Friday, December 6, 2013
PORTLAND – A historic landmark on Munjoy Hill has been placed on a list of America's most endangered historic places.
The Abyssinian Meeting House has been placed on a list of America's most endangered historic places. The Abyssinian stands in dire need of funding to ensure the Federal style building is restored. While work has already begun on the building's restoration, lack of funding has stalled construction and the ultimate goal of creating an educational and community space.
Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer
The Abyssinian Meeting House, at 73 Newbury St., is one of 11 historic places that are on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual list.
The list is being announced Wednesday at news conferences around the country. A news conference will be held in Portland at 9 a.m. regarding the reasons the Abyssinian is at risk.
People familiar with the effort to restore the former African-American church said Tuesday the committee that formed to raise money for the project still needs more than $1 million to complete it.
They said that while it's not necessarily good for the building to be recognized as one of the nation's most endangered historic structures, drawing public attention to its plight could bring more donations and volunteer help for the restoration effort.
"Sources of funding in Maine for all kinds of good causes are limited," said Sally Oldham, a trustee of Greater Portland Landmarks and chairwoman of the organization's Public Issues Committee. Oldham is also a former vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"Hopefully," she said, "the national attention will bring someone forward who could help out. It's essential that we point out the Abyssinian's problems to the public. That's the only way it can be saved."
Built in 1828, the Abyssinian Meeting House is the third-oldest African-American meetinghouse standing in the U.S. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad -- a safe house for runaway slaves in the 19th century.
The Abyssinian was the center of social and political life for Portland's African-American community throughout the 19th century, serving as a church, a segregated public school and a concert hall.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
In 1998, the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian bought the building, which had been converted into tenement apartments, and began to restore it.
"The Abyssinian stands in dire need of funding to ensure the Federal style building is restored," the national trust said in a prepared statement. "While work has already begun on the building's restoration, lack of funding has stalled construction and the ultimate goal of creating an educational and community space."
Greater Portland Landmarks knew in September that the restoration project was having financial problems when the organization issued its first "Places in Peril" list.
Greater Portland Landmarks identified seven historic properties in Portland that were in danger of being irreparably altered or destroyed.
Regarding the Abyssinian Meeting House, it said, "without further investment, the project cannot be completed, and the building's public access will suffer."
Oldham said she heard that more than $1 million in additional funding will be needed to complete the project -- and the figure could be significantly higher.
Oldham said development has taken off in the surrounding India Street neighborhood, and poses a secondary threat to the Abyssinian because development could detract from the neighborhood's historic character.
India Street, which connects with Newbury Street, is one of Portland's oldest streets.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: