READFIELD EARLY CHURCHES
CHURCHES IN READFIELD, MAINE
Lee Meeting House built in 1795 is the oldest Methodist church in Maine
The history of Methodism in Maine begins
with the organization of a class at Readfield, and their subsequent building
of the first Methodist Church in the state in 1795. Also, the building
of a Baptist Church here in 1793 places Readfield close to the pioneer
towns of that denomination.
The "Union Church" built in 1827 as a non-denominational
is one of Readfield's greatest treasures.
Meeting House / Trompe l'oeil Art by Charles Schumacher
On September 19, 1793 a tall, handsome missionary from Virginia named
Jesse Lee preached the first Methodist sermon ever delivered in Readfield,
at the home of Nathaniel Whittier. Plans were already in the making for
the building of a town house on the common lot deeded from James Bowdoin.
The earliest musters were held on this common lot, and this is where an
accident occured that killed Freeman Luce and caused Andrew Mace to lose
both hands. Within two years of Rev. Lee's sermon, the first Methodist
Meeting House in the state was built on this site in East Readfield, about
two miles west of the Elder Case Baptist Church. On June 21, 1795 Rev.
Lee preached the dedicatory sermon in the Methodist Meeting House which
later was renamed in his honor. Originally the church sat about 30 rods
back from where it presently sits. Fifty yoke of oxen dragged the building
to its present location in 1825. In 1798 about 1,500 gathered there for
the New England Methodist Conference. Bishop Asbury recounted that "Hundreds
flocked to the small village of Readfield to witness assembly of its pioneers
in their new wilderness country...The people poured in from all directions
from a distance of many miles..." Adjacent to the Jesse Lee Church is the
East Readfield burying ground where many of Readfield's early settlers
are laid to rest.
In November, 1799 Luther
Sampson moved his wife and five children from Marshfield, Massachusetts
to that part of Readfield called Kents Hill. Upon his arrival Mr. Sampson
found a Meeting House had been partially constructed. A man of deep religious
character, he chose to put the cause for Christ before his own, and made
windows, doors, laid a floor and paid for pews to complete construction.
Rev. Jesse Lee dedicated Readfield's second Methodist Meeting House on
August 6, 1800. Luther Sampson often gave clothes to the poor so they could
attend church, and bought pews in neighboring churches to be used
for the needy. He generously contributed to the support of aged preachers.
His priority being religious guidance for anyone so inclined, the Maine
Wesleyan Seminary he founded at Kents Hill was closely associated with
the Methodist Church. Many Methodist ministers have taught at Kents Hill
School and resided on "the Hill".
In 1835 Torsey Memorial
Church was built on Kents Hill, and the old Methodist Meeting House was
no longer used as such. Torsey church was renovated in 1865 when it was
cut in two and the rear half moved back to make the center larger. Later
old pews were replaced, and redecoration was done with the direction of
the noted Monmouth artist Harry Cochrane. A stained glass window was placed
in the front in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Morse who ran the music conservatory
at Kents Hill. Across the road from Torsey Church is the Kents Hill burial
ground where Luther Sampson, Dr. Torsey and many other early Readfield
families are buried.
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UNION MEETING HOUSE
The interior of this building
three dimensional Trompe l'oeil
by Charles Schumacher.
A large brick meeting house
was constructed (on Church Road) at Readfield Corner in 1827. The bricks
came from Hunt's brickyard in Readfield, and builders were Richard Mace,
Jere Page and Francis Hunt. Forty-three owners and proprietors of
the meeting house petitioned to incorporate as the "Readfield Union Meeting
House Company" on June 12, 1828. Each owner of the Union Meeting House
held a deed to one or more pews "with an undisputed right to occupy
the same during all public and private meetings held in the same by any
religious sect or denomination whatever."
1868 over $8,000.00 was raised and expended for needed alterations and
repairs. As part of the renovation, Portland artist Charles J. Schumacher
painted Trompe l'oeil on the interior walls. This form of art was quite
popular for about 20 years in the mid 1800's. In 1917 the steeple blew
off in a big storm creating water damage to the beautiful Trompe l'oeil
in the choir loft. The rest remained untouched over the years though throughout
Maine other examples of Trompe l'oeil was slowly destroyed through aging
Over 100 years passed
before community members fully realized what a treasure the interior of
the "Brick Church" held. On July 8, 1982 Readfield Union Meeting House
was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the State of
Maine. Today, the Trompe l'oeil art found in this building may be the best
example in this country. All but that in the choir loft is original,
and $85,000.00 has been raised over the past 15 yrs by the Union Meeting
House Historical Society to make restoration and repairs possible.
Special open houses
are held throughout the year, and each July a Strawberry Festival is held
to raise public awareness and money towards maintainance of the Union Meeting
House. Tours are given by appointment and during festivals.
The Union Meeting House
is heated and may be used for special functions such as weddings, memorial
services, or church services. The Society remains non-demoninational.
If you wish to arrange a tour or to book
an event call:
Ernest Bracy at 207-685-3831
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The Baptists began preaching
at various points in town in 1791, the same year that Readfield was incorporated.
Parson Potter, a well known Baptist preacher, began work in East Readfield
and East Winthrop. He was followed in 1792 by Rev. Issac Case, who organized
a church with twenty members. In 1793 this congregation built the
first Baptist Chuch in this section of the state. Rev. Case served as pastor
of the church for many years with the understanding that he be allowed
to carry on his missionary work when he felt the call. He traveled all
over the state of Maine, and even into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to
help spread the gospel and to establish new Baptist churches.
In 1839 Elder Case's
church in East Readfield was relocated, against his wishes, to North Manchester,
where it was known as the Scribner Hill Baptist Church. In that location
it became well known as the home church of famous photographer and furniture
maker, Rev. Wallace Nutting. Currently, this church is known as the North
Manchester Meeting House.
Rev. Issac Case died in 1852
at the age of 91 yrs. He is buried in Case Cemetery on Route 17 in East
Readfield with wife, Joanna. Their table-top gravestones were placed where
the pulpit of his church was located, according to his wishes. The log
cabin he resided in with his wife and ten children was located on the Case
road (now discontinued) nearby.
~~~~~ ~~~Rev. Issac Case~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Issac
Case Tomb, Case-Barber Cemetery, East Readfield, Maine
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Dale Potter Clark All Rights Reserved