Gloucester’s Universalist Church: A Beacon Over Gloucester Harbor
The church is to Gloucester what the Old North Church is to Boston … its stature as an irreplaceable building transcends any particular religious affiliation. Therefore, preserving it as an important piece of American and Religious History is an ongoing project.
A National Historic Register Place
For more than 205 years, the Universalist Church has been a fixture on Gloucester’s skyline and one of Cape Ann’s best-loved landmarks. Its lantern steeple has guided generations of mariners into port, and famous artists have celebrated this distinguished buildng in paintings and photographs. Built in 1805-06, this is the oldest standing church in this historic seaport. Today it is a central element in the Gloucester Historic District, and part of the National Register of Historic Places.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE Our Restoration Efforts are being updated.
(2006-09) The old, deteriorated exterior wood and entry doors were repaired and repainted in historic colors (“Palladian Buff”). The entry house and the slate roof was repaired and restored using original slate where possible. The lantern steeple has been stabilized.
(2009-10) Tower windows have been restored, and the upper tower was repainted. We continue to monitor the tower for weather penetration.
RESTORATION CONTINUES TO PROGRESS
ACCESSIBILITY Our building became fully accessible in January, 2013; this section is being updated.
In the summer of 2010, we applied for funding support under the Community Preservation Act which will assist us in making our historically important 1806 building accessible to persons with disabilities. The church plans to install a platform-lift elevator rising from ground level approximately 15 feet to serve both the downstairs Vestry and the 300-seat main Sanctuary above. Rest rooms for use by persons with physical disabilities will also be constructed. The Sanctuary and other areas where dozens of public events and group meetings are held are now inaccessible to persons unable to navigate stairs.
The need for better public access to the “Meetinghouse: for people with disabilities is great. This building’s large seating capacity and its superior acoustics make it a venue in demand for musical and theatrical presentations, lectures, and other community events. Its architectural and historical importance also make it sought out by residents and visitors. Nevertheless, the largest of the public spaces (the Sanctuary) can be accessed only by climbing flights of stairs – and the Vestry area and public rest rooms below are reached only by descending other stairs. A chair lift, installed in 2002, is limited to persons who have at least partial mobility, good balance, and meet its weight limits.
We are in the process of finalizing an accessible parking lot off Goud Court, which will be in close proximity to the lift – allowing entrance to both the Vestry level and the Sanctuary level of our building. Also in process are accessible rest rooms on each of those floors.
In the fall of 2010 the historic granite post and iron rail fencing will be restored, and the lawns will be reconditioned. This work has been delayed due to the ongoing construction necessitated by the city-wide Combined Sewer Separation Project. It is expected that final landscaping will also be done around the new accessible parking lot (capacity 6-8 cars) at that time.
HOW YOU CAN HELP PRESERVE THIS IMPORTANT BUILDING
The “Meetinghouse Restoration Project” is an ongoing effort to reverse years of deterioration, by preserving this historic structure and expanding its availability to Cape Ann for civic and cultural events. Urgently needed work has been performed, but there is still more work to do:
- reinforcing the balcony seating to increase total capacity to 525
- stabilizing the memorial stained glass windows
- upgrading the kitchen and existing lavatoriesThe total costs of all this work (in excess of $1 million) are far beyond the means of the congregation. Success will depend on the generosity of friends, The Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Gloucester Historic Commission, and the Unitarian Universalist Association – which have supported the project along with scores of individual donors.
Please join them by giving generously.
HOW TO GIVE
All donations to help restore this beautiful building – small or large – are welcomed with gratitude. The Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Chuch, as a member in good standing of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches, is a 501(c)(3) charity. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by the law.
To make a donation, please make your check payable to the Restoration Fund and send it to:
Gloucester UU Church – 10 Church Street – Gloucester MA 01930
The “Meetinghouse” also holds an important place in history. This is the “mother church” of Universalism in America, founded by Rev. John Murray in 1779. Its earliest members suffered ostracism, property seizure and even imprisonment as they battled for religious freedom. In 1786, Murray and the small band of men and women who supported him prevailed, and a ruling in their favor by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court provided a precedent for separation of church and state. This principle was later incorporated into the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.