Friday, March 3, 2023

Windham Hill UCC’s historic belfry to be restored by Easter

By Lorraine Glowczak

Windham Hill United Church of Christ at 140 Windham Center Road was recently awarded the maximum grant amount of $20,000 from the Maine Community Foundation’s Belvedere Historical Preservation and Energy Efficiency 2022 Fund for the restoration of its steeple.  

The steeple of Windham Hill United Church of Christ was
built in 1880 with the bell cast at one of Paul Revere's
workshops in Massachusetts. After 143 years of use, the
steeple is starting to crumble and deteriorate, and the
church has received a grant for restorative repairs.
According to the foundation’s website, the purpose of the grant is to “invest in the preservation, restoration, and retrofitting of historic buildings in Maine. Grants from this fund focus on capital investments in historic buildings that serve as civic, cultural, or economic hubs for communities.”

WHUCC certainly meets all the above criteria for its steeple renovations, expected to begin next week, as it has been the civic, cultural, and economic hub since Windham’s inception in 1762.

In New England’s early years, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the law mandated that states enforce religious devotion. Towns could not be legally established without a founding church that supported a minister by levying taxes. Windham’s Congregational Church, as it was named during the early years and now known as Windham Hill United Church of Christ, was that church.

Since the town of Windham was officially incorporated, the Congregational/UCC parishioners have met at different locations throughout the Windham area. But it was in 1834 when the present building was constructed. It remains a community gathering and worshiping location today.

“The steeple was added in 1880, nearly 50 years after the church was built,” said Rebecca Brown, WHUCC member and chair of the Steeple Taskforce. She further said. “What makes this bell so historically significant and unique is that it was cast in Boston at one of Paul Revere’s workshops in Massachusetts.”

After 140 years of use, the steeple that houses the historic bell is starting to crumble and needs important repairs if the bell is to continue to ring.

“The hemlock beams in the tower that hold the steeple in place are original and they have had significant dry rot over the years,” Brown said. “As a result, we are forced to add steel beams onto the hemlock to stabilize the tower which will also enable us to begin ringing the bell again.”

Brown said that the bell hasn’t rung in over six months due to the hemlock rot. In a previous interview, local historian, and member of WHUCC, Laurel Parker said, “Normally, the bell rings every Sunday but is also rung on special occasions for the community with the hope of peace. It was rung at the end of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and on 9/11.”

The total cost to repair the steeple is approximately $41,000. While the Belvedere grant will provide a large portion of those costs, other funds have been provided to the church.

“We also have been awarded up to 50 percent of the cost of the steeple restoration through the Maine Steeples Fund with an additional $4,000 contributed from the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ committee on Resourcing the Local Church,” Brown said.

According to its website, The Maine Steeples Fund was established to support local efforts to restore church steeples of historic, cultural, and community significance in small cities and towns in Maine. They have provided financial assistance to over 75 Maine steeples since 2007.

“We are very grateful for all the financial awards and contributions we’ve received from the Belvedere grant, the Maine Steeples Fund, and the Maine Conference of the UCC,” WHUCC Pastor Sharon Rankin said. “This church and the bell that it houses have always been an important part of the community and we want to keep history’s momentum moving forward. This is something to be enjoyed and used for all occasions - for the town and its people. This restoration will keep that secure for years to come.”

Rankin pointed out that the church has always been a cultural, community, and historical building, but that WHUCC is, and always has been, a place to gather for worship – gaining spiritual sustenance in good times and bad.

Brown anticipates that the steeple will be fully restored in time for Easter worship.

"We are hoping against all hope that the restoration will be completed by the end of March and before Easter Sunday, April 9,” Brown said.  “It will be a great way to celebrate – to ring, to announce, and to rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord.”

WHUCC offers in-person, Zoom, and Facebook live options for worship. Sunday services begin at 9:30 am. For more information, contact the church office by phone at 207-892-4217 or by email at <

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