Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced that she secured $1,580,875 to rehabilitate the First Congregational Church of East Machias, which dates back to the 19th century and is among the state’s most endangered buildings. The funding was included in the Fiscal Year 2023 Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill that was signed into law. As the Ranking Member of the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins co-authored this bill.
“The First Congregational Church of East Machias is a shining example of the effort, craft, and vision of the people of Downeast Maine,” said Senator Collins. “The restoration of this iconic structure will preserve this unique piece of architectural history and ensure that it will continue to be a cultural center and economic driver. In addition, the renewal of the building will allow it to serve as a gathering space for a variety of community events.”
The non-profit organization Maine Preservation will use this funding to support the rehabilitation of the First Congregational Church of East Machias, which traces its origins back to the incorporation of the town in 1826. John E. Seavey oversaw the construction of the church ten years later. Its immense scale and ornate design were a testament to the economic prosperity of the time, and its Carpenter Gothic architecture a rarity in the state.
Thomas Treadwell Stone—a Bowdoin College graduate, Congregationalist, and early abolitionist—led the congregation into a revival with the construction of the new church. The First Congregational Church of East Machias also had a long-running relationship with Washington Academy, which completed its first building down the road in 1823. The school held its graduation ceremonies at the church well into the twentieth century.
The Friends of First Congregational Church of East Machias formed in late 2021 to rescue the landmark at risk of collapse. The organization entered into a 20-year lease agreement with the dwindling congregation to conduct repairs and manage the church building as a community events and performance venue. Rotted timbers at the base of the steeple tower threaten the structural stability of the building and have triggered compounding problems: water infiltration along the roof, failing exterior siding and trim, and cracking plaster in the sanctuary.
The restoration of the First Congregational Church by the Friends would ensure the architectural gem not only endures but is transformed as a space for expanded community programming. The Friends plan to preserve the history of the church, while establishing its new purpose in Washington County for public performances and events, educational activities, exhibitions, public meetings, and social gatherings. The successful project would also serve as a leading example of how to preserve and adaptively reuse a historic church in rural Maine rather than submit to its loss.