APPLETON — In 2020 the question was raised as to who owned the Union Meeting House on Sennebec Road in Appleton.

The mystery has been solved and the Appleton Historical Society has the deed of ownership to the historic structure. Moving forward, the plan will be to renovate the church/meeting house and return the steeple, which has been on the church lawn for years now, to its proper place.

Appleton Historical Society President Fred Bucklin approached the Select Board in July of 2020 about the issue of ownership. Townspeople had voted at town meeting in March 1971 to give the Union Church building to the historical society. However, years later, when the deed was needed, it was discovered that neither the historical society nor town government seemed to have it.

When this came to light, there was speculation as to what might have happened. Perhaps the town had planned to foreclose on the property and never did. In the change of leadership from one group of Select Board members to another some piece of needed paperwork may have been forgotten.

Bucklin continued to chase the issue down, and said he found Select Board Chair Lorie Costigan and Vice Chair Peter Beckett helpful in this effort. He said the property had been abandoned by Appleton Union Meeting House Company at some point.

However, the historical society had been under the impression since 1971 that it owned the building. It had done renovation work and used the building. Under the law, over time, possession of a property without challenge can grow into a legitimate claim of ownership.

In October 2020, the society hired attorney Jeremy Marden to obtain the rightful title under a provision of the law known as “adverse possession.” The Appleton Historical Society filed a lawsuit against the long-dissolved Appleton Union Meeting House Company and obtained a judge’s ruling in Knox County District Court in the historical society’s favor March 9, 2022. On June 4, the society’s deed was filed.

“We finally owned the property,” Bucklin said.

The spire is removed in 2019 for assessment and repair in Appleton. File photo

The historical society had been in the process of planning repairs for the structure when this challenge and problems arising from the global pandemic slowed them down. The spire had been removed in 2019 for assessment and repairs.

Bucklin said it was hard to go out and raise funds for a project when you do not have the deed to the building.

Now that that is cleared up, the society is moving forward with the work. He said part of the goal is to have another meeting place for civic functions in the town such as town meetings. Bucklin sees this as a project for the whole community.

To get the work just right, they are working with an Amish carpenter and Belmont Boatworks. The steeple will be returned to its place, the exterior will be painted and work will be done on the grading around the building to reduce moisture.

In the past, families bought pews to sit in for church services there. Bucklin said the society is now giving people and organizations a chance for $500 to have a plaque placed on a pew.

“This really is the fun part, putting together the team to do this work,” he said of the renovation project. “They are really enthusiastic about it.”

Using the structure as a meeting house fits its original purpose. The need for the meeting house was raised as an issue in the community in 1843, when residents of the St. George River Valley — then part of Hope – successfully petitioned the state to become part of Appleton, according to previously published VillageSoup articles. At the time, they noted people’s inability to get over the ridge of Philbrick and Jones mountains to town meetings in Hope center.

The town center of Appleton moved from Burketville to the valley and the town experienced newfound prosperity, with several factories and mills and the St. George River allowing for a wider commercial reach.

In 1848, the Union Meeting House was built with lumber logged in Appleton and brought to the mill and erected with the help of the townspeople. To help finance construction, pews were sold. The deeds were kept at the meeting house and owners were assessed fees for upkeep.

The meeting house initially was built with a small steeple and a belfry, but in 1886 it underwent a significant renovation, with colored glass windows replacing the original clear ones and the addition of a new tower and spire, according to previously published VillageSoup articles.

Now community leaders and residents can look forward to future renovations and increased usage of this historic building.

The Union Meeting House in Appleton. File photo