Citizens spoke in favor of town funding of up to $75,000 for the Chestnut Street Baptist Church steeple and clock tower restoration at a May 17 public hearing at the Camden Select Board meeting.

The Select Board has proposed funding a portion of the steeple restoration by adding $75,000 to a bond that will also be used to pay for new harbor floats, sewer lines and drainage work, and possibly for new compressors to run snow-making equipment at the Snow Bowl. The bond is subject to voter approval at town meeting June 15, and would be paid back from taxes over a 10-year period. The proposal to add funds for the compressors, and the total amount of the bond, were not decided May 17.

Members of the public commented on the church steeple restoration May 17. No one was present at the meeting to comment on any of the other items to be funded by the bond.

Meg Barclay, chairman of the Camden Historic Resources Committee, explained that the committee advises the Select Board on public projects within Camden's historic districts, and that the steeple is located in one of the town's historic districts. She said the committee urges the Select Board to place the $75,000 request on the town warrant.

“The view of the public steeple is really a public good that is important for the soul of Camden and also for the economic prosperity of the town,” Barclay said. “People come to Camden looking for an idyllic Maine town, and what is more idyllic than a white steeple glowing in the sunset?”

Leigh Smith, a resident of Camden and Winchester Mass., described the day she and her husband toured the area before moving to Camden. “Back in 2007 when Quarry Hill was just on paper, Cathy Latham took us on a tour, and my husband and I were very impressed by the beautiful New England downtown. The clock was chiming and we walked through the Village Green. She took us up to the top of Mount Battie and told us we could even see the steeple from the harbor from any of the windjammers. So we just ask you to consider keeping that clock ticking away up in that beautiful steeple.”

A letter written by Chestnut Street Baptist Church pastor Adam Kohlstrom was read during the public hearing. Kohlstrom described how town and church history are intertwined in the story of the steeple. The church was built in 1837, and was later expanded in 1868. During the expansion, “prominent businessman David Knowlton, who was not a member of the church, raised funds to place the town clock in the steeple,” Kohlstrom wrote. In 1887 the steeple's spire was deemed unsafe, and was removed. The steeple remained spire-less until 1980, when 16 year-old Boy Scout Billy Young, undertook the restoration of the spire as his Eagle Scout project. “Billy was not a member of our church either and yet led the effort receiving hundreds of donations,” Kohlstrom wrote. “I am grateful our town leaders share the understanding that the restoration is not about our church or our mission. The restoration project is about our community."

Beedy Parker also spoke in favor of town funding for the steeple restoration.

Bob William asked what the $75,000 would actually purchase.

Select Board member John French responded that the space that the town clock takes up is 20 percent of the entire steeple. Foltz added that 20 percent of the restoration cost is $107,000.

Barclay compared the steeple to the wooden housing of a grandfather clock, which holds the machinery of the clock and the clock face. “You can take the machine works from the clock and store it in an attic, but the clock cannot function without the wooden part. In some ways, the town has been renting the wooden part of its clock from the Chestnut Street Baptist Church,” she said.

Chris Finn said the steeple is not only viewed from different vantage points within and around Camden. “I was on a relief effort in Havana, Cuba two weeks ago and bumped into people from Virginia who were on the same team, who had been to Camden Maine, and of course the iconic steeple and the Village Green were the things they remembered. You don't always see the steeple from the top of Washington Street,” he said. “You can see the steeple from Havana as well.”

Bill Komulainen described seeing a church with its tottering steeple removed and placed on the ground beside the church building, while driving to Waterville along Route 32. “It was a sad thing to see,” he said.

Another speaker who didn't identify himself asked if the $75,000 could be returned to the town if the church were sold.

Select Board member Leonard Lookner provided a rough estimate of how much the annual cost in taxes would be to the owner of a home assessed at $300,000, if the entire bond totaled $500,000 and was paid over a 10-year period. He estimated that to be about $12 to $15 annually in taxes, of which the steeple would only be a portion.

Select Board member Don White motioned to add $75,000 to the bond or loan financing to be placed before voters at Town Meeting. The motion was approved.

The total amount of the bond financing was not settled May 17 due to Select Board members stating that further discussion was needed on borrowing additional funds for the purchase of compressors to run snow making at the Snow Bowl.