Voters in Castine may give ownership of the Unitarian Universalist church on Court Street to the congregation at May's town meeting. An apparent administrative oversight has put the ownership in limbo. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A century-plus-year-old administrative oversight that left the ownership of a historic Castine church in limbo has been rectified.

Residents at Castine’s town meeting Saturday voted to allow the Select Board to sign a deed over to the Unitarian Universalist church, granting the congregation ownership of the church property it has occupied since the 1800s.

 Many in the seaside community had been operating under the assumption that the church, one of the oldest houses of worship in Eastern Maine, was owned by the local congregation. But, when the church recently explored a possible renovation, officials learned that it did not have a deed for the property or anything in writing to prove it owned the land on Court Street.

Technically, the church property could have still belonged to the town. The land was donated to Castine in 1790 and the church was built with taxpayer funds the following year. At the time, it served as both a holy building and the center of municipal activity.

The town is believed to have stepped away from maintaining the property in the 1800s and the congregation remained. But town and church officials, as well as the local historical society, could find no records of ownership being officially transferred to the congregation, which has been there since the church’s founding.

The town meeting article codifying that the church and land does belong to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine drew no discussion from voters, who were more occupied with debating how to manage snowy sidewalks and the merits of expanding the number of school committee members.

But getting rightful ownership of the church land was a relief to parishioners.

“It’s nice to know we own what we have carefully taken care of for a long time,” said Brooke Tenney, the president of the church’s governing board. “We’re pleased to have that mystery solved.”