READFIELD — A landmark in a pair of central Maine towns has made a Maine Preservation list this year.

But that’s not necessarily good news for the Belgrade Town House and Readfield Union Meeting House, which are part of Maine Preservation’s 2019 list for the state’s Most Endangered Historic Places

While the organization does not give funding to places that make the list, it is an opportunity for the highlighted landmarks to be recognized financially through donations or grant funding. 

“The intent of the list is to get people motivated to take action, and think about places that are important in community and make a plan,” explained Ali Barrionuevo, Real Estate Manager for Maine Preservation.

To make the list, this important, historic resource must be in danger — demolition, environmental impacts and even climate change are possible threats. Nominations must be made, often by stewards of the properties, before their applications go through a selection process with a committee formed by Maine Preservation. 

One of the criteria to be named to the list is that the place has an organization or group of individuals backing it, and fundraising efforts have already started. 

“The places already have community groups that are seriously invested and have already started taking action,” said Barrionuevo. “The list helps promote their story and get a larger audience and will drive fundraising.”

Nineteenth-century sheathing is exposed Sept. 18 beneath wooden shingles on the Belgrade Town House. Restoration work is planned for the structure. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The Belgrade Historical Society is working to preserve the Belgrade Town House, BHS President Dianne Dowd said, after being approved to do so by voters at Town Meeting in 2017. The historic building is still owned by the town.

Built in 1814 for $200, Dowd said, the Town House was created for town business, which had previously been conducted in a resident’s barn, house or place of worship. 

“It would have been the place where Belgraders would have voted for statehood from Massachusetts,” she said. “It has good history, as they say, ‘good bones.’” 

The Town House was a meeting place through 1872. The town has continued to use the building, including for office space for the town sexton, as cemeteries developed on either side of the structure. Most recently, it provided cemetery storage and was a place where Memorial Day services took place. 

So far, the historical society has raised $75,000 of its $235,000 goal, Dowd said. 

The building has been attacked by powder-post beetles, she said, and there is damage from water infiltration.  A building condition study is planned for November.

The Belgrade Historical Society is planning to restore the building to as close to original condition as possible, Dowd said. The post-and-beam building has been altered to accommodate modern uses, including installation of a garage door, which she hopes to have replaced with a wooden door. 

Marius Peladeau, historian for the Readfield Union Meeting House Board of Trustees, shows a crack in the granite window caused by exposure to the elements on Sept. 19. He said the north side of the building is vulnerable to the moisture being in continuous shade. The south side tends to be overly dry because it always faces the sun. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

“Getting on (an) endangered list helps us get statewide recognition of this important building,” said Dowd.

Once the Town House has been restored, the organization plans to host summer programs and other events. 

The Readfield Union Meeting House Co. Inc.’s board of trustees is overseeing preservation of its historic landmark.

“Putting us on the endangered places list is not a negative, it’s a positive in that Maine Preservation is saying we are worthy of extra attention,” said historian Marius Peladeau. “We are very honored to be on the list.”

The Meeting House was built in 1827-28 as a place of worship for a union of different faiths. Upkeep had been financed by the parishioners, but by the 1940s, use had declined because the churches eventually could afford to construct and maintain their own buildings.

Beginning in the 1950s, concerned Readfield citizens led the upkeep of the building, trustees told the Kennebec Journal in April, but once the building was placed on the National Historic Register in 1982, any repairs made were required to maintain the building’s historical integrity.

The board contracted Tony Castro, the same artist hired by the Lithgow Public Library in Augusta to restore the paint in its reading room last year. Having completed the interior walls of the Meeting House, Castro is restoring the meetinghouse ceiling, which he said he expects to be completed in the spring of 2020. 

His process includes conserving the art on plaster, wood and canvas. Where plaster drops from lathes as a result of the building shifting during the four seasons, he reconnects it and treats it with consolidant. That consolidant, Castro said, is used to preserve dinosaur bones in museums.

Tony Castro stands on scaffolding in the Readfield Union Meeting House on Sept. 19 and inspects a crack on the ceiling that developed because the plaster is coming loose from the lathes. Castro has been hired by the Readfield Union Meeting House Board of Trustees to restore plaster and solidify the cracks. Kennebec Journal Photo by Abigail Austin

The walls and ceiling of the meeting house have trompe l’oeil, French for “fool the eye.” The two-dimensional paintings mislead the eye into thinking the walls and ceiling of the meetinghouse are three-dimensional. The paintings are the last known existing work of Charles J. Schumacher, who painted 51 buildings in the state.

The most costly part of the board’s five-year plan for the Meeting House is to repair and rebuild the steeple.

The spire came off the steeple in 1916, Peladeau said, exposing the clock tower and belfry to weather. Once the clock and bell, and their holdings are repaired, it will be topped with a replica spire like the one constructed with the building.

“Everything has to be coordinated,” Peladeau said. “We have to get the bell out and have it repaired when the crane is here to get the bell back in.”

The board also has plans to close up the soffits and eaves, he said, preventing bats from infiltrating the building and guano from accumulating.

Repairs on that five-year plan could cost $600,000, according to Peladeau. He said they have the funding for an assessment on the eaves and have already paid for an assessment on the steeple. 

Once these assessments are approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, the projects will go out to bid. 

The building serves a venue for concerts and other community events. Once the restoration is complete, the board hopes to use it for conferences, weddings, funerals and other civic purposes.

“Our main mission to think about is that buildings can be useful tools for the local community,” Barrionuevo said. 

Often the entity outgrows the building, she said, but the places can “contribute to community in a new way.” 

Maine Preservation also celebrates successful preservation through its Honor Awards program. The D.W. Adams Building in Augusta, for example, was given an Honor Award when it was converted from a department store into a commercial space and apartments.

“We like to promote examples of solutions,” said Barrionuevo. 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.