NORWAY — The belfry of the Universalist church on Main Street is expected to resemble its pre-1913 original proportions once the restoration is completed, Joan Beal of the Save The Belfry Committee said.

An architectural drawing of the Norway Universalist Church belfry project completed by Preservation Timber Framing in Berwick will guide the restoration project.

The iconic belfry and dome will be removed in May and placed most likely on a platform in back of the church where it will be restored.

The actual restoration will make the belfry closer to its original proportions … prior to the early 1900s, when the bell was replaced and some of the framing was changed,” Beal said.

The church was constructed in 1829 and remolded in 1865, according to information provided by Earl Shuttleworh to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1901 a new bell was donated and in 1913 a rounded bell tower and weather vane replaced the original spire.

Beal said the restoration will be initiated probably during the first week of May when a crane will be brought in to remove the dome and belfry.

According to information provided by Beal, the church was built by Ezra Fluent Beal, an early Norway resident and contractor who was well known in Maine during the early 1800s. He was a member of the Universalist church, a civic leader and also served as the second president of Norway Savings Bank.

Joan Beal said the church was raised in 1866 to construct the Concert Hall on the ground floor. Ezra Beal was still alive then, she said, and helped plan and direct the construction.

When the church was built the hand-hewn king post trusses, mortise and tenon joinery and wrought iron tension connections were considered the height of building technology, she said.

This high level of craft has protected the roof and the body of the sanctuary from the sagging, slippage and rot that occurs in many similarly aged churches,” she said. Preservation Timber Framing Inc., the company that will direct the restoration, has said “the roof system contains every element of the best longitudinal framing that we have witnessed,” she said.

Along with the iconic Norway Opera House, the church is considered one of the major focal points of the Norway Historic District. The district was designated in July 1988 and is roughly bounded by Pearl Street, Danforth Street, Greenleaf Avenue, Pennesseewassee Stream, and Main and Whitman streets

It was designated by the National Park Service largely for its intact architecture of Italianate, Romanesque and Queen Anne design buildings. The church was one of the few buildings that survived a fire in 1894 that destroyed many downtown buildings.

In 2010, the church received a grant from the Maine Steeples Project of the Maine Community Foundation to asses the condition of the church’s belfry. The Maine Steeples Fund supports local efforts to restore church steeples of historic, cultural and community significance to cities and towns in Maine.

The program will match funds raised locally to both assess and restore steeples. The Maine Steeples Fund is a collaborative effort of Maine Preservation, the Maine Community Foundation and a donor-advised fund at the foundation

Save the Belfry welcomes donations and support. Financial contributions can be mailed to Save the Belfry, Norway Universalist Church, 479 Main St. Norway, ME 04268. For more information call the church office at 743-2828 to leave a message.

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