READFIELD — There was a soft cracking of wood that nearly nobody seemed to notice until the dome of the Union Meeting House moved off the belfry a few inches.
“It’s moving,” Marianne Perry of Readfield said as she and others looked up at the dome about 75 feet above the ground.
Perry and several other directors on the board overseeing the restoration of the dome watched as Cote Crane and Rigging of Auburn lifted the wooden piece, with rusty red metal, away from its pedestal.
Cameras snapped photos of the historical piece.
The church was built in 1827-28 and is one of the oldest brick churches in Maine. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Director Marius Peladeau of Readfield said.
The dome’s removal is the first major step in the restoration of the building’s steeple, he said. The dome has been leaking for years. This part of the work was made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Davis Family Foundation in Yarmouth, funds donated by Meeting House members and funds from investments, he said.
Workers from Preservation Timber Framing of Berwick and the crane company had placed straps around the beams that the dome had been previously been set on above the belfry to allow for it to be removed.
The dome was slowly lowered to the ground and set on beams.
A bell cast in 1859 and its oak cradle were expected to be removed next. Those will be stored at William Mace’s lumberyard, Peladeau said.
A new weather-tight roof was to be lifted up to cover the holes left by the removal of the dome and bell while restoration takes place.
Prior to the dome being removed, Florence Drake, president of the Historical Society, and Marianne Perry climbed the stairs of the church, a wooden ladder and more stairs to get a look at the bell. Shawn Perry guided the women.
In the sanctuary of the church, Peladeau pointed out the three-dimensional Trompe l’oeil art murals created by Charles Schumacher.
“Schumacher did 51 buildings in Maine. This is the only one that survived,” Peladeau said.
There are some glass windows and there are eight original, multi-colored stenciled glass windows
No services have been held for years, though it is open for weddings and concerts, Director John Perry of Readfield said. There are three or four events a year at the church, he said.
There is a board of directors to manage funds and improvements to the building, he said.
“The church was originally built to accommodate several denominations who might want to use it on a rotation (basis),” Perry said.
The original steeple blew off in 1916, Peladeau said. The weather vane blew off about 10 years ago.
The dome was built out of leftover lumber from the steeple and placed on top of the belfry.
The clockworks that sit below the belfry haven’t worked but the hope is, if enough money is raised, the board will be able to restore that too.
Directors need to raise $110,000 for the next step of restoration.
The goal is to make a new dome and put the weather vane back, Peladeau said.
The complete restoration of the church is expected to cost about $500,000, he said.
There is no other building like this, he said.
Passer-by Arnold Clough of Mt. Vernon said he had never been in the building.
“It is a gorgeous church from the exterior,” he said.