Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2014 Preservation Award Winners
Photo of First Parish Church

First Parish Church • Boston (Dorchester)

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The First Parish Church in Dorchester is the sixth meetinghouse erected by its congregation since 1630, and the fifth building to stand at this location on Meetinghouse Hill since 1673. The current building was constructed after the previous one was destroyed by fire in 1896. The Boston-based architectural firm of Cabot, Everett and Mead designed the church in the Colonial Revival style, closely modeling it on the previous church building. Today, First Parish Church serves a diverse Dorchester neighborhood, hosting an average of 200 community users per week, providing meeting space for various neighborhood organizations, and collaborating with educators, healthcare providers, and other local groups to combat hunger, violence, and other effects of poverty.

Prior to the comprehensive rehabilitation of First Parish Church, the building retained most of its original exterior and interior material and details. However, the congregation faced the challenges of addressing years of deferred maintenance and sensitively restoring the church’s character-defining features. In 2006, Historic Boston Incorporated provided a grant that helped complete a study for restoring the church’s steeple. That same year, the two top lantern sections of the steeple were removed, having become a threat to safety due to severe deterioration. The congregation restored the remaining belfry portion of the steeple and made it watertight to preserve it until funds were available to restore the lantern sections, and in 2009, they began planning for long-term repairs to the entire building. The roof had deteriorated, allowing water infiltration to damage the building’s structure, interior finishes, and the organ. With the assistance of an emergency Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant, the church addressed these issues by repairing and restoring many roof-related features, including previously unsafe chimneys. Major rehabilitation of the entire structure, completed in 2013, included: repair, replacement, and restoration of deteriorated exterior wood elements and clapboard siding; stripping multiple layers of lead paint and repainting all wood elements; and structural repair and reinforcement. A new main entry with ramp and vestibule improved accessibility, as did new restroom facilities. For two semesters, students from the North Bennet Street School’s Preservation Carpentry program used traditional woodworking techniques to restore 25 sanctuary windows and the lantern sections of the steeple. The restored steeple was hoisted into place and reinstalled on August 6, 2013. This extensive preservation project has ensured the building’s continued use as a vital civic and cultural center, as a place of worship, and as an indispensable resource for Dorchester residents.

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