Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2017 Preservation Award Winners
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Photo of Union Congregational Church, Amesbury

Union Congregational Church, Amesbury

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Union Congregational Church stands at the confluence of the Merrimack and Powwow rivers in the Point Shore neighborhood of Amesbury. The church was formed in 1835 when parishioners from Salisbury and Amesbury in need of a more conveniently located meetinghouse came together to form a congregation. Constructed in the same year, the 2 ½-story, wood-frame church is topped by a gable roof and a three-tier steeple. The church building grew with the needs of its parishioners. In 1864, the church vestry was built, and in 1892 a wing with a small connector to the sanctuary was added. For more than 180 years, the Greek Revival-style church has been a centerpiece in the architectural landscape of the Point Shore neighborhood.

In 2010, a congregation much diminished in numbers faced growing upkeep costs, and the historic church was in danger of being sold to a developer. Concerned neighbors Carol and Joseph Finn gathered a core group of individuals to take on the challenge of rehabilitating the church. The Union Congregational Church Restoration and Preservation Alliance sought broad-based support for the building’s preservation, and as the word spread, many people throughout the community came forward to help in large and small ways, donating their time, money, and enthusiasm. House tours, road races, even a lemonade stand helped raise funds for the project.

The community’s efforts enabled extensive repairs and much-needed improvements to the aging building. The first task taken on by the Alliance was the restoration of the sanctuary windows. Windows were removed, and mullions and muntins were repaired. Modern replacement glass was replaced with historically appropriate antique panes, and the rope and weights system was restored. Exterior work to the sanctuary included lead-paint removal and repainting, front stair repairs, and replacement of rotted clapboards and roof moldings. Work on the interior of the sanctuary, which retained a high degree of integrity, included tin ceiling repairs and wall and ceiling repainting. A major undertaking was the restoration of the steeple. The three-tiered steeple holds a historic George Holbrook bell and has long been a Point Shore landmark. However, years of differed maintenance had created a desperate need for repair. With the aid of historic photos and documents, the steeple was repaired, repainted, and restored to its historical appearance. The restoration included the installation of historically appropriate replica wood railings with spires around the two levels of the steeple. The steeple itself is now topped by a restored octagonal lantern with copper dome roof and a replica gilded copper weathervane.

Today, the Union Congregational Church not only embodies Amesbury’s history, but also stands as a demonstration of a successful local grassroots preservation effort. Through the community’s fundraising and volunteer activities, the church serves a reinvigorated congregation and the public. The church is a member of the United Church of Christ, the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts. Worship services are held weekly, and the building is also used regularly for spaghetti suppers, concerts, and other social events. A preservation restriction in perpetuity guarantees that the historic character of the church building will be maintained for future generations to enjoy.

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