St. Mary’s Chapel has stood near Ellis Pond in Roxbury since residents built it about 1950. It hasn’t been used for regular religious services in a decade and its fate is uncertain. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

ROXBURY — With its peeling white paint, slightly saggy floor and weed-strewn lot, the old chapel that stands across from a Main Street information kiosk about conservation efforts at Ellis Pond has clearly seen better days since summertime residents banded together to build it almost 75 years ago.

For decades, it offered summertime services to the largely Franco American community that camped along the pond’s shores. It doubled as a meeting hall for the Silver Lake Camp Owners’ Association that watchdogs the 920-acre pond.

Now, though, the fate of the building and the lot it sits on is up in the air.

Residents worry the property’s owner, the Portland diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, plans to sell it, no strings attached, despite their pleas to find a way to ensure it remains the centerpiece of their longstanding community.

“We can’t figure out what’s going on. They won’t meet with us,” said Matt Towle, a longtime resident active with the association.

For some, saving the building is critical for the community.


“It’s the only place where we can gather right by the pond,” said Steve Griffin, who is active in the camp owners association.

The pond, which is sometimes called Roxbury Pond or Silver Lake, is nestled in the hills between the Andover Earth Station in rural Oxford County and the Swift River.

Ellis Pond residents Steve Griffin, left, and Matt Towle are trying to preserve St. Mary’s Chapel for community use in Roxbury. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

It’s the kind of place, Towle said, where a true community can, and has, developed over the course of decades, with many families coming for generations, and some staying year-round.

“You have people that will respect your privacy and at the same time be there when you need them,” Towle said.

Griffin said people are good to one another and that someone is more likely to be hit by a kayak out on the water than a speedboat.

“It’s not like a Sebago environment,” Towle said.



Residents began collecting money during the 1940s to erect a chapel and got together to build it, finishing the work in about 1950. They enlarged what was then called the Silver Lake Chapel a few years later.

A news report from the time said “campers and camp owners of all faiths” contributed time and money to the project.

It’s not an elaborate place, just wooden planks on concrete footings, with a little bell tower. But it’s still big enough to hold more than a hundred people with ease.

The initial owner of the building, the Silver Lake Chapel Association, decided in 1955, by a vote of 23-3, to give the chapel to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which would administer it through St. Theresa’s Parish in Mexico.

The local priest, the Rev. George Cyr, invited the bishop, Daniel Feeney, to come and bless the new chapel in a big ceremony held in August 1956. Cyr said in a written remembrance that because the blessing was done on the feast of the Assumption, the church opted to name it St. Mary’s Chapel.



For many years, the chapel offered summertime religious services that drew large crowds.

Towle said he remembered an older fellow who used to sit on the porch out front collecting “seat money” to help pay for new pews purchased in the 1960s. Most of them still have little plaques on them honoring the donor who paid for them.

As recently as a decade ago, the Rev. Raymond “Moots” Carignan used to hold daily services at the chapel beside the lake where he spent his summers for many years. But when Carignan died in 2013, the services apparently ceased.

St. Mary’s Chapel in Roxbury, a small Roman Catholic church, has not seen much use in years. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Back in 2010, the Silver Lake Camp Owners’ Association wrote to a bishop in Portland to ask about the building’s availability.

“It was through the labor of our grandparents and parents that the chapel was built,” wrote Angie Arsenault, the president of the association at the time. “Needless to say, we feel very strongly attached to the chapel.”


“We are concerned about any future change in ownership of the chapel,” Arsenault wrote.

She suggested it be kept as a nonprofit pond community resource that would “enjoy the support and care of the full-time and seasonal residents in the area.”

“We are definitely opposed to any commercial development or private ownership of the facility,” she said.

Other letters followed.

One of them, from James Wendt, a new president of the association, requested the building and property be returned to the community.

“I believe this to be the most Christian way for the church to relinquish ownership of the property,” he wrote, asking for at least the right of first refusal if it does wind up being sold.


The association aims to use the buildings for its meetings and activities.


Church officials have been notably wary of saying much to the community. They also did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The front door of St. Mary’s Chapel in Roxbury can still open to the community on occasion, but the building is rarely used any longer. The Silver Lake Chapel Association voted in 1955 to give it to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

In 2014, the Rev. Greg Dube in Rumford said in an email to an association member that he didn’t know what the chapel’s future use would be.

“It is something that needs to be addressed,” Dube wrote to Sally Arsenault.

Lake association members said they’ve heard, however, that the church is clearing the way for the building’s sale, including tracking down descendants of someone who donated part of the land to get their permission.


Towle said Friday, though, it doesn’t appear to be on the market.

He said efforts to meet with church real estate officials have gotten nowhere.

“Our requests are falling on deaf ears,” Towle said.

For Griffin, who has spent 75 years by the pond after his father built a camp in 1941, the chapel is a central part of the community’s life.

“We’re the heirs to the people who built that building,” Griffin said, and ought to be the ones to decide its fate.

Ellis Pond in Roxbury, also known as Roxbury Pond and Silver Lake. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

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