Jesse 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 meeting house
is one of Readfield's greatest treasures.

Methodism in Readfield
  Union Meeting House / Trompe l'oeil Art by Charles Schumacher
 Baptists in Readfield

              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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The interior of this building has beautiful
three dimensional Trompe l'oeil art
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."
     In 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 or remodeling.
     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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