CAPE ELIZABETH — The differences might not be obvious to the casual observer, but for those who know the Spurwink Church, the evidence of the rehabilitation project is clear.

The ocean breeze no longer finds its way through the old windows. The floors no longer creak because of a sagging foundation. And the mice that used to congregate by the pump organ no longer have an easy way into the building, since a new foundation and cellar were installed.

The $316,000 worth of renovations improved the strength and the appearance of the 19th-century church building. The last touches were completed a month ago, and the town is ready to show off the improvements at an open house Oct. 9.

“I think it’s lovely. I may be prejudiced. I always say the nicest brides in the world are married at the Spurwink Church,” said Janet Hannigan, the church’s greeter and an adviser to the town committees that worked to preserve the historic property.

Cape Elizabeth has owned the stout church building above the Spurwink River since 1957, when the Congregational church’s dwindling membership transferred it to the town.

The building is no longer used for regular church services, but the town rents it out for weddings, memorial services and other functions.

The town began studying the building’s needs with the appointment of a citizen committee in 2004. Another panel oversaw implementation of the plan. Money from a capital improvements bond paid for the project.

Most of the work was finished in time for weddings and other events this season, after a hiatus in 2009. Before then, about 30 weddings and a handful of memorial services were held from May through October each year, said Hannigan, who handles reservations for the space.

The $9,500 in annual rental revenue goes into a fund for the building’s operation and maintenance, said Town Manager Michael McGovern.

A large component of the rehabilitation was addressing the failing rubble foundation, which involved lifting the building with hydraulic jacks. The project called for a new foundation and a partial basement that would be more weatherproof and provide storage space, said John Turk of Portland-based ttl-architects, the renovation’s architect and project manager.

One goal was to maintain the look and feel of the building, which is the oldest public building in town. That meant making the new concrete foundation unobtrusive and keeping the ground floor close to the lawn, Turk said.

The project also included replacing clapboard, restoring the original wood window sashes and reinstalling them with new ropes and pulleys, replacing interior plaster and walls, and doing structural work in the tower and the attic.

“It looks more like it originally was supposed to look like,” Turk said. “It really wasn’t changed in appearance. It was brought back to its intended appearance.”

The Spurwink Church was built in 1802, the year the area’s residents won permission to build their own church.

Before it was built, residents had to travel, often on foot, to the North Church in the area now known as Meetinghouse Hill in South Portland. They had petitioned to build a church of their own since at least 1770, said Ellen Van Fleet, president of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Society.

A reconstruction in 1834 gave the church its current configuration and its mix of Federal, Greek Revival and Gothic architecture.

“A beautiful old place,” McGovern said. “So simple. The trick is to keep it simple.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]