LEWISTON — A prominent Main Street landmark is about to be torn down. Many of the windows in the vacant United Baptist Church are already missing, and heavy machinery is on the site, ready to begin demolition.

The church, unused and for sale since 2008, was bought last fall by the owner of Sam’s Italian Foods, Rick Michaud, the church’s former minister, Bill Stevenson said. There is a Sam’s restaurant on a neighboring property at 268 Main St.

The building was originally listed at $600,000 but was sold for much less, Stevenson said. Michaud declined to comment on the church’s demolition or plans for the property’s future use Monday night.

The fate of the church building comes as no surprise to those who have followed its travails in recent years. “I’ve seen that coming for a while,” said Doug Hodgkin, who sits on the Androscoggin Historical Society’s Board and whose parents were members of the United Baptist Church in the 1950s.

The building had fallen into disrepair in recent years, as the strength of the Baptist congregation that inhabited the church, built 1922, slowly faded.

“There was a major split in the congregation about 10 years ago,” Hodgkin said. “Many people left then. That really sealed the church’s fate. It was much smaller and they really could not afford the building.”

“There were leaks everywhere,” Hodgkin said.

Repairs needed to reverse structural and roof damage would cost at least a $1 million, according to Maine Preservation, a Portland-based nonprofit group that promotes the protection of historic places around the state. The group named United Baptist one of the the state’s most endangered historic properties in 2008.

That designation did little to save the building.

“It was thought it might generate some interest, but in this case, it really didn’t,” Hodgkin said. He added that at the time, a number of churches in Lewiston-Auburn, and around Maine, were being put up for sale. “That made it hard to save any of them,” he said.

The building was in such bad condition that even the former occupants gave up hope that it could be saved. “We kind of knew, two years ago, that whoever bought it would tear it down,” said Stevenson, United Baptist’s last minister. He now leads the Unity Bible Church on College Street. It was created when United Baptist vacated the Main Street building and merged with New Hope Bible Church.

No one wanted to leave the grand English Gothic-style church building, Stevenson said, “but it was inevitable because of the cost.” The move helped the congregation to put its focus on its community of worshippers rather than the building, Stevenson added.

“It’s such a visible landmark, it’s too bad that it’s being torn down,” Hodgkin said.

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