut, thereby linking the choir to the sanctuary and pews. One can picture the choir members enfolded in this artfully designed space lending their voices to the prayers of the worshipers. The original pump organ that was in the choir loft still exists and has been restored.
The Union Meeting House was built in 1827-28 to accommodate a union of different faiths since not all congregations then worshipping in Readfield could afford their own building in 1827. Toward the middle of the 20th century, as different faiths built their own churches, services became less frequent. With no congregations, there was no income. There have been occasional interdenominational services in recent years but Union Meeting House is used today primarily for concerts, lectures, conferences, weddings, funerals and other civic purposes.
The only source of income has been a dedicated group of volunteers who, for the past 60 years, have worked with the Board of Directors to raise funds for ongoing maintenance. In recent years the income has not been sufficient to undertake needed repairs. We are inaugurating a membership program and initiating a capital fund drive to build an endowment to preserve Union Meeting House.
When talking about a historic building, especially one with a steeple, stained glass, old brickwork, and an interior that is a work of art, the expenses are high. We thank the older generations for preserving the church intact, yet it is a weighty burden. Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places both state and federal agencies keep watch to make certain nothing is done to downgrade the Union Meeting House and its famous interior. The standards for restoring a historic building are stringent and the Union Meeting House Board of Directors is well aware of the responsibilities that rest on its shoulders.
“The Readfield Union Meeting House is not only a Readfield jewel, it is not merely a Maine treasure, it is truly a national landmark”
We invite you to assist in restoring this cultural landmark through your donations, gifts in kind and / or membership. We also need volunteers and would appreciate hearing from you!
Donations and membership dues can be mailed to:
Readfield Union Meeting House
158 Thorp Shores
Readfield, Maine 04355.
Membership Annual Dues:
Single $25.00 Family $45.00 Student $15.00 Patron $75.00
Benefactor $100.00 Sponsor $150.00
Life Fellow $250.00 Corporate $250.00
If you have questions, wish to arrange for a tour or would like to request brochures email: UnionMeetingHouse@gmail.com
The Readfield Union Meeting House Company is a charitable entity incorporated in 1828 under the laws of the State of Maine. It is also a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization and all donations are tax dedutible to the full extent allowed by I.R.S. regulations.
Wish List: Volunteers (contact us to see what specific needs are); 8.5×11 paper; business envelopes; 44cent stamps;
READ ON TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE UNION MEETING HOUSE