OTISFIELD — The Bell Hill Meetinghouse will hold its 100th consecutive summer service July 28. It will begin at 2:30 p.m. at 191 Bell Hill Road.

The service will commemorate a full century, during which generations of friends and neighbors have preserved, cared for and worshipped in the magnificent 1839 building, members of the Otisfield Bell Hill Meetinghouse Association said.

The service will focus partly on the role of those who through many years have kept alive the spirit of the meetinghouse and its tradition of worthwhile and active service to the community, according to information from the association.

The Bell Hill Choir, directed by Priscilla Delehanty, will perform a medley of well-known songs from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Arcadia Singers, a quartet from nearby Camp Arcadia, will perform the prelude and postlude music.

Randall Bennett, executive director of the Bethel Historical Society, will be the principal speaker. He will focus on the importance of people like those in Otisfield who have made all the difference in preserving the best symbols of our common past.

Immediately following the service, an ice cream social featuring anniversary cupcakes and the association’s famous hot fudge sauce will be served on the common outside. The Bell Hill schoolhouse will be open to display its new paint and lighting. All are welcome to participate in this centennial.

According to a history of the meetinghouse provided by the association, when the first service was held in July 1914, the prospects for maintaining it seemed dubious. It was constructed by master builder Nathan Nutting Jr. as a Congregational church to replace a 1798 meetinghouse, which had fallen into disrepair.

In 1877, the meetinghouse lost its main reason for existence when the town’s Congregationalists built a new, more convenient house of worship at Spurr’s Corner.

“This divided the church,” according to town historian William Spurr, and as fewer and fewer of the members attended the church on the hill, “the services finally ceased.”

By 1914, the building showed signs of neglect. Neighbors and friends on Bell Hill then started the tradition of holding one service there each summer, always on the last Sunday in July, to continue the religious traditions which the church represented and to raise funds to maintain the building.

In 1927, the Bell Hill Meetinghouse Association was created to formalize the network of volunteers supporting the building and its services.

In recent years, the association said, support increased significantly. Generous donations from members and grants from charitable foundations allowed members to make many long-deferred structural improvements and repairs to the meetinghouse.

In 2005, the dome was removed from the top of the belfry and reconstructed under preservation guidelines. In 2009, failure of the granite foundation on one corner led to major repairs, including installation of crushed stone and pipe drainage on two sides and straightening and resetting the front granite steps.

Major repairs were also made in the large timbers in the belfry structure, which had suffered water damage through the years. In 2010, electricity was reinstalled in the meetinghouse. Repairs were also made to windows and shutters, along with the installation of new roof shingles and a new, thoroughly modern outhouse. The building was then deemed structurally sound.

In 1955, the town deeded to the association the one-room brick schoolhouse, also built in 1839 next to the meetinghouse. During the last two years, with the partial support of a grant from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, the association restored the interior of the schoolhouse.


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