North Yarmouth campaign launches for move of Old Town House

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Village Green that for decades housed one venerable building may become home to another.

The North Yarmouth Historical Society, which owns the Old Town House at 470 Memorial Highway, plans to move the 1853 structure to 475 Walnut Hill Road (Route 115), where Wescustogo Hall stood for decades until fire destroyed it in 2013.

Town Meeting voters on April 6 approved the historical society’s $1 lease of the now-vacant Wescustogo property, in exchange for the transfer of the 0.25-acre Route 9 parcel next to Old Town House Park to the town. The deal should be complete this spring.

That decision puts the society one step closer to achieving its goal. But the organization has to raise the money for the move, plus renovation of the 1,550-square-foot structure and construction of an addition.

All told, the project could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, which the society intends to raise through grants, and financial donations and in-kind contributions, President Katie Murphy said in an interview April 11.

Society members have been delegated to various tasks – fundraising, preparing the structure for the move, studying the new site and addition – and the organization welcomes other residents to lend a hand.

“There’s an awful lot of expertise in our town, people will all kinds of abilities, knowledge and wisdom,” Murphy said. “Those are the folks we need to help us.”

People can get involved by emailing nyhs@maine.rr.com, visiting northyarmouthhistorical.org, or calling Murphy at 846-4379.

She said she was pleased by the community support at Town Meeting and acknowledged concerns some residents expressed earlier about moving such an old building. But Murphy said she has also heard from an increasing number of people whose own historic homes have been moved.

“It’s an old tradition, not just in North Yarmouth, of course, but in many, many places,” she said. “It’s a practical Yankee kind of thing to do. You use what you’ve got, especially if it’s beautiful, and it’s got good bones. And that’s what the Old Town House is.”

The society’s campaign coincides with a $250,000 fundraising effort for the Wescustogo Hall and Community Center at 120 Memorial Highway, where a new Wescustogo is being built next to a pared-down and renovated North Yarmouth Memorial School.

“We’ve got two wonderful projects going on in town … we’re going to have a new community center,” Murphy said.

She noted a parallel between the Old Town House and original Wescustogo Grange projects.

“It was built not just by Grange Hall members; it was built by the whole town,” Murphy said. “… People contributed labor, lumber; they did fundraisers. So we really are hoping that the town will be as excited as we are with this project, and everybody can pitch in, in one way or the other.”

Largely completed by 1958, the Grange took a decade to build, Murphy said.

The Old Town House project cost would cover shoring up and stabilizing the building prior to the move, constructing temporary walls and piers, removing the front porch and chimney, and repairing rotted framing.

It also includes cutting the structure into three pieces for the move, and then stabilization work once it is in place on a new foundation. The temporary walls would be removed, the three pieces reconnected, the porch reinstalled and the roof and chimney rebuilt. A roughly 800-square-foot extension would be built onto the rear of the building.

The society had considered taking a phased approach – moving it first, and expanding it later – but opted to tackle the entire project while momentum is strong, Murphy said.

The fundraising pace will determine the timeline. The group hoped to complete the project this year, but the cost will likely stretch into multiple years.

The foundation and extra space would allow the society to store and display its wealth of historic artifacts. Plus the Old Town House would finally have “a real, honest-to-God bathroom inside, that works,” Murphy said with a chuckle.

The historical society, which now operates out of cramped space at the fire station, would also have a small kitchen, and a room for the public to research and discuss history.

The Old Town House was used occasionally for small weddings, and as a school and a meeting place for organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It has electricity but no running water, although it does have access to an outhouse.

Ceiling structural issues forced the building to be closed to the public several years ago. Murphy looks forward to someday opening it once again.

“Especially for those who have never been inside the building, it’s the most beautiful and welcoming room,” Murphy said. “… We see that everybody in town can come and use this building; it’s important to all of us.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

This rendering depicts how North Yarmouth’s Old Town House would look, with a new extension, next to the Village Green gazebo and fire station on Walnut Hill Road (Route 115). The town’s historical society has begun raising funds for the project, which would move the 166-year-old building to the now-vacant site of the original Wescustogo Hall.

Linc Merrill, left, Katie Murphy, Mark Heath, Jeanne Chadbourne and Martha Leggat are members of the North Yarmouth Historical Society’s Old Town House subcommittee. They have begun fundraising to move the 1853 structure to the Village Center.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.