The Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House was the recent recepient of $36,000. according to a press release issued by the city spokesperson today. The grant to the non-profit goes toward the restoration of the project because it is an 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 whole state. 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.
“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. (She succeeds her father Leonard Cummings, founder of the Committee, at that post.) “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 your learn,” wrote Cummings in the press release.
The Abyssinian, located at 75 Newbury Street, was built in the 1820s. It has served many purposes. It was a cultural center of the community, as a church and as part of the underground railroad and a stable. In 1917, it was converted into apartment buildings. The City took the building for back taxes. However, because of the work done by Leonard Cummings and his family in 1998 the city deeded the building to the Committee for $250. (The transfer was taken up at the city council meeting well after midnight and this blogger had the pleasure of being there with Pamela Cummings and her then young daughter to witness this historic transaction!)
Amazingly, this wood-framed building survived the Great Fire of 1866 when many buildings around it did not. At one time, there were visible remains on the back walls of the fire as a reminder of this historic site’s ability to survive.
The wood-framed building is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, and designated by the National Park Service.
Please go to www.abyme.org for more information.