Franklin Countys First News

DAR awards grant for Norlands meeting house steeple Project

The funding will be used to fix and re-flash the roof at the steeple tower base of the meeting house.

Grant funding by the DAR will be used to fix and re-flash the roof at the steeple tower at Norlands base of the meeting house.

LIVERMORE – The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is donating $2,310 to Washburn-Norlands Living History Center’s Meeting House Steeple Preservation Project.

Funding for this project was made possible through the sponsorship of Mary Dillingham-Burnt Meadow Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, located in Lewiston. The funding will be used to fix and re-flash the roof at the steeple tower base of the meeting house.

Sheri Leahan, director of the Norlands in Livermore, said, “We are thrilled to receive such a generous donation from the DAR. We realize that our grant is just one of many that they made throughout the year to preserve our nation’s history. We feel fortunate that they have chosen to assist us in fixing the leak in this historic structure. The leak is worsening with each heavy rain storm. Water is already infiltrating onto the steeple staircase and floor above the narthex. With this grant, the leak will be halted before water weakens the structure and seeps into the sanctuary, potentially destroying the restored painted trompe d’oeil stencils on the ceiling and walls.”

Built in 1828, the meeting house is the oldest building at Norlands and was the first church in Livermore to have a steeple. The spire is 105 feet high. Israel Washburn, Sr., and his neighbor, Otis Pray, donated the land and raised money by selling pews. The church is a federal style meeting house with distinctive Victorian changes, first designed by Martin Cushing, a prominent architect and builder of the region.

More than a thousand people attended the dedication service on June 18, 1829. The church remained in regular use until 1869 when a new church was built in the new population center of Livermore Falls. The Norlands’ church continued to be used for summer services. In 1872, Israel Washburn hired George Harding to remodel the church. Harding was one of Maine’s most prominent architects. The singers’ balcony was eliminated, new windows installed, and new interior trim completed. The high pulpit was removed and a front platform installed. Another significant change was the frescoes and decorative trompe d’oeil (painting to "fool the eye") painted on the plaster walls and ceiling. Artist Valentine L. Keiler was active in Portland, Maine, between 1869 and 1873. The Washburns were pleased with his work, writing in their family journal “Keiler the fresco man went home today. The Church looks finely.” (October 15, 1873).

Today, the meeting house remains a fascinating combination of a late federal style church, with early Gothic Revival details and decorative overlay of Victorian elements. While summer services stopped sometime in the early 20th century, the meeting house is used today to explore the history of rural Maine life, religion, and the Washburn family. Programs, and sometimes historical church services, take place in the building during special events. The meeting house is also rented for wedding ceremonies and other special functions.

“As people travel on north on Norlands Road, the steeple is the first glimpse of the Norlands. It’s not only breathtaking, but serves as a reminder to people that they are about to “step back in time.” It really contributes to the quality of place and preservation of life in a 19th-century crossroads community,” said Carolyn Lawson, President of Norlands’ Board of Trustees.

Mid-Maine Restoration (MMR) of Boothbay, will complete the work on the steeple roof later this summer. MMR is a small company based in Boothbay, Maine. In business for 35 years, MMR specializes in tower and steeple renovation. They are members of Maine Preservation, Portland Landmarks and the Better Business Bureau.

For more information about Norlands and the Steeple Preservation Project, contact Leahan, director, at 207-897-4366 or email norlands@norlands.org. The entire cost of fixing the steeple roof is $4,910. Once the tower base roof is repaired, Norlands will be able to move forward with a complete restoration of the steeple. Community members interested in donating to this project can do so securely online via Norlands’ website – www.norlands.org or by calling 207-897-4366.

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