AUGUSTA — More than a year after St. Mark’s Home at Winthrop and Pleasant streets closed, the property might be coming out of legal limbo.

The rector, wardens and vestry of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta, have sought to clarify through the court system whether they still own the property with the two-story house at Winthrop and Pleasant streets and whether it still can be used for charitable purposes. Also, court documents indicate that St. Mark’s Home has a “substantial endowment,” which was used to supplement payments for room and board and to fund operational and maintenance costs.

Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service indicate that the home started the 2014 tax year with just under $1.1 million and ended with about $923,000.

A telephone conference with Justice Michaela Murphy, the judge overseeing the Kennebec County civil case, is set for Tuesday, with a hearing likely to be scheduled for a later date.

The home, which closed in October 2014, was deeded by Allen Lambard in August 1870 to the church leaders to be used forever as a home for poor and destitute women. The corporate entity was created by a special act of the Legislature in 1871, and the same body approved a number of changes over the years, more recently making the corporate name St. Mark’s Home as well as indicating it was a home for women and men.

By late August 2014, the occupancy of the 17-bedroom home had dwindled to five women and the home’s governing board decided it would close by the end of that year.

However, the original deed said that when the home was no longer being used, “the title is to revert to the said Lambard and his heirs.”

Lambard was a grandson of Augusta resident Martha Ballard, whose 1785-1812 diary inspired Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s nonfiction book “A Midwife’s Tale,” according to a history of the home published on the home’s website.

So Phillip E. Johnson, an attorney representing St. Mark’s Home, filed a lawsuit a year ago to try to quiet the title on the property, saying in part, “uncertainty exists over whether the real estate has automatically reverted to the heirs of Allen Lambard under the reverter clause in the deed” and asking whether that is too late or unenforceable.

The defendants are listed as the Maine attorney general, represented by Assistant Attorneys General Christina Moylan and Linda Conti; and the heirs of Allen Lambard. In the response to the complaint, Moylan wrote that the church officials failed to obtain court approval to close the home and to modify the terms of the Allen Lambard charitable trust.

A letter to the court from Johnson indicates the parties had reached a settlement before trial, which would require notice to Lambard’s heirs, many of them found through an independent heir search company retained by attorney Joseph O’Donnell, who was appointed as guardian ad litem for the heirs of Allen Lambard. A number of heirs already have filed notices disclaiming interest in the property.

“It does look like it’s going to settle,” O’Donnell said recently. “We’ve traced heirs down to the fifth generation, and it doesn’t make sense to go much further, because the amount of money they would get is exceedingly small.”

As of June, documents in the case indicated 17 heirs had been located.

O’Donnell said the heirs will be notified of any hearing on a potential settlement and would have the opportunity to be heard. He also said the anticipated future use would be similar to that intended by Lambard, “a place for people who don’t have a lot of money.”

Several of the heirs also have retained attorneys of their own.

The lawsuit says that if the officers of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church still own the real estate, they want it used for charitable purposes. They also seek the right to use the endowment money, but indicate that the attorney general claims an interest in it as well.

In the meantime, Pleasant Street, which runs alongside St. Mark’s Home, is being rebuilt to improve drainage. The pavement was removed, and the street is currently gravel.

Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director, said the improvement is part of the Lithgow Public Library project, which is ahead of schedule.

“Because we had to get utilities there and it’s a low traffic area now, with St. Mark’s Home and the library closed, we made the decision that rather than invest money in temporary pavement, we used reclaimed gravel,” she said.

She said the contractor will work in March or April to rebuild Pleasant Street, which will have brand new curbing to match the library.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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