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March 7, 2018

Portland's Abyssinian Meeting House project gets boost from city

Photo / Maureen Milliken The city of Portland recently granted $36,000 to the restoration project of the Abbyssinian Meeting House, 73 Newbury St., Portland.

PORTLAND — The historic Abyssinian Meeting House at 75 Newbury St., which is being restored with the goal of becoming a living museum, got a boost with a $36,000 grant from the city.

The money will go toward the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House project, which is expected to cost $1.5 million to $1.8 million.

The current phase of work on the 1,800-square-foot, two-story wood-frame structure will complete electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and add a concrete floor on the lower level of the 190-year-old building, according to a news release from Portland City Hall.

Eventually, the original double front doors will be added to the brick foundation, and the balcony, which was lost when the city divided it into apartments 100 years ago will be restored. The window panes will also be replaced with 16-over-16 windows that replicate those of the 19th century.

A gathering place

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Facade work continues on the rear of Portland's historic Abyssinian Meeting House.

The building is the third-oldest African-American meeting house in the United States and is protected under a preservation easement held by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The other two are in Boston and Nantucket Island.

It was built in 1828 and was a political and social gathering place for the city’s African-American population until 1917, when it closed. It was used as a livery stable, then a boarding house, it’s interior extensively renovated. It was vacant for years and seized by the city for unpaid taxes in 1991. The nonprofit Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House formed and bought it from the city in 1998.

The museum-quality restoration is being completed under U.S. Department of Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, and will represent the meetinghouse during its most active period in the 19th century.

The building, which is listed on the state and national registers of historic places, is a city landmark, and is a designated National Park Service Network to Freedom Underground Railroad site. Previous phases of work have included new timber-frame roof and trusses, stabilization and alignment of exterior walls, and the replacement of the structural sills supporting the meeting house, some of which was paid for with a $50,000 grant from the National Park Service in 2008.

A recent project also fixed issues related to a stream that flowed under the building.

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