June 05, 2020

Calais church razed after 2001 fire

It took less than a week to raze a 119-year-old city landmark, but out of the dust a new Second Baptist Church will be built in Calais, parishioners vow.

A tenacious fire snaked through the building on a September night in 2001. The red-brick building had what was estimated at the time to be $100,000 in damage. The congregation, which averages 100 people in Sunday worship, has been meeting in a local school in the months since.

It finally decided last fall to tear down and start over.

The Rev. Al Coffey, interim pastor, said the congregation’s spirit remains strong and 17 people have joined since the fire.

Three Sundays ago, Coffey said, the congregation met to review items that were saved from the fire. “We praised God for the new church that is going up and for the memories that were there, and we are going to keep those memories and pass them onto our children,” he said.

The fire and eventual demolition of Second Baptist came almost 10 years after another city landmark, the First Congregational Church, was destroyed by fire.

The two buildings were a block apart and both lasted 119 years.

The cause of neither fire has been determined.

Even people who did not attend church at Second Baptist lamented this week’s loss of another Calais landmark. “I hated to see it come down,” said city employee Carol Stone. “It’s a part of the community.”

Faye Donovan, who works for Union 106 and who had a view of the demolition from the second floor of the City Building, said she too was sorry to see it go. “It has been here for so long,” she said.

A local history says a group of Baptists built a church downtown in 1842 then built a new building on Church Street that was dedicated in 1857. That building burned Oct. 22, 1882, and the building torn down this week was built in its place and dedicated June 5, 1884.

Cranes and bulldozers were on Church Street this week as workers of the Thomas DiCenzo Inc. demolition team took aim at the building.

As the crew used a clam bucket and crane, the jaws of the bucket slammed shut on the building’s roof trusses, pulling them away from the walls.

“That building come down hard,” said Everett Libby, the church’s clerk of the works. “That roof was a real rugged roof.”

Inching forward, the crane reached the bell tower and on Tuesday the steel teeth of the bucket bit the tip of the wooden steeple, pulling it away from the tower. Within minutes, the top of the steeple crashed to the ground.

The brick bell tower that supported the steeple was a challenge. “When they got into the brick section of it that was so thick and so strong, they just couldn’t break it apart with the crane,” Libby said. “They had to use the big excavator.”

Now that the structure is nothing more than a pile of rubble, the next step is to remove the debris and backfill the cellar.

Libby said no date has been set to start construction of the new church, which will likely be built on the same site.

Tammy Ginn, who is a member of the congregation and who works in the City Building across the parking lot from the church, said she took five rolls of film of the demolition for her scrapbook. “I have the perfect view to take pictures and document it going back up,” she said.

She said it was sad to watch it come down. “But it will be better when we rebuild,” she said. “It will be better.”

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