OTISFIELD — The old Otisfield Town House and the approximate one-half acre of land it sits on may be raised 52 inches so it can retain its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The wood-frame 1905 building on Bell Hill Road has its original oak chairs and voting booths. The building was placed on the National Register in 2005 and deeded to the Otisfield Historical Society by town voters in 2009.
The problem, Otisfield Historical Society President Henry Hamilton said, is that it has to be moved off wetlands in order to preserve the foundation and basement, where they hope to keep town documents and photographs. But to move the building off its present site would necessitate the removal of the building from the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was a little tricky,” Hamilton said.
To resolve the problem, local contractor Ken Bartow came up with what Hamilton called “an astonishing suggestion”: raise building and land 52 inches.
The plan was presented to staff at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission last spring.
“It was intriguing,” Christi Mitchell, National Register coordinator for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said. While staff members at the commission have worked with a number of private and public historic property owners about retaining National Register listing, Mitchell said she believes this approach was a first.
Mitchell said they reviewed a preliminary plan from the society and agreed that it could work to prevent a delisting of the property. But they also made several suggestions, such as moving the driveway and the septic tank to allow for a more gradual change in grade of the landscape, before giving the go-ahead.
“If they follow (the overall plan), there will be no adverse effect on (the building's) status,” she said.
Hamilton said the big cost will be the fill needed to raise the land. The society has about $22,000 in its coffer, but more money will be needed after a solid plan is developed, he said.
The building replaced an earlier one at the same location and was used for town meetings, selectmen's meeting and a polling place. It was also used as a social and meeting hall through the 1920s, but in 1985 town meetings were relocated to the current municipal building, according to information from Maine Historic Preservation Commission records. Voting continued at the town house until 2002, when the building was closed to public use.
“The Otisfield Town House was placed in the register for its association with Otisfield's town government, and to a lesser extent, its social history, throughout the 20th century,” according to a statement issued by Maine Historic Preservation Commission Director Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. at the time of the listing.