The historic Old Church on the Hill has been a flutter of activity this spring.  Advertiser Democrat photo by Erin Place

BUCKFIELD — While spring has been slow to come into full bloom in the Oxford Hills, this hasn’t slowed down the members of the Old Church on the Hill committee, as the historic site has been a flutter of activity.

The church – built from 1831-1832 and located at 77 High St. in Buckfield – has been painted to its original color scheme in preparation for a wedding held there May 18. The pews, which flank either side of the Federal style building, are now their original cream color with dark brown trim. The floor has been painted a medium brown, almost a burnt sienna color. Old Church on the Hill committee chair Sandra Perkins noted the floor was originally just wood and dirt.

This old leather shoe was found inside the walls of the Abijah Buck House, whose family first settled in modern day Buckfield. The shoe was donated by house owners Dona and Karl Grant to the Old Church on the Hill, and will soon be put on display in the Old Church. (Advertiser Democrat photo by Dona Grant)

“I would have liked to have been there in the conversation when they were choosing them, because it’s very, very odd when you’re trying to get them matched,” she said about the original colors of building.

“The floor was blue and it was painted brown last fall. … It kind of jumped out at you ­– that’s what you saw when you entered the building. … Now it all blends.”

Perkins said the first coat of paint was applied after the church was built in 1832.

“I did the painting in … 1975-1976 so it’s lasted well,” she said.

Other work

Last year, the steeple received a temporary fix to stop the leaking.

“It was leaking and a lot of it is just routine deterioration. Some of the rails are rotted. … We’re applying for … an assessment grant. The idea is to repair it in an historically correct manner,” Perkins said.

She added the grant would be up to $5,000 through the Maine Steeples Fund, which would pay for the assessment of the steeple and what it will take to restore it. This would also allow the committee “to apply for other grants to help fund the restoration of the building.”

“We’re expecting that it’s going to be expensive,” Perkins said.

There are treasures abound inside the Old Church on the Hill in Buckfield, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Renovation efforts to historically restore the building are underway. (Advertiser Democrat photo by Erin Place)

Also last fall, the metal roof was painted and some fasteners were tightened to help stop other leaks and water from coming into the building.

The shoe

When Dona and Karl Grant began restoring the Abijah Buck House in 2017 – which was built by the first family that settled in Buckfield on Buckfield Road – they found a shoe wall, along with a number of other artifacts including a bag of bones, a pouch of bent and rusty horseshoe nails, a faceless doll, handwritten notes, corn cobs, a tin cup and a tattered top hat.

“When we first found the cache of 30 shoes tucked inside the wall, we knew we wanted to donate one of them to the Buckfield Historical Society and one to the Old Church on the Hill, as well,” Dona Grant said.

“The Old Church on the Hill has been a repository and overseer to many original town artifacts for several years. As a former member of the Old Church on the Hill committee, I have long enjoyed perusing the treasures the beautiful building houses. It’s very nearly a museum in its own right.

“It only seemed logical that a shoe of nearly 230 years of age, one that has resided in a wall in the town founder’s home for that long, should have a place of honor amongst the other treasures in the Church on the Hill collection,” she added.

Signs wait to be displayed inside the Old Church on the Hill, including one for the late Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, a Buckfield native, who paid for extensive repairs to the historic building once it fell into disrepair. (Advertiser Democrat photo by Erin Place)

Perkins said committee members will make a case for the shoe and proudly display it at the Old Church.

“We’re thrilled to have it. … If there are any other shoe walls in Buckfield, no one has discovered it, so it’s really special,” she said.

Perkins added the leather shoe is short and “is pretty worn and spread out.”

“Dona reminded me they weren’t made left foot, right foot. Can you imagine wearing that? It just makes your feet hurt just looking at it,” Perkins said. “These probably would have been done when that house was built [in the] 1700s.”

So why did early New England settlers cover up shoes, bones and other items in their walls?

“It was all to keep the witches away, so we like that,” Perkins said.

“When we hear noises in the wall of an old building, we automatically think mice or squirrels, but I think they thought witches. … You had no control over your life, you had no control over illness. I would imagine you would grasp anything you could.”

Upcoming events

Graffiti dating to 1862 is seen on the railing in the choir loft in the Old Church on the Hill, which was etched into the wood 30 years after the Universalist Church was erected. (Advertiser Democrat photo by Erin Place)

In addition to committee members hosting open hours at the Old Church from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. every Thursday, there are a number of upcoming events at the historic site. The Old Church on the Hill will be open on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, from 9 a.m. until noon, at 77 High St. Another open house will be held on Sunday, June 2, from noon to 3 p.m.

A community yard sale that will serve as a fundraiser for the ongoing restoration efforts at the Old Church will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, at the Old Church. The committee asks for donations from the community to sell at the yard sale, but no clothes or electronics. Donations for the yard sale can be dropped off from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays at the Old Church.

Treasure trunks

Old Church on the Hill committee member Allison Long started going through the six trunks that were stored inside the church this winter and began photographing the old, historic treasures that resided inside. The photographs of the artifacts were then posted to the committee’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/oldchurchbuckfield/.

“One of my favorite things [is] there’s an armband from the Civil Air Patrol – the group that would look for aircraft and identity them back in World War II,” Long said about the U.S. Amy Air Force Observer group.

“There was a cool box of little cards with beautiful calligraphy. They were inserted in the invitations in the Class of 1911 for Buckfield High School.”

Long said each name of the class members was included on the cards and she “had some help with social media with finding out who they were.”

Also in the trunks are dresses, coats, a corset that might have been part of a circus costume, hats, aprons, train tickets from Buckfield to Boston, old House Beautiful magazines, a program from John Davis Long’s memorial, and more.

Allison Long, noting there is no relation to John Davis Long that she’s aware of, wants to get dress forms to display some of the antique clothing.

“We want to display some of it here [and] have admission be by donation with the proceeds going to any efforts we can make to restore the ones that are in bad condition,” she said.

“We need to spend some money to properly store the clothes.”

History of the Old Church on the Hill

Construction of the Old Church on the Hill, which was originally known known as the Union Church and sometimes Union Chapel, took place from 1831 to 1832, as a Universalist church.

“It was built with the cooperation of other denominations [so they] could also share services. We had a retired Universalist pastor in last fall. [As] the largest religious group in town, they got three out of four Sundays,” Old Church on the Hill committee chair Sandra Perkins said.

The Old Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. According to the application for the register, the building “is an outstandingly handsome and well-proportioned example of a late Federal meeting house with transitional Gothic features. The 91-foot spire is regarded as a model of proportion and grace.”

The building was partially modeled after the Universalist Church in Livermore and the steeple design was based on the Universalist Church in Norway. The application describes this as “a happy accident which produced a building far better than either of its antecedents.”

The church itself is one story and features a “gabled roof, central facade tower of two stories, clapboard siding, and cut granite foundation.” The windows of the church are Gothic with their pointed tops, arched sides and flat bases.

While other religions used the Union Chapel at first, it didn’t take their respective congregations long to erect more comfortable churches.

“Then other denominations started building their own churches. That was probably the beginning of the decline,” Perkins said about the building’s use as a church.

“They built buildings with heat that were much more comfortable – you had to be tough to do a service up here in the winter time.”

The only pews remaining in the church reside on the right and left side of the building, leaving a wide open space down the middle.

“People also purchased pews back in the day when you owned your own pews. [What we think is] when the church was no longer being a church, they took the pews with them,” Perkins said, noting the committee has never been able to locate any of the other original pews. “There would have been two other rows of pews – that is why there is such a wide area in the middle. … Apparently there was never padding [on the pews].”

The town of Buckfield has owned the Old Church on the Hill since the early 1900s, Perkins said.

“It wasn’t a church for all that long period of time,” she said. “It was the largest public building in town and it was used for a variety of things.”

The application for the historic register helps fill in the gaps of the building’s history.

“By the end of the 19th century, the church had fallen into disuse and was in danger of serious deterioration. Fortunately, John D. Long, a Buckfield native who served as Secretary of the Navy under [William] McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, offered a generous contribution for repairs provided the town would purchase it for use as a town hall,” it read.

The townspeople agreed with Long’s plan and bought the church for $75.

“Shortly afterward, Long procured a bell, cast in the mid-1800s from a Spanish mission on the Texas gulf coast,” the application read.

There is still no heating system in the church to this day, but there was a school house stove which can be seen in photographs of town meetings from the 1940s, Perkins said.

“One of our original members remembers attending school here in the early 1900s when they were building the school, which is now the town office building,” Perkins said. “They used to have graduations here. … People have told me they remember their parents voting here. That is not something I remember, but people have told me that.”

During the 1950s, it was used for basketball given the wide open space in the middle of the church floor. Perkins estimates it was during this time period because of the graffiti found carved in the wooden railings upstairs, which leads to the belfry and tower above.

“That had something to do with the beginning of the end of the ceiling,” she said, as cracks in the church’s ceiling can be seen.

The historic register application noted that in the 1960s, the church once again began falling into disrepair and a group of concerned citizens got together to restore the historic building. That started in 1971 and was supposed to be complete by the church’s 150th anniversary in 1982.

“Beautifully sited on a hill overlooking the town, this handsome structure well deserves its reputation as a local landmark,” the application read.


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