TROY – Norma and Greg Rossel of Troy received an honorary award from Maine Preservation, a statewide nonprofit historic preservation organization, for their successful years-long effort to restore Troy Church Union.
Maine Preservation announced its 2022 Honor Award winners during a Zoom presentation in late March, and will honor the winners in person with a reception Tuesday, June 7, outdoors at the Portland Country Club from 5-7 p.m.
In its citation to the Rossels, Maine Preservation said, “Maine’s annual Preservation Honor Awards celebrate excellence in historic preservation leadership, rehabilitation and craftsmanship. Since 1998, Maine Preservation has recognized historic preservation successes across Maine and the people who made them possible. The awards program highlights how the adaptive use and updating of vacant and underutilized historic structures is an essential ingredient for community revitalization and vigor.
The following description of the Rossels’ award-winning leadership in restoring the Troy Union Church is taken from the organization’s website, mainepreservation.org:
It takes courage and determination to save a meaningful place. Luckily for the people of Troy, Norma and Greg Rossel have both, plus an innate appreciation for old buildings. When it was discovered that the future of the town’s only real meeting space, the Troy Union Church, was in jeopardy, the couple rallied together. They started with a donation jar at the local general store.
The Troy Meeting House Society constructed the building in 1840 as the Union Church. The group of residents of Troy raised funds and sold benches to create a non-denominational space that could be used by all. The white, rectilinear building features a mix of architectural details, a prominent belfry with four spirals on the front part of the roof, and a relatively simple interior. The general form, closed cornice pediment, wide frieze, corner pilasters and projecting window hoods all indicate the Greek Revival style, while the inlaid lancet arch and tracery motifs on the pilasters, trims and doors exude characteristics of the neo-Gothic style. General maintenance kept the building in working order for over 150 years, but serious issues like a leaning steeple remained unresolved for several decades. Reality set in in the early 2000s and it had to either be fixed or lost.
The easiest path for the little limbs would have been to let gravity and mother nature take their course. The Rossels had a different plan. They weren’t going to abandon the landmark on the way home. Looking back on the project, Greg proclaimed that “the buildings say a lot about common aspiration, ambition and pride. 175 years ago the citizens together fashioned a classic landmark that was taller than any of their individual homes, barns or shops and placed it on a high point on a main road so all could to see him. He said – we are a city. They might not know it, but the Rossels were working to preserve something bigger than a building, they were supporting the community through a common cause. They blazed a trail and gained followers along the way.
Norma served as the Restoration Project Coordinator, while Greg took on the role of Restoration Campaign Chair. Having been a member of the Troy Union Church for over 40 years, Norma was no stranger to the structure’s historic past. With the help of Christi Mitchel of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, they researched and successfully named the church to the National Register of Historic Places (2011). Their responsibilities encompass everything – project management, fundraising and communications. Norma benefited from her newly acquired grant writing skills while participating in the Encore Leadership Corps (ENcorps) of Maine and managed volunteer volunteers. Greg, a boat builder by trade, developed the scope of work, coordinated the contractors and documented every detail of the project from start to finish. He pointed out that when you take something apart, you should probably have an idea of how to put it back together!
Using visual evidence from historic postcards, the group was able to restore the church to its original appearance. The work lasted several phases and consisted of precision surgery on the church. The main contractor, Preservation Timber Framing, first had to remove the entire tower to access and remove the damaged main beam in the center of the church’s roof structure. They were then lowered into a new truss system which was built next to the church and which improved on the original design. The lowering of the tower at the top of the church marked a big victory for the proponents of the project.
Local carpenters worked alongside Preservation Timber Framing to learn the basics of timber frame construction. Project volunteers also had to remove the 20th century drop ceiling that had placed pressure on the failing structure. Students from Mount View High School and Unity College volunteered to remove layers of wallpaper to uncover the original plaster. Locals have contributed to the effort, with the use of locally sawn timber, copper work at the top of the steeple, hand-carved woodwork for the tower, restoration of the windows, and preservation of the original plasterwork.
The momentum and awareness generated at the local level drew statewide support. The Maine Steeples Fund supported an initial building assessment and two subsequent phases of restoration, totaling over $60,000. Another grant came from the Maine Community Foundation, the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and the Leonard C. & Mildred F. Ferguson Foundation. In total, the Rossels and company secured more than $100,000 in grants. Most importantly, these grants were matched with $190,000 in individual donations, an impressive feat for a preservation project of any size! (Volunteer work was estimated at an additional $30,000.)
By the time Troy Union Church was restored, hundreds of community and church members had contributed to the effort, but it would not have been possible without the courage and leadership of Norma and Greg. A restored Troy Union Church fills a central need as the only space for community meetings, performances and events in Troy, echoing the reason for its establishment in 1840 – once again putting Troy back on the map.
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