By Carol McCracken
The public is invited to attend an Open House at the Abyssinian Meeting House over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. It’s open on Friday, May 22; Saturday, May 23; and Monday, May 25 – Memorial Day. Admission is free and it’s located at 75 Newbury Street on the Hill.
Phase 11, or the stabilization portion of the restoration project, is completed announced Leonard W. Cummings, president of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House at a recent press conference. Now it’s time for the public to come in and see what has been accomplished in the last several years. Not only is the historic old church stable, but the Fire Department now considered the building safe to enter if a fire is detected in the building. Previously, the Fire Department did not consider the building safe enought to enter to fight a fire. That significant event was marked by the removal of the old red sign and replaced by a new yellow sign at the front door – signaling a less dangerous situation. The Munjoy Hill Fire Department participated in the change of the signs on the building.
The Open House which starts tomorrow morning will give the public an opportunithy for an interesting look back at the history of the Abyssinian and its role in the community. For example, the historic building survived the great fire of 1866 when not much else did. Credit for that is given to Reuben Ruby who founded the church. Ruby stood on the roof of the building covering it with wet blankets until he was able to contain the fire. Later, according to Cummings, the building was used by the community as a shelter and meeting place during the aftermath of the fire. A large section of a back wall remains badly charred by the fire. There are no plans to remove the wall. It was made of eastern white pine which makes it very fire resistant, said Arron Sturgis, the contractor for the building restoration. But it’s also a poignant reminder of the devastation of that fire in 1866.
As to its future use, board members hope to see the building used as a center of the community much as it was originally. It could serve as a lecture hall, repositoryof public art and even a place from which bottled water could be sold. On the ground floor, a spring runs under the floor of the building. The dampness from the water is the reason that the original wooden floor rotted out and had to be removed. The rest of the floor is made of concrete and has withstood the dampness from the running spring. Cummings said he has not tasted the water so far, but is waiting for the state to test it to determine how safe it is. “Don’t let Poland Spring find out about our spring here or it will be all over,” someone in the group quipped.
The building was started in 1826 and not completed until a few years later. “It was built on faith. That’s history repeating itself today. There are no guarantees here,” said Sturgis. “It’s important for the community to recognize how important this building is to the city and the country. This needs to be the anchor of this community again.”