A nearly decade-long effort will culminate this week in the first Christmas celebration at a historic church that was once the center of a thriving community.

The Rockville Community Chapel Association will hold a Christmas program at the chapel at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14.

"I can't tell you how excited we are," said Association Treasurer Diane Perry.

The association has worked hard since 2010 to preserve the chapel, which is the last standing public building in Rockville. Annual Christmas celebrations were held at the church in which the villagers would gather and have readings by children and a visit from Santa Claus.

Rockville, located off Route 17 within the town of Rockport, had a town hall, school, post office and stores, such as a butcher shop. As late as the 1950s, Rockville was a vibrant community with its own Fourth of July parades.

As public buildings closed, the number of congregation members dwindled and the church fell into disrepair.

The church  — built in 1851 — was decommissioned in the 1970s and renamed the Rockville Community Chapel.

By the 21st century, the chapel was in such disrepair that the fate of the building was in doubt.

Then people who had lived in the village and attended the church as youngsters organized to try to save the chapel. The restoration began in 2010 through donations from those current and former village residents as well as fundraisers.

The roof was re-shingled and the belfry was rebuilt. The exterior of the chapel was painted. The old opaque windows that were nearly impossible to open were replaced with energy-efficient ones.

The tin ceiling had rusted from leaks in the roof. The 2-by-2-foot tiles were replaced. Cracks and holes in the drywall were fixed and the interior was painted. The pews were all taken up so that the carpet that had been installed during a major renovation in 1913 could be replaced.

A bathroom was installed.

Some of the original furnishings of the church remain, including the cast-iron bell purchased in 1851.

Perry said people's generosity saved the church and has brought it to the point where the first Christmas celebration since 1968 will be held.

There are two Rinnai heaters installed so that the chapel can be used in the winter. The water has been shut off, however, for the winter, but Perry said the Dec. 14 program will only last for an hour.

The association hopes to rent out the chapel for weddings, funerals, receptions and meetings so that the income will help pay for future repairs.

The chapel is at 87 Old Rockland Road, which runs parallel to Route 17.