MADISON — When Stacy O’Brien heard that another old building in Madison was in danger of being knocked down, she felt a sense of urgency to do something.

O’Brien, who grew up in Madison but lives in Williamstown, Vt., now, owns an event planning business with her husband, Tom. She went to preschool at the Madison Congregational Church and saw on Facebook that the church was for sale.

“There’s a lot of talk about the historical buildings in the area that have been torn down, and people are really upset by it. I was kind of watching it with some interest because this is my hometown, and I don’t want to see all the historical buildings torn down,” O’Brien, 48, said. “But rather than talking about it or lamenting another lost building, I wanted to do something about it.”

The O’Briens bought the 1892 church in December and are planning to re-open the building as the Somerset Abbey, a wedding venue and event space, in the spring. They’ll keep the building much the way it is, with the chapel available for weddings and the basement available for receptions, music and comedy shows, conferences or other events, said Stacy O’Brien. The stained glass windows, pews and Skinner pipe organ, dating to 1929, will all remain in place.

Through their current business, Avalon Enterprises, the couple rents tents for weddings and helps plan events. “We already do a lot of rentals for parties and things like that, so I suggested that might be a good use for the building, to turn it into a music and events hall. It’s not that far off from what we already do and would allow us to maintain the integrity of the building. That was our first and foremost plan, to save the building from being torn down for a fast-food restaurant or something on the corner,” said O’Brien.

About two weeks ago the couple signed papers to purchase the church from the Madison Congregational Parish, which owns the building.

“It was a tough decision. We knew we weren’t able to continue the way things were, so we’re happy about it. I think the community is really happy the building is going to stay the way it is,” said Ralph Withee, a member of the parish who has been attending services there with his wife, Charlotte, for more than 50 years.

Without a consistent pastor and a dwindling congregation, church services recently moved into the basement of the building.

When the building went up for sale about a month ago, members of the community voiced concerns over the number of old buildings that had been torn down in Madison in recent years and worried that the church would be next. Within the last few years, the town has demolished two old schools as well as a former general store in East Madison in efforts to consolidate the number of town-owned properties. In addition, the former Christopher Wholesalers, on Main Street, was bought and demolished by Campbell’s TruValue Hardware, which is next to that site.

The last service at the Madison Congregational Church was held on Dec. 28, and the congregation re-opened the upstairs chapel for the event.

“We wanted to keep the church going, but it is a miracle for it to end up this way,” said Elizabeth Coro, the parish moderator and a member of the congregation for 46 years. She said the sale of the church is bittersweet, and that the remaining members of the congregation are happy that the building, which many see as an important part of Madison’s downtown, will be preserved.

The O’Briens decided on the name Somerset Abbey, which combines the name of the county and recalls the building’s 120-year history.

“Obviously we can’t say that we’re a church because we’re not,” O’Brien said. “We kind of threw the name out to some of our friends and most people liked it, so that’s what we decided to go with.”

The couple is seeking permits needed for the business and hope to open in the spring.

“People are one thing, but we were also concerned about the building,” Coro said. “We wanted it to continue to have its historical significance, and that’s where (the O’Briens) come in. They will carry that on.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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