The Chesterville Center Union Meeting House bell tower was returned to its home on top of the Meeting House on May 22, following a six-month restoration, according to a news release from Robert G. Rogers of Farmington Falls.

Contractor Ron Castonguay of Leeds and crew members of Cote Crane and Rigging from Auburn begin lifting the belfry and bell with a 60-ton crane, May 22. Photo by Robert Rogers

The project began in November 2019 with the removal of the 1,000-pound bell and the upper section of the bell tower with a crane. Long-time area contractor Ron Castonguay trucked the bell tower to his shop in Leeds where the restoration proceeded during the winter months. Both the lower bell deck roof and the upper tier roof were replaced with standing seam metal roofing, new red oak timbers were milled, joined, and fastened to provide a new cradle structure for the bell, and the felloes which make up the wooden rim of the bell wheel were replaced with native white ash.

Other work included some limited repairs to the bell tower framing, boarding, and trim, and a thorough paint job. While the tower was down, a critical reinforcement was also made to stabilize the queen post truss which spans the building attic and supports the north side of the bell tower.

Resources for the $39,650 project included grants from the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Steeples Fund, the Davis Family Foundation, and the Narragansett Number One Foundation. At the local level, a generous response to a town-wide fundraising appeal in the spring 2019, as well as benefit performances by the Franklin County Fiddlers and Down-East humorist Tim Sample all helped raise critical matching funds for the project.

Early work on the project included a careful preliminary assessment by Maine Preservation in June 2017, and an engineering assessment and design plan by Lincoln/Haney Engineering Associates Inc. of Brunswick in the fall 2017.

Restored belfry and bell of the Chesterville Center Union Meeting House. Photo by T. Castonguay

According to the release, the steel alloy meeting house bell was cast in Hillsboro Ohio by the C.S. Bell & Co. between 1882 and 1894. It is unknown whether the bell was purchased by the Chesterville parish at the time of its manufacture or acquired at a somewhat later date. With the tower back in place and with safe use of the bell once again made possible, a small but distanced gathering of Chesterville residents and supporters of the meeting house celebrated Memorial Day with a 21-chime salute to honor the occasion and all those being remembered for their service and sacrifice to the country.

Constructed in 1851 and the local house of worship for a century and a half, the Chesterville Center Union Meeting House today is a nonprofit community resource providing a venue for community gatherings and events including arts, music, education, and enrichment. Meeting house organizers are deeply grateful for the community support shown for the bell tower project.

For additional information about the meeting house and to see more photos of the restoration and other recent projects, visit www.chestervillemeetinghouse.org.

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