OTISFIELD — The frozen ground was broken Thursday morning for the first phase of a project to save the historic Otisfield Town House on Bell Hill Road.

Despite temperatures in the single digits, members of the Otisfield Historical Society, the Board of Selectmen and clerk of the works Ken Bartow of Bartow Construction gathered at the 1905 building to symbolically break the ground with a shovel. A backhoe is on site ready to begin digging a foundation hole.

“Individuals and area businesses have made starting possible at this suitable time when little snow and hard frozen ground make such work feasible and efficient,” Otisfield Historical Society President Henry Hamilton said.

Nearly $50,000 has already been contributed toward the goal of $148,000 to restore the building and make it the headquarters for the society.

“The community is stepping up,” Hamilton said.

Phase one, which will be paid for with the initial donations, began this week. It involves setting the building aside, excavating for the foundation as well as for a future extension on the back of the building, putting the building on the foundation and capping the extended basement, Hamilton said.

He said the total price tag for the first phase is $54,958. The Otisfield Historical Society has raised $47,000, leaving the group about $8,000 short.

“The Board of Directors has pledged $4,000 in matching funds and we are confident that the community will come forward to match that sum by the time we need it,” Hamilton said.

The wood-frame building on Bell Hill Road near the intersection of Route 121 was deeded to the Otisfield Historical Society by voters in 2009 after it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Society members have been raising funds the past few years to renovate the building for use, in part, as a repository for the town’s archives.

The building, which has its original oak chairs and voting booths, is in wetlands so it and the surrounding ground need to be raised to preserve it.

“The society has never had its own building in which to hold meetings, present programs and to provide a safe place for our collection of archives and artifacts,” Vice President Callie Zilinsky said.

She said the society’s collection is currently being housed in a concrete garage building that, although sound and dry, has no space for working with documents and doing research. The collection has outgrown its space. 

Hamilton said Bartow, of Otisfield, is the voluntary clerk of the works and has also been a generous contributor to the project. Additionally, the Day Brothers of Otisfield donated their time to clear the lot of trees and brush. Q-Team Tree Service of Naples offered a reduced price for removing a huge sickly tree in the face of Hurricane Sandy. Ripley & Fletcher will remove the LP tanks from the property.

A 1,500-pound bank vault-like safe will be removed by Hancock Lumber and stored until  the building project is finished, Hamilton said.

“We urge the public to match the generosity of all these contributors in kind and cash,” he said. “Help this long-held dream take a major step toward its full accomplishment.”

Donations may be sent to: Polly Bartow at 352 State Route 121, Otisfield, ME 04270.

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