The sign outside the old church says “The Little Church with a Big Heart.”

But you might say the congregants of Troy Union Church, built in 1840, are the ones who have the big hearts.

They are working to restore the nondenominational church, whose bell tower is leaning to the south, threatening to topple.

“It is my church, and I found out it was a lot more special than I ever knew,” said Norma Rossel, restoration project coordinator and one of 12 members of the church. “I don’t want it to turn into a heap of old rotten boards.”

Rossel, 67, lives in the Waldo County town, population 1,038. Her house is just down the road from the 175-year-old church, where she has been a member for 33 years. Her husband, Greg, is chairman of the restoration campaign.

She stood last week outside a barn on nearby Ward Hill Road, where local carpenters and those from Preservation Timber Framing, of Berwick, were working to recreate the church’s huge wood trusses that have rotted over the years. They were making new trusses out of Eastern White Pine hauled in from the Belfast area. The work will keep the church’s structure historically accurate.

“It’s very strong,” Norma said of the wood. “It’s what they used to call ‘The King’s Trees.’ They used it in the 1700s to make masts for the sailing ships. These timbers are so big, it took us a while to find the trees.”

Norma got involved in the project in 2009 after she and other members of the Bangor Road Church decided it was time to restore it.

“The ladies of the church got together and said, ‘It’s up to us,'” she recalled.

Greg Rossel contacted The Maine Steeples Project, which is part of the Maine Community Foundation, and that organization got involved, as did the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. In 2011, the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing it to apply for restoration grants.

The Maine Steeples Project provided a $2,500 grant for a project assessment, Preservation Timber Framing stabilized the bell tower and in 2014, the church received a Belvedere Grant for $15,000, which was used to remove two ceilings.

The church raised $39,645 — the cost to recreate the trusses and frame the tower — as part of phase one of the project.

Phase two, estimated to cost $96,620, would include demolishing the old truss and tower components, opening the main roof to the second bay, removing the old roof and bell by use of a crane, installing the new trusses and tower parts and closing the roof.

The church has long-range goals that include installing trim, shingling the roof, putting copper on the tower, painting, repairing walls, windows, pews and the floor, insulating and rehabilitating the balcony.

That is a tall order, but one the church and community are vowing to fill.

Meanwhile, Norma Rossel has spent a lot of time researching not only the church itself, but also what was happening in pre-Civil War times when it was built and women were starting to become active in women’s rights. She also began reading architectural books.

“I learned a lot about churches,” she said. “That was really fun. One of the things people might be interested to know about is, there’s an organization called Encore Leadership Corps for people over 50 in Maine. It’s free education and you get to meet all these people across the state who volunteer on projects.

“I attended something called The Summit. I started five years ago going to The Summit. It was in Northport. I went and I met all these people,” she said. “It’s been a great thing. The idea is, what are all these people getting older going to do with themselves? All their talents and energies can be put to good use. I went to grant writing courses.”

A retired 28-year registered seed technologist for Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Norma is working on an application for a $60,000 Maine Community Foundation-Maine Steeples Grant and if it is approved, the church will have a year to raise matching funds.

Meanwhile, the church, which holds services at the nearby B.B. Club House while restoration continues, has launched a fundraising campaign.

At the church last week, Norma led a tour of the work that has been done so far. She noted that one of the removed ceilings is referred to as the ‘memorial ceiling’ because church families helped fund its installation in 1955 and their names were placed on a plaque in the church foyer.

“The families in the church donated to the ceiling — they dedicated the ceiling to their loved ones,” she said.

The church’s interior reflects a work in progress, with the ceilings gone and high rafters exposed. A large Victorian chandelier has been removed and lies, covered, waiting to be reinstalled when the restoration is complete.

Church members say Troy residents in 1840 were not rich — most were farmers and tradesmen who recognized the town needed not only a place of worship, but also a building where people could get married, hold funerals and celebrate other events. They banded together and built the church with their blood, sweat and tears.

The community is carrying on the legacy of those hard-working people by helping to keep the historic meeting place alive and well for the next generation.

It’s an ambitious project and a real labor of love. All those involved deserve a round of applause.


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