OAKLAND — Renovation work has begun on an architectural gem on Church Street that is one of the oldest buildings in central Maine and among the few structures built in the state following the Civil War to honor those killed in the conflict.

There are many monuments in Maine honoring those who died in the Civil War, but few buildings like Memorial Hall.

A town committee is working with the Oakland Area Historical Society and others to breathe new life into the hall at 26 Church St., with the rehabilitation effort expected to cost up to $4 million.

Construction of the hall began in 1870 and was completed three years later, an example of Italian Gothic architecture.

Built at a time when Oakland was known as West Waterville, the hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The nomination form submitted to have the hall placed on the registry described it as “a remarkably ambitious Civil War monument for a relatively small community.”

It was built to be used as a community gathering place, for plays and other entertainment and for public and private events.


Memorial Hall at 26 Church St. in Oakland was built from 1870 to 1873 to honor those from Oakland who died in the Civil War. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Howard Hardy, president of the historical society, said the hall has deep historical significance for the town.

“It is one important stop on a walking tour of the town,” he said. “The brick and stone are unique to the area, being mined in a local quarry, and adds to the eloquence of the structure.”

Kelly Roderick, chairwoman of the Memorial Hall Committee, said the move to begin renovations began six to eight months ago, when a member of the Oakland Town Council suggested donating or selling the building.

“I was saying to myself, ‘Are you kidding me?'” Roderick said. “This is our memorial to our veterans from the Civil War. We can’t just give it away.”

Roderick spoke with Town Manager Ella Bowman, and ultimately Roderick helped form the Memorial Hall Committee. The group prioritized work on the hall’s foundation before making further renovations.

Bowman said the intention is to have private donations and state and federal grants cover the cost of the work.


Some improvements now underway include repointing the brick and stone outside, installing an elevator and a fire sprinkler system and replacing several windows.

The building also need be updated to meet the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. To accommodate people with wheelchairs, Bowman said, the building needs wider bathroom doorways and more wheelchair ramps.

“The building is so far out of ADA compliance,” Bowman said. “Back then (when the hall was built), if someone was handicapped, a couple of good strong guys would pick them up and carry them upstairs.”

For the past few decades, the building has been used primarily as a dance studio. The town owns the building and Scott Stevens, owner of Studio One for Dancers, has been a tenant over the years.

“We want to keep (Stevens) for as long as he wants to stay there,” Bowman said. “But as he’s going to be retiring, we want the building to be able to be used for what it was originally intended for.”

Bowman said she wants the building to “bring culture back” to Oakland, including plays and musicals or other live music.


Oakland resident Bridget Gehrling, who walks by Memorial Hall every day, said the building has been neglected for years, but she can see its potential.

“Because of the limited resources in the way of plumbing and electricity, it doesn’t really lend itself right now to community use,” Gehrling said. “But if we updated the hall and made it safe to use again, I feel confident that it would be used more.”

According to the Oakland Area Historical Society, the lower level of the hall once housed a bank, the Police Department, a Town Office and a library.  

“We want this to be a central hub for the community,” Roderick said. “In 100 years from now, I’m not going to be here, but I hope someone keeps it going.”

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