This March 4 photograph shows the trompe l’oeil painting inside the Readfield Union Meeting House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

READFIELD — As it looks toward a major restoration project, the group that manages the Readfield Union Meeting House has moved closer to its fundraising goal thanks to a sizable donation from a Hallowell couple.

Jack and Anita Smart offered a $50,000 matching grant to the building’s nonprofit organization in August 2020, according to officials. After 83 people made contributions totaling $63,554, the terms of the matching grant were met.

Jack Smart, the former president of the building’s nonprofit organization, the Readfield Union Meeting House Co., said last Wednesday he has been donating to the project for several years.

“This church is very old and it’s worth restoring,” he said. “I’m very pleased to see it being restored.”

John Perry, treasurer of the Readfield Union Meeting House Co., said the nonprofit organization has raised about $200,000 toward its goal of restoring the property before its bicentennial in 2028.

The budget for restoration project, dubbed “Push To The Top,” is $722,000. The project includes the installation of a 30-foot, octagonal spire, restoration of a clock tower, repainting the trim and various interior improvements.

The Union Meeting House is the second-oldest brick church in the state, according to information from Readfield Union Meeting House Co. The building at 22 Church Road was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is now being used to host events.

During a tour last Thursday, John Perry explains plans to fix a lock hole in a faux wood grain door at the Readfield Union Meeting House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Not much is known about the meeting house’s construction in the 1820s, aside from its intended use as a meeting place for several different religious groups, according to Perry.

In the 1860s, Perry said, there was enough money coming into the town that the entire building was rehabilitated and updated to then-modern standards.

“There were a lot of other interior decorations done so it was up to date,” Perry said. “It was modern and it was in the style people enjoyed in the 1860s.”

One of the most interesting features is the trompe l’oell painting on the walls and ceiling. Trompe l’oeil is a a style of painting in which objects are given realistic detail. The painting in the meeting house was done by Portland artist Charles Schumacher.

The building continued to be a religious meeting place into the 1900s, but the individual denominations began to find dedicated homes and parishioners left the building. Because parishioners, who originally formed the meeting house’s company, owned pews in the building and were responsible for repairs, the building began to fall into disrepair in the 1920s and 1930s.

Plans call for spending $722,000 to restore the Readfield Union Meeting House at 22 Church Road. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The 30-foot spire that once jutted upward from the building fell at some point between 1950 and 1960, according to Perry.

“There was not enough money to repair the building (and it) suffered the ravages of time,” he said. “It really stopped being able to take care of itself as a building.”

Perry said in the 1950s, Ernest Bracy spearheaded the organization to rehabilitate the building and accept money from donors. Through Bracy’s efforts, leaky windows and ceilings were fixed, and the building transitioned from a religious center to a community events venue.

Moving into the 2000s, Perry said, money began to come in for maintenance and historical renovations. The goal of the current meeting house company is to have the building restored by 2028.

Perry said he is “anxious,” but “not discouraged,” about the project, which is now running a pledge program for local residents to donate money. The Readfield Union Meeting House Co. is also presenting the project to larger prospective donors.

Pledges, Perry said, would allow the company to begin looking into specialty contractors to do some of the more-complicated historical restoration.

“We’re trying to get money as quickly as we can,” he said. “The cost of doing the work will only increase as we wait to do it.”

Readfield Town Manager Eric Dyer said the town has contributed $15,000 to the Readfield Union Meeting House Co. over three town meeting votes, with voters approving three $5,000 donations.

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