Preston plan calls for historical society to own meetinghouse

Preston - A plan has emerged to save the historic Long Society Meetinghouse by having the Preston Historical Society take over ownership of it and with the help of the town, apply for grants and hold fundraisers to pay for repairs and maintenance.

Questions about the ownership of the 1818 meetinghouse have stalled efforts to apply for grants in the past. The town paid for a title search last fall that yielded vague results - it appeared the town is the owner, but descendents of the original settlers who moved from Norwich to Long Society could lay claims.

For years the Second Ecclesiastical Society had been overseeing the building, presumably as its owner, but two years ago, leaders asked the town to take over ownership to save the building. The society now has only a few members, no money and no nonprofit status to apply for grants.

The Board of Selectmen agreed Thursday to ask the town's law firm how much it will cost to take the matter to court to obtain a clear deed and title. Then the town would turn over ownership to the Preston Historical Society and would negotiate a memorandum of understanding that if the society at some point in the future no longer wanted the building the town would have the right of first refusal to take it.

In turn, First Selectman Robert Congdon said the town would help the society apply for grants and conduct fundraisers. Congdon said the town also might contribute to maintenance through the town budget.

The town already mows the grass at the adjacent historic cemetery where many of the original settlers are buried.

"It is a very historic significant building," Congdon said. "It's in remarkably good shape. The windows need to be done, lead paint removed and it needs to be repainted. It's a pretty spectacular building. This is the best outcome to try and preserve it and maintain it."

Preston Historical Society President Linda Christensen said once the society gets clear title to the property, it will start applying for grants and planning fundraising.

"I was turned down for a couple of grants, because I couldn't show clear title," Christensen said. "We had to do either one, have the town take ownership or the historical society take ownership."

Christensen said getting grants won't be the final step, as most grants come with matching local requirements. She hopes the process can move quickly now that a plan is in place. The society hopes to start repairs this spring and summer.

Congdon hopes to have a cost estimates for obtaining the title in time for the March 27 Board of Selectmen meeting.

The historical society had a long-term lease of the building from the Ecclesiastical Society to run some events there and pays for insurance.

Congdon did not foresee the town using the meetinghouse as a site for functions. The building has no bathrooms and is not handicapped accessible.

c.bessette@theday.com

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