PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – The Abyssinian Meeting House is the nation’s third-oldest standing African-American meeting house, used for religious, social, educational and cultural events until its closing in 1917.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation now has named the wood-frame building to its 2013 list of American’s most-endangered places. The church was built in 1828 on a hill a few blocks from Portland Harbor, and its members and preachers were leaders of the Underground Railroad movement who actively concealed, supplied and transported runaway slaves. Portland was a northern hub of the Underground Railroad, where black and white activists provided refuge for slaves and helped organize escape routes to England and Canada.
After closing, the church was converted to tenement apartments in 1924 and eventually abandoned and taken over by the city of Portland for back taxes in 1991.
The Committee to Restore the Abyssinian, a nonprofit that was formed to purchase and preserve the structure, bought the building from the city in 1998. The property has since undergone extensive work to preserve the original character, but an estimated $1 million or more is needed to finish the job.
In naming it to its list of most-endangered places, the National Trust for Historic Preservation said the building is at risk because of the high restoration costs. It says increased awareness will facilitate fundraising needed to complete the restoration and ultimately provide public access to the building.