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Posted on: March 2, 2018

City Funds $36,000 Toward Third Oldest African American Meeting Housing in the Country

abyssinian meeting house

The City of Portland recently granted $36,000 to the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House non-profit toward the restoration project that aims to preserve and revitalize this important part of Maine’s history and the cultural heritage of African Americans in Maine. The group’s goal is to offer the space as a living museum for the community and the state as a whole. It will be used as a gathering place, a place of reflection, a place of discovery, and a modern forum for arts and culture. The group still needs to raise $1.5 to $1.8 million to complete the restoration of the meeting house, which is associated with Maine’s free black population and represents the third oldest African American meeting house in the country. 

“For too long this important piece of our history has been left to languish,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “It is long past time that the city come together to restore this part of our culture so that future generations can enjoy it. We greatly appreciate the support of the City Council in making this grant funding available.” 

“The Abyssinian Meeting House affords us the opportunity to tell a historically accurate history of this city, stories that are not in history books,” said Pamela Cummings, Director of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House. “In most instances people are going to museums to examine artifacts, but the Abyssinian Meeting House is the artifact. It's a hands on history lesson that we are fortunate to have here. I would invite everyone to come and be fascinated by what you learn. And although this building contains the stories of African Americans, at its core it tells the story of the human spirit and its ability to thrive and survive. I want to invite you to find your story in ours. It's there!”

The Abyssinian Meeting House is protected under a preservation easement held by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and the City of Portland’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The project includes a museum-quality restoration that is being completed in accordance with the U.S. Department Secretary of the Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and will represent the meetinghouse during its most active period in the 19th century. 

The wood-frame building is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, a City of Portland landmark, and a designated National Park Service “Network to Freedom” Underground Railroad site. Previous phases of work have included new timber-frame roof and trusses, stabilization and alignment of exterior walls, remediation of water flow beneath the building, and the replacement of the structural sills supporting the meeting house. 

The current phase of work will complete a new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and new concrete floor on the lower level of the historic building. 

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