The Rufus Porter Museum is moving the Nathan Church House to the village center where the museum operates.

It’s said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. In the case of a Bridgton home, a journey of one-quarter mile began with a major fundraising effort, years of preparation and the work of numerous volunteers.

The Bridgton-based Rufus Porter Museum is moving the historic Nathan Church House, the former museum headquarters, adjacent to the John and Maria Webb House in the village center, where the museum now operates.

The Church House, an red, 18th-century cape, will be moved from North High Street to the corner of Church and Main streets, across the street from the Bridgton Public Library. It will sit directly behind the Webb House, a white, 1820s home at 121 Main St.

The moving operation, scheduled to start around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, is estimated to take roughly six hours and will close portions of Route 302 and Main Street.

Moving the Church House adjacent to the Webb House will create a centralized location for the museum, said Martha Cummings, director and curator of the museum. Eventually, the museum plans to construct a barn-style gallery on the Main Street property and connect the three buildings by a glass vestibule. The target date for the project, which will provide the museum with additional programming and exhibit space, is 2020.

The nonprofit museum is dedicated to the life and works of Rufus Porter, a 19th-century artist and inventor. Porter was born in Massachusetts in 1792, and lived in what is now Baldwin before moving to Bridgton as a young teen.

As an artist, Porter is best known for painting landscape murals on houses and taverns across New England, including in Bridgton. He later founded Scientific American, a science magazine still in print today. He designed more than 100 inventions and patented roughly a quarter of them – one of them being the revolving rifle, which he sold to Samuel Colt for $100 in the mid-1800s. Porter died in 1884, at age 92.

For roughly a decade, the museum displayed its collection in the Nathan Church House. The collection includes wall murals and miniature portraits painted by Porter and other prominent folk artists (including Porter’s nephew, Jonathan Poor).

The Church House itself is “an exceptional piece of the collection,” said Cummings, because a large mural of Porter’s is painted on the parlor wall.

Most of the wall murals on display have been removed from their original building and restored.

In July, the museum opened its collection – which has expanded to include exhibits highlighting Porter’s inventions and writing – at the Webb House on Main Street, following extensive renovations to the first floor of that building.

The building to be relocated is named for Nathan Church, the first minister of the First Congregational Church of Bridgton. The home was built for Church in around 1790, and was originally located on South High Street, near the Congregational Church

The upcoming relocation will be the home’s third move, according to Cummings. It was moved from South High Street to what is now Shorey Park, and in 1985 moved to its present location on North High Street.

The mural in the Nathan Church House depicts a New England countryside, including pastures, a small village and several boats on the water. Cummings said Porter was inspired by the Lakes Region, which is heavily reflected in the landscapes of his work.

To preserve the mural during the relocation process, the plaster walls of the parlor that feature the mural have been protected and braced with plywood beams. Cummings said that “with the bracing, and special care taken for those walls, we’re hopeful nothing shifts so much that it causes damage to the walls.”

Dana Watson, owner of Dana Watson and Son Building Movers, is responsible for bringing the Church House to its new location.

Watson has been moving homes for 37 years, he said.

The Church House has already been jacked up off its foundation. Watson said he and his son, Cole Watson, will put beams under the home, attach wheels to the beams and hook the beams to a truck. Then, the truck will drive down Main Street, towing the home carefully behind.

The Church House will be placed on a foundation poured earlier this week.

Watson, whose primary business is jacking up lakefront homes for repairs, said moving the Nathan Church House is one of his more difficult projects.

“You have to move all the utilities of of the way, so it’s a big deal,” he said.

To fund the project, the museum received a matching grant from the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation of $38,000, bringing the total raised for the project to roughly $85,000, said Cummings.

Cummings said the museum is still accepting donations toward the project, particularly to help with the relocation of the utility lines, a costly process.

She said a group of “wonderful volunteers” have helped coordinate among the moving company, the utilities companies and the Bridgton Police and Fire-Rescue in preparation for the big day.

Cummings said several businesses and contractors involved with the project have donated services or subsidized a portion of the cost.

“The community support has been really amazing and wonderful,” Cummings said. “The project wouldn’t be happening if the community was not behind this, because it’s such a massive process.”

A closer look:

Starting at 8:45 a.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, North High Street (Route 302) will be closed and traffic will be re-routed. Main Street (from Depot Street to the Monument) and a portion of Church Street will be closed midday on Wednesday, until the house is in place.

The detour during this time for people heading east on Route 302 will be Hio Ridge Road to Route 117 to Sandy Creek Road, back to Route 302. People heading west will take South High Street to Route 117 to Hio Ridge Road, back to Route 302.

The Nathan Church house on Route 302 in Bridgton, above, has been lifted off its foundation in preparation for its move to Church Street next week. The historic house features a Rufus Porter mural, left.

The Nathan Church house is “an exceptional piece of the (Rufus Porter Museum) collection,” said Martha Cummings, director and curator of the museum, because it features this large mural painted by Porter.


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