Portland's historic black meeting house wins more money for restoration

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PORTLAND — The Abyssinian Meeting House is a shell of what it was three years ago. And the folks in charge of restoring the landmark couldn’t be happier.

“We thought we’d have to do a lot of guessing,” said David Paul, treasurer of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian. “The building just keeps telling us what to do though.”

The committee’s goal is to restore the nationally designated historic meeting house – one of the oldest black meeting houses in the United States – to its original 1828 form. Restoration work began in 2006 after several years of organizing and fundraising.

In the coming months, the exterior of the building will be fitted with wood trim designed to mimic a piece of the original trim found on the building. Asphalt shingles will also be added to the new roof.

“Everything we’re doing is focused on the exterior right now,” said the project manager, Scott Lewis of Berwick-based Preservation Timber Framing.

His crew has secured the Newbury Street structure, adding new king posts and beams to the few pieces of original supports that were not cut away over the years. The meeting house was turned into apartments in 1917, with its once-open, two-story meeting room cut into living units. In 1991, the building was abandoned. When work began in 2006, it had been taken over by residents with wings or tails.

After taking about eight months off (starting last May) while the restoration committee raised more funds, Lewis and other restoration workers are back on the scene. He said they’ve discovered a lot of clues that will help return the building to close to its original design. The original window frames, for example, can be seen now that the walls are torn back to studs.

Where the building now has several windows lining what were the second and third floors on the sides and back, originally Lewis believes there were just three, much larger windows on each side and two in the front. The windows are part of the next phase of renovations, after the roof and trim are complete.

Paul hopes that a $50,000 grant recently awarded to the Abyssinian by the 1772 Foundation will allow for some of the next phase to begin. The foundation is based in Connecticut and funds historic renovation projects nationwide. It previously provided more than $100,000 to the Abyssinian effort.

The remainder of the exterior renovations are expected to cost about $200,000, and that work includes the windows and siding.

Interior renovation will cost another $1.5 million.

For more information on the fundraising effort and tours of the building, e-mail info@abyme.org or call 829-4995.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

Restoration work continues at the historic Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury Street in Portland. Crews are beginning to add wood trim to the exterior of the building, and will put asphalt shingles on the roof in the coming months.