BERLIN – Plans to preserve and restore the 18th-century Worthington Meeting House are moving forward with the historical society’s recent purchase of property behind the building.
“It’s something we had to do if the meeting house as a whole is going to come to fruition,” said Sallie Caliandri, president of the Berlin historical society.
The society bought a small 18th-century home behind the meeting house on Worthington Ridge for $175,000, funded by late resident Myrna Morse Pauloz’s bequest. The house sits on 1.4 acres and was formerly owned by the late Willis and Esther Woodruff.
The house, built in 1771, may have been a “Sabbath-day house,” a place families stayed while attending all-day church services instead of traveling back to their homes. The purchase adds to the historical society’s efforts to save the meeting house.
Built in 1774, the town-owned meeting house has been a landmark on Worthington Ridge. The colonial house served as a meeting place for religious services, community events, and was the first town library.
The house became the town hall from 1850 until 1907, when it was converted into Worthington School. When the school closed in 1957, the meeting house was used for office space for the Board of Education.
The building closed to the public in the 1970s.
Since then, the meeting house has undergone two stabilization projects funded by grants.
The historical society is working with an architect, QA&M Architecture in Farmington, on design plans for the interior of the house. State grants funded the cost of the architect.
The Town Council discussed moving forward with the project last year.
“It’s unfortunate we find ourselves in this budget crunch,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski. “We have to preserve it, it’s part of town history.”
After the Berlin train station was destroyed by a fire last year, Kaczynski said it’s more important than ever to save the meeting house.
“We’re trying to be more strategic,” he said.
Attempts to utilize the building go back to 2000, when a group of volunteers proposed that the Visiting Nurses Association have offices on the second floor, with museum space on the first floor. The council later decided not to proceed with moving offices into the building.
In 2004, more than $500,000 was spent by the town to stabilize the building. Shortly after the Friends of Worthington Meeting House, a non-profit, was created to ensure continued preservation efforts.
In 2012, the town hired the same architects who worked on the Berlin High School renovation project to design a plan for the meetinghouse. The plans were finalized, but no other work was done.
The construction costs were estimated to be $1.2 million at the time, but the estimate today is now roughly $2.2 million. The historical society is looking at state grants.
“We really have some hopes it will come to fruition,” Caliandri said.
Faux front doors were painted late last year to go with holiday wreaths and decorations for the season. A historical cemetery tour program was also held on the property in October.
The new purchase will add to plans for the meeting house going forward with the historical society’s hope they can one day move in.
“We’re hoping it will be our new home,” Caliandri said.
The historical society is currently housed on Main Street, but Caliandri said it is small and cannot hold a lot of people for events. The meeting house would serve as the new space with room for community functions.
The property behind the building could help with parking room and possibly serve as outdoor event space.
“It’s something we want to explore,” Caliandri said. “This gives us some options.”