July 4, 2012

Freedom of worship: David Paul

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Nearly 200 people died, including 19 crew members who attended the Abyssinian. Two of them were church trustees. "The congregation never recovered," Paul said.

The church closed in 1917, was sold and later remodeled into six apartments. The renovations destroyed many original features, including much of the hand-hewn timber roof structure. The city eventually claimed the run-down property for back taxes and sold it to the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian for a small fee.

The restoration began in 2006, the year that the Abyssinian was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A year later, it was added to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

With Paul overseeing contracts and spending, the restoration committee has completed about $700,000 in rehabilitation work, funded largely by grants. Historians, archeologists and restoration carpenters have peeled away decades of destructive renovations and fixed a variety of structural problems, from a wet basement to a leaking roof.

It will take another $3 million to transform the building into a museum and learning center. Paul hopes to see it happen. He believes the Abyssinian should stand as a symbol of civil rights and religious freedom for all.

"I grew up with prejudice against who I was and what I believed," Paul said. "I never want anyone to deal with that."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com

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