Save The Historic Troy Union Church

The Restoration of the Troy Union Church
The construction phase of the restoration of historic Troy Union Church began March 2, 2015, when huge eastern white pine timbers were hauled up from the Viking mill in Belfast. The work began a few miles from the church, at the Garcelon House barn, not at the church building, which has been closed since summer 2014. That was when local carpenters removed the suspended ceiling and the bead board ceiling, to allow thorough inspection and access to the trusses under the roof. The removal of the “dropped” ceiling means the balcony is unblocked and can be seen from the floor of the sanctuary for the first time since 1955. All that remains inside are the pews and carpet, and for the duration of the restoration, the congregation meets at the B.B. Cook Clubhouse just down the road. The timber frame experts of Preservation Timber Framing, Inc. in Berwick had carefully inspected, measured and drawn the trusses, to determine what had to be done to make the truss system work properly. After water had penetrated through the belfry roof, around the tower, and the main roof, the trusses rotted, which allowed the tower to lean into the sanctuary. The leaning steeple will be righted when the truss and tower repairs are completed.

The rotten truss and tower timbers have been recreated. A new king post truss has been added to the original design, to assure the new trusses will be strong enough together to hold the south edge of the bell tower for at least two hundred years more. Careful workmanship by local craftsmen made this possible. Scott Pfeiffer, Marvin Daugherty, Jr., and Adam Joy, all Troy residents, and experienced artisans, have worked hard to shape classic mortise and tenon joints, which when joined or fitted together, make the connections between the timbers. The kingpost and queen post trusses are shaped like huge triangles. The Troy Church carpenters , along with Lee from PTF moved the trusses and tower timbers into the upper level of the barn on Ward Hill Rd. on April 24th. The next step will be to raise $96,620 to complete Phase 2. During that phase, the main roof of the church will be opened to the second bay, and the old rotten wood inside the church will be removed, and the new trusses will be installed within the historic building. The cap of the tower will be removed with a crane, and the bell lifted out. The tower will be repaired, and a copper roof will be installed on the cap. Then the cap will be lifted up and replaced on the tower. The roof will be sealed up to weather, until phase 3 can be funded. The project is about saving a 175 year old small country church and preserving the unique early American workmanship and architecture of the Troy Union Church bell tower. The bell has been rung since the 1840’s in times of peace and war. And, really it’s a story of faith, family, community, history and heritage.

In 1841 the Troy Union Meeting House Society was established. Pews were sold to the highest bidder to fund the enterprise and said purchasers were members of the society and were called Pew Holders. (Many of the families whose names on the original pew map still live in town today). The church was to be non-denominational and it was also voted to give a general invitation to all persons residing within the vicinity of the meeting house and to all others as far as the invitation can be extended to attend meetings in the House for it is free to all. The resulting building reflected Greek revival and Gothic revival styles and was topped with a distinctive bell tower. Documents note that periodically, there have been “drives” to repaint and repair the house – major ones in 1871, 1889 and an extensive one in 1950 when the Seven Star Grange used their war bond money to lower the ceiling, the hallway remodeled and the somewhat mysteriously noted the “steeple righted”. This is the first written indication that there were problems with that part of the structure. Since the 1950’s, the congregation has kept up with general maintenance -- new foundation, roof, painting, and updated electrical service. But the business about the steeple, while out of sight during services was something that could no longer be ignored. The bell had been all but silenced – indeed, one of the last times the bell was rung vigorously was in July 4th 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of the nation. There was no denying the steeple had taken a decided list to the south and threatened to eventually tumble into the sanctuary. Clearly something needed to be done.

Taking Action
The first step was to determine who could develop a historical assessment. Maine Preservation was consulted to map out a course of action. The place to start was to get the building professionally assessed. A Maine Steeples Project Assessment Grant paid for almost the entire cost of the assessment. Arron Sturgis of Preservation Timber Framing of Berwick, Maine was consulted. (Preservation Timber Framing recently completed the historic restoration of the Freedom Mill, in Freedom, Maine.) Sturgis’ initial assessment noted that the post and beam construction of the church was unique in that the steeple framing was incorporated into the trusses. Unfortunately, over time and probably early on, there was water penetration, causing rot in the center of the truss 2. Indeed, when viewed from a distance the 33 foot long chord (bottom horizontal piece of the truss) that looked like solid timber was actually rotten like an old pumpkin that one could stick a pencil into. Likely this had been going on for quite a while and was probably the reason in 1950 there was the attempt to “right the tower” by introducing extra bracing. Apparently that was ineffective and the tilting tower continued to stress the rest of the roof system. Outside of the gable ends, there are only three trusses supporting the roof. To compound the problem was the weight of the heavy suspended ceiling, iron rods, cellulose insulation, and a defunct brick chimney that was built on framing supported by the truss chords that all added further stress. The good news was that rest of the building was in great shape. The walls are massively built and are straight and true. The historic features of the building were intact and much like they were when built – right down to the hand- planed boards in the pews and wainscoting.

The next task was to stabilize the tower to prevent the situation from getting worse before repairs could be made. In April of 2011, the crew from PTF built a robust timber frame under -the sagging chord of the truss. Then, on November 11, 2011, the church was entered into the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, which is a requirement for grants and funding.

A five phase plan has been developed – the first three phases cover the construction – building the trusses, opening the roof to install them, rebuilding the tower and re-sheathing the roof to make it weather tight. Phases 4 and 5 involve finishing the exterior trim and renewing the interior. The first phase (building the trusses) is funded and was completed on March 31. At the end of April, the new trusses and tower timbers will go into storage, until funding for phase 2 can be raised. How are we going to do this? Fund raising will take place in two stages – The first will involve phase one through three will cost $175,000. A greatly appreciated grant has already been received from Belvedere Fund Historic Preservation -- a program of the Maine Community Foundation. Other private donors have been identified. The Troy Union Church has launched a Capital Stewardship Campaign, going out to visit over 40 households to explain the Restoration Project and garner support. Norma Rossel, church trustee and project coordinator is applying for a Maine Steeples Project Steeple Restoration Grant, funded by the Maine Community Foundation. It is wonderful to have this type of grant which is specific to the needs of Maine churches. We depend on having community matching funds and other support.

Why does it matter?
Troy’s 1840 founders were not rich – hardworking farmers and tradesmen mostly, but they recognized the town should have a spiritual place where all citizens can worship their faith, that there be a place to get married, a place for funerals, a place for celebration. The town still needs this.

It’s also about preserving our common built heritage. These buildings are important. Too often local landmarks have been razed for short term economic gain (or temporary tax advantage) or simply left to collapse – preyed upon by weather and decay. We are left with just grainy photographs, dog-eared postcards and regrets. And years later the question is asked, “What a wonderful building -why didn’t anyone save it?” Consider the loss of Bangor’s elegant Union Railroad Station. The buildings say lot about common aspiration, ambition and pride. 175 years ago, citizens together fashioned a classical landmark that was grander than any of their individual homes, barns, or shops and placed it on a high spot on a main road so all could see it. It said ,”We are a town”. Today, Troy has but two historic community buildings (both endangered) that proclaim this town was built by those who believed that Troy mattered to the people who lived there. The church can also an accessible place for other community gatherings – large enough to seat many, small enough to be intimate, with good acoustics, without politics, that evokes the town’s history. In the past, it has been the setting for musical performance, of talks, of meetings. It can be that again.

Economically and environmentally, restoration of the Troy Union Church makes sense. Outside of the truss and steeple system, the building and foundation is very sound – built with quality materials that would be difficult and expensive to acquire today. And considering the carbon cost, embodied energy in the historic materials, waste that demolition brings and cost of using all new materials, building new would not be a responsible choice.

Finally, the restoration of the church is about community building and is, in many ways, an economic driver. It has been a long time since community members pitched in together for a “barn raising” or in this case, maybe a re-raising. Large wooden trusses being built -- local young craftsmen working with a renowned restoration firm. There is money being spent locally – from lumber sawn in the county, money spent at nearby suppliers, skills learned and wages paid to local resident carpenters who are committed to the community. The money spent is returned to the community in local taxes paid and products purchased at local stores. The local craftsmen employed reinvigorate our community by living here with their families and restoring a landmark – a landmark that will proclaim this is a community with civic pride. And it is through voluntary community contributions in so many ways – labor, financial, in-kind donations, and simply talking about the project to their families, friends and neighbors that will make it all happen.

Tax deductible donations can be sent to: Treasurer, Troy Union Church., 230 Bangor Rd, Troy, ME 04987