The circa 1856-57 building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of the few surviving examples of early Gothic Revival style in Portland. The building dates to before the Civil War, which is important because so many buildings of that era were destroyed in the big Portland fire of 1866, said Amy Cole Ives, a historic-preservation consultant from Hallowell who has been working with the Verrills.
Ives said the building is also important because its architect was Charles Alexander, who was very popular in Portland in the 1850s and 1860s, "and this is pretty much the only surviving example of his work."
"What is just outstanding about the project that the Verrills have undertaken on this building," Ives said, "is that they have really gone the extra length to restore the exterior of the building in terms of its stonework, and they have incorporated a very modern use while maintaining essentially the historic character of the interior."
The brownstone used on the exterior was quarried in Portland, Conn., the source of the building's original brownstone. Knowles Industrial did all of the exterior work, Verrill said, "and I can't say enough about them. They're fantastic people, and they worked in bitter, bitter, bitter cold outside."
The historic preservation aspect of the project has been "a pretty crazy ride," Verrill said. The structure itself is sound, so there were no big surprises like sinking walls. No hidden passages or secret documents tucked away in loose brickwork, either. But the workers did find a couple of old brick walls no one knew existed.
Another find? The huge wood pillars in the church, which are believed to be oak, look stained. But closer examination reveals that they actually have been painstakingly grain painted. "Somebody went through and painted each individual line to make it look like it was stained, which I guess was really popular in the late 1800s," Verrill said.
A giant round marble base – perhaps part of a baptismal font – couldn't be saved. "It was literally so heavy that they had to jackhammer it apart just to carry it out of here," Verrill said. "We wish we could have figured out something for it." Overall, Verrill said she found some of the historic preservation guidelines to be "a little bit extreme."
"The mortar colors had to be checked, like, 10 different times," she said. "It took us three months to get the right color of mortar.” That’s because the goal of masonry restoration is to leave a building looking as if it hasn't been repointed, Ives said. The patching mortar used to rebuild the brownstone details on the front of the building was very difficult to match to the Connecticut brownstone. The natural stone is made up of a wide range of shades of brown, from light or reddish brown to grayish brown with swirls of black.
"It really has a visual quality that has a lot of depth to it," Ives said. "So matching that with essentially a cement product is pretty difficult. But that's why I think it blends, in so well. The design team took the time to go do sample after sample after sample. The final effect," she said, "is really amazing."