READFIELD – The red brick church in Readfield needs help. It’s needed help for at least 25 years.

Moisture in the crawl space is rotting out the floor and support joists. There may literally have been bats in the belfry recently, and the reknowned trompe l’oeil — “trick of the eye” — paintings that makes the flat plaster walls look three-dimensional are cracked. The carpet is wearing thin, and the air inside smells musty.

“We just emptied the fuel tank,” said Evelyn Potter, an advisory trustee who went to Sunday school in the church decades ago and was letting a reporter and passersby into the building Sunday. “That’s why you smell kerosene.”

The Readfield Union Meeting House Company’s trustees started a membership drive in early May. They prioritized the needs of the building last year, and now have a list of improvements that add up to $500,000. Some community members are donating their work.

Even in its crumbling state, the church interior is impressive. The trompe l’oeil paintings add dimension that pops out columns, an illusionary hallway behind the altar, and two reredoses, or tableaus with Scripture, at the front of the room. The art was created by Charles J. Schumacher in 1867. He did 51 buildings in Maine. This is the only one that remains.

“This is like a treasure,” said Steve Bouchard, staring up at the elaborately painted ceiling, which also bears Schumacher’s mark.


Bouchard, from Lewiston, has driven by the 1827 building just off Route 17 many times, but had never been inside before Sunday. He was visiting with his friend Pam Osborn, of Readfield.

“When you look in, you see this is just such an amazing space. Who knew?” he said, enraptured. “And then you look around, and you see some of this is painted. And then you see that the windows are painted. And it’s just like, ‘Wow.”‘

Four of the windows, although entirely real, are shaded with rare stenciled paint. Five more are dedicated to couples who donated to the church when it was 100 years old, in 1928. Their names are set in stained glass beneath colorful panels that sport the French fleur-de-lis.

The Meeting House has hosted Unitarian, Congregationalist, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Spiritualist, and ecumenical services in the past. Today, it is used for funerals and weddings.

The structural problems are made worse by poor drainage around the building, said Milt Wright, a trustee of the Readfield Union Meeting House Company that owns the building and is responsible for its upkeep.

“I could care less about religion. I mean zero,” said Wright. “But my belief is that this building has such a historical resonance in it that it ought to be preserved.”

The building was listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places in 1982, so repair work must be consistent with historical practices. Masons replacing a few bricks on the rear extension cannot use grinders to chip off old mortar, for example.

Marius Peladeau, president of the meeting house company, has a vision of the building being used for concerts and conferences someday. “If you look at other Maine towns, there is nothing else like this,” he said.


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