PATTEN, Maine — A vote this week can save the oldest building in Patten from a town-approved wrecking ball.
The Patten Board of Selectmen voted last year to demolish the historic 1845 Regular Baptist Church, known as the old Veteran’s Memorial Library on Main Street.
Built in 1845 with the money and sweat of the town’s founding families, it was Patten’s first church and it is the oldest building in town. The Patten Historical Society wants to repair and restore the church as a historical and cultural space for the community. Residents will vote Thursday whether to transfer the property from the town to the historical society.
“I want to let the public know that by voting to save the building, they have the opportunity to be part of an historic event, ensuring the preservation and historical integrity of a much-loved building and landmark,” said Marcia Pond, founder of the preservation committee to save the church.
The decision will be part of Patten’s annual town meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Pond said.
Last year, Pond stood alone in her efforts to save the historically significant church from demolition during a Select Board meeting. Town leaders initially scoffed at her request for time to find a way to save the church, but Pond got their attention when her solo plea became the plea of hundreds offering restoration funding, historic preservation, design and construction help and grant writing assistance.
The Preservation Committee to Save the Church, part of the Patten Historical Society, now numbers more than 30 and includes restoration carpenters, grant writers, designers and planners. The committee meets regularly to discuss and plan for the church’s future. But because the town owns the church, obstacles remain, like the looming demolition decision by the Select Board.
The preservation committee can’t begin repairs or apply for grants until it owns the building, said Ron Blum, who sits on the committee and is Patten’s health officer and Planning Board chair.
During the preservation committee’s April 17 meeting, members discussed fundraising initiatives for this spring and summer. If the town approves conveying the building to the historical society, they will start raising funds and submitting grants, Blum said.
The preservation committee will make the facility available to the community as soon as it is safe to do so, he said.
Drawing on the support from local businesses and residents, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and people from other states, the preservation committee is prepared to return the building to its former brilliance for community use.
“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. You’ll never get it back once it’s gone,” Pond said.
The committee has been talking to residents to see how they envision the church’s future.
“Residents have already contributed to a long list of ideas of potential uses of the building, and new ideas keep being presented,” Blum said. “One recent suggestion was to house the archives of the Patten Academy, the local high school that preceded the consolidated school district.”
Earlier this year, the preservation committee asked the Select Board to convey ownership of the church to the historical society. The board resisted the request even after the committee submitted a petition with more than 100 signatures in support of the property transfer.
Nonetheless, last month the board approved the committee’s request for a town vote on the matter.
It is important for residents to attend Thursday’s meeting and vote in favor of conveying the church to the historical society, Blum said.
The church vote is Article 45 on the agenda. The article reads: “To see if the town will vote to transfer title of the Old Baptist Church located at 30 Main St., Patten, Maine to the Patten Historical Society, pending review of the transfer by legal counsel.”
For information about the preservation committee, contact Pond at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Patten Historical Society.