|First Parish Church on Meetinghouse
Parish St, Dorcester) was built at the turn of the 20th century and
constitutes the sixth incarnation of worship buildings dating back to
the founding of the original church on Pleasant Street in 1630, almost
four centuries ago.
Walk towards Meetinghouse Hill from Quincy Street or Bowdoin
Street. Stand on the steps of St. Peter's Church and look up the
hill. Even in its current state of deterioration, First Parish
Curch stands as a beacon of light for the people in the surrounding
neighborhoods and reminds us of the eons of history that makes
Dorchester and Boston such important communities in our nation.
First Parish Church has been working on the formation of a restoration
plan the which will not only restore the historic structure but add
energy efficiency, new interior spaces, updated or new building
systems, handicap access and much more. The $5.2M project is
organized in four phases over five years.
On Thursday, April 28, 2011 the church held a Mettinghouse Restoration
Project Information Session. What work is the church
undertaking? How can the community get involved? how can we
contribute to this worthy undertaking?
Three months later, at 9 AM on August 2, 2011 First Parish is hosting a
groundbreaking ceremony . Mayor Menino will attend as the
featured guest speaker.
The entire congregation is excited and deeply committed to the
restoration work and they look forward to a time when their facilties
can contribute more actively to the Dorchester community.
|In 1630 the original
church was on Pleasant Street. In its place there is a granite
marker in front of the playground
at the intersection of East Cottage Street and Pleasant Street.
it marks the location of where the church originally stood.
|In 1670 the church
was put on rollers and brought up Meetinghouse Hill. It was located
where the Civil War monument is located across the street.
|First Parish divided
around 1813 when Dorchester was getting too large
for one church. That's when the Codman Square church, second
|A new church was
built "higher up the hill" in the colonial revival style [same location
as existing church] but that burned in 1896.
designed by Christopher Wren and is the sixth building used by the
church built in same location as the 1816 church.
|Rev Arthur Laoie, current pastor of
First Parish Church, spoke with Upham's Corner News.
I'm just completing my
sixth year here. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and
deeply interested in both the history and the architecture of the
church but what is most
important to me are the people.
I went into search for a new placement, this congregation
- it's building and its people and its mission - really appealed to
I wanted to do ministry in an urban environment. I was fascinated
the urban makeup of Dorchester, by the history of this church and by
the people here who are really trying to have an impact in the
community and open up the congregation again to have a more positive
role in the community.
The congregation has built up since the time I first came,
significantly. What has attracted the people to come here?
Universalism is a fairly liberal religious alternative so I think
people were looking for that.
- We've had a number of families joining
who are looking for a more liberal alternative that included multiple
religious traditions to educate their children.
- We've had a number of
people from the community who are also drawn to the church’s mission in
It was the congregation of the First Parish Church that founded
Dorchester in 1630. It is the
original church and represents the original founding of this
its history this church has had a positive role and a lot of impact on
the community and has, in many ways, been central to the life of the
community at different times in its history.
Today's parishioners are
hoping to have that happen again, to be able to play a significant role
in the development of community.
|The church is not in "good physical
health." A restoration project is just "what the doctor
ordered." So what are some of the existing conditions and what
are the restoration plans? Again - from Rev. Lavoie.
|The goal is to
restore the church to its original condition in all
aspects. That's important for the historic grants that we are
getting. We cannot arbitrarily choose to restore some sections
others. We have to do a complete historic restoration.
This whole time we will not be shutting down.
The total project is a four phased project at $5.2 million.
|Phase I - Urgent
|Phase 1 is $300,000
and is defined to be the urgent repairs - the
deteriorating chimneys, the parapets and the corners of the church that
are allowing water infiltration. Where the finials are sitting is
parapets. There is a very large central chimney that rises up at
back of the sanctuary. We've already had to have several feet of
the chimney taken down because it was in such bad shape. The
will be restored to its original height.
|Phase 2 -
|Phase 2 is the
exterior piece of the project at a cost of $2
The rumor is the
minister who was here for the last half of the 20th century would hire
kids in the neighborhood to paint the building at different
times. We don't
know when the last time it was professionally painted.
First the entire building will be wrapped and sealed so that the old
paint can be chemically stripped. Our assumption is that it is
lead paint. So we will completely strip the building and restore
clapboards. This is what our architect has recommended. The
is a history works architect - Wendell Howell so McGinley Kelso and
Associates out of Somerville. They have done many many churches
other historic buildings.
The intention is to use green products and green techniques. This
be a green project.
|Phase 3 - Interior
& Programmatic Changes
|Phase 3 is the
interior and programmatic changes - the floor plan
structure, mechanical systems, heating systems.
A section of the building on the second floor, used for education
classes, does not meet the needs of our current congregation. The
rooms are somewhat confining and prohibitive. They are not laid
very well nor are they conducive to large groups of children and
We want to reconfigure that section of the church
so that it lends itself better to the program that is currently in
place and going forward that we can expand and grow. You we also
to make changes to make the building accessible.
We need a new heating system and we need to put in an elevator and a
ramp. So we’re building an extension on the back of the building
accommodate an elevator and a stairway so there is a second egress from
the second floor.
|Phase 4 -
|Phase 4 is the
exterior landscaping, the fence around the
perimeter - some of the cosmetic items that will have to be completed
after a lot of other are addressed. We may have to punch a lot of
holes to create access and these will need to be repaired. The
phase is more like a cleanup phase.
|Approximately in the
year 2000, a new roof was put on the church.
|The First Parish
Church steeple is called a wedding cake steeple because of all the
layers. At the base is the bell tower which has been and
continues to be structurally sound. However the roof of the
bell tower was collapsing and was allowing the top of the steeple
(called the Lantern) to lean into
We removed it in 2006 and put in the yard across the street. We
now restored the Bell Tower so the building is fully ready to support
lantern. Once we complete work on the exterior of the building,
will return the Lantern to the
top of the building. Working on the exterior of the
buildingis a high priority right now.
|More about Interior
The parlor in the parish hall, because they're such beautiful historic
spaces, there will not be any change to these spaces. There will
be a hallway down the side of
the parlor, so the kitchen will be smaller, narrower and will be
upgraded to be a commercial kitchen- standards and codes so that it can
be used commercially.
At the back of
the building will be an elevator on one side and a stairway on the
other side, so we need to build a hallway to access the elevator and
stairway We will also be converting office space into restrooms.
The back of the church consists of offices and
children's spaces but they are not great spaces for children. We
gut the entire wing and make it into child friendly spaces. We
hoping to partner a day care center, an afterschool program so that the
space is used during the day. Part of what we want to do is have
church used more often. We have such a large building.
Restoration of the
When this church burned in 1896, the West church in Boston was closing
on Cambridge Street. It is now a Methodist Church. Someone
pulpit of that church and gave it to First Parish as it was being
rebuilt. At that time Dorchester was a bedroom community for some
Boston's more wealthy families, so no expense was spared to construct
and to beautifully decorate and to buy one of the best pipe organs
available. It is a Hutchins organ. As part of the
we also plan a complete restoration of the organ. After 100 years
leathers are starting to go. A complete replacement of all the
will cost a quarter of $1 million.
Together Boston is a Boston-based organization where contractors donate
one day of
their time. First Parish applied and was awarded April 30,
2011 as a work day - repainting the entire interior hallway and
rebuilding the front porch area and the steps. The construction
firm that has volunteered to oversee the project also manages any
|One of the major
changes to the HVAC system will be to create multiple
zones so we can heat just particular areas of the church. We also
to utilize some green heating products for example radiant heat in the
sanctuary. It is one of the hardest areas of the church to heat.
Underneath the floor is very accessible.
Heating with a conventional
air blown system is not very efficient so we are considering radiant
flooring, radiant heat under the floor. This would be a more
heating system. A makeup air system would then be used that will
recirculate. It's a way to bring in fresh air from the outside
recirculating warm air within the building and. So you're
the warm air and recirculating it back in.
|The bell still
works. It is not electronic. We have a pull cord whch is
the organ. On Sunday mornings we ring the bell about 5 min.
service starts. The traditional use is to call people to
When there is a wedding or a funeral, we also ring the bell.
invite the bride and groom if they would like to come up at the end of
the service and ring the bell together.
There is a very sturdy, well-built ladder system that that will
eventually go all the way up to the top of the lantern once it has been
put back in place. And, yes, I have climbed to the very
|A lot of the
decisions about the processes that will be used have not
yet been made. We have defined the scope, define the problems,
how we wanted to address them in a process method. As we approach
phase of the project, we will be spending a lot of time defining the
For example, not only is the paint in bad condition but the structure
underneath has suffered. We also plan to restore the wrought iron
fence. You can see at the foundation, it is completely coming
apart. We believe
it is the lime in the concrete interacting with the rot iron that is
causing it to dissolve.
- What are we doing to maintain the historic
nature of the windows yet improve their insulation capability?
- Do the exterior walls have any insulation? Will
- What is the condition of the wood under the
badly deteriorated paint?
All of the windows we have been told are in a restorable
condition. Even the set of windows that are blocked but that's
because they're at
the back of the stage wil be restored.
church has a slate roof. The truss system was not designed to
the amount of weight that the roof carries, especially when there is
snow. In its original configuration the church was