PATTEN, Maine — A grassroots historical preservation group is asking town officials for one year to save Patten’s oldest public building from demolition.
The newly formed group wants to preserve the building and its history, revive it and put it to a new use for community social events, perhaps with local artists for shows and performances.
Currently, Patten does not have any public meeting space and most town meetings are held in the town garage, Planning Board Chairman Ron Blum said.
In recent years at least five 19th-century downtown properties have been lost, and the preservation group fears that tearing down the 1845 Regular Baptist Church, built four years after the town’s founding, takes away another critical piece of the town’s history.
“The building is endangered and I believe we need to save it from further destruction,” Marcia Pond, head of the preservation group said.“You don’t want to erase your history. Some of the first people here took their time, money and talent and built this church together.”
The Board of Selectmen in September voted to flatten the historic building and in its place plant a few flowers, add a picnic table and designate it as a small downtown veterans’ memorial, said Cody Brackett, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who was absent from the vote.
When Pond heard the selectmen voted to tear down the building, she expressed her concerns at a regular meeting and appealed to the selectmen in writing asking for time for the group to save the building, Pond said.
“While I understand the desire to retain the building, it has to have a purpose and be used in a way to enhance the town,” Selectwoman Rae Bates said. Bates voted in favor of demolishing the church.”Unfortunately, we do not have sufficient volunteers to operate our historical society so I have to wonder who will staff this saved church?”
Bates said the board is willing to listen to a viable plan to save this building with independent funding, but if one isn’t presented soon the building will be torn down and the space used to create a small veterans memorial park.
The preservation group’s plans include attracting more interested individuals with an information campaign about the church and its history, drafting a warrant that demonstrates the residents’ desire to preserve the building with a vote; and fundraising to support needed repairs.
Brackett also said he is willing to listen to other plans.
Still, as of now the vote to demolish stands and he is currently talking to demolition and salvage companies. He added that he is trying to find a demolition company that will take the building’s salvage like stained glass and hand-hewn beams as payment for the demolition.
Blum said the stained glass windows alone are estimated at $20,000 or more. There is also a vaulted ceiling with delicate hand-painted images.
Brackett believes the repairs to the structure are excessive.
“The building is in need of vast repair. There is a leaking ceiling. The ceiling tiles sponged up the water and the ceiling tiles caved in,” Brackett said, adding that part of the foundation is crumbling.
Nonetheless, the preservation group believes the building is repairable, pointing to a 2021 town study by Dirigo Engineering of Fairfield.
The firm estimated that must-have and optional improvements combined would cost about $148,450.
The necessary improvements, including a new foundation and basement floor, were about $100,750 including engineering and a $22,000 contingency; and optional improvements were about $47,700, including engineering and an $11,500 contingency, for things like a handicapped-accessible bathroom, ramp, walkway, handrails and other walkways.
The church has a long and storied history.
In the mid-1800s local young men reported to muster into the Patten Rifle Company D, a voluntary militia at the church. By the 1860s, these recruits were headed south to join the Union Army’s 20th Maine.
The church building was sold to the town in 1928, and served as the Veteran’s Memorial Library for over 92 years. The Library also became the unofficial depository of memorabilia from local citizens, and served as the initial location of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum before the Museum moved to its current site in 1963, Blum said.
The library left the church building in 2020 and is temporarily housed in the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum.
After looking at options, the library trustees concluded a new building was the best option, Bates said.
Late last year, the library got $3.9 million in federal funds for a new space. A capital campaign to obtain an additional $3.2 million in matching funds is necessary, Bates said.
The church holds so many memories and its valuable history that must be saved, Pond said.
“I believe the community can pull together to do this. See it with your heart, look at the building, the people who gave of themselves to build it. It’s really important.You’ll never get it back once it’s gone,” she said.
Anyone interested in saving the Patten church is invited to attend the group’s next meeting at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Methodist Church in Patten. For more information contact Marcia Pond at firstname.lastname@example.org.