A Celebration of the Church on Chebeague, 1855-2005
One hundred and fifty years ago the trustees of the Chebeague Episcopal Church voted to build a new sanctuary to replace their small meeting house that had been erected in the early part of the nineteenth century. Fewer than 140 people lived on Great Chebeague Island when the original meetinghouse was built near, what is now, the oldest section of the Chebeague Cemetery. The community prospered economically at this time as Chebeague Stone Sloops sailed the Eastern Seaboard carrying rock to construct wharves, breakwaters, lighthouses and forts. The houses that islanders built during this period reflects the Greek Revival style. Many of the original architectural details of the 1855 church were similar to those on the Elijah Kellogg Church still standing in Harpswell. When the Methodist Episcopal Church was renovated in the early 1890s the steeple was redesigned, and it lost some of its original Greek grandeur.
The Church on Chebeague has been the anchor of this community for generations. It is a place where all are welcome regardless of religious persuasion. It is the place where we often celebrate the birth of a new baby or to mourn the loss of a neighbor. Chebeague Island High School graduations were once held in the Church and Memorial Day services are still held there.
Other organized religions have also had a significant presence on Chebeague. In the 1860s three churches ministered to the island’s spiritual needs at the same time. Catholic and Nazarene chapels were located on the North Road during the first half of the twentieth century. During the nineteenth century spiritualists, evangelists, and genuine conmen frequented the island preaching “the Word.” Some islanders sold all of their worldly possessions to answer one evangelist’s cultish call, while a group of Westenders collected money to build a church near Coleman’s Cove only to have the “minister,” abscond with the funds! The rusticators who arrived on the island during the late nineteenth century were welcomed into the Church regardless of their religious affiliation. Sunday evening services were held at the Hamilton and Hillcrest Hotels. The Hillcrest also hosted the summer Ladies Aid Fair from time to time.
The history of the Church on Chebeague is also the history of the people of the island, such as the Ladies Aid members and many others, who continue to work together to preserve the sanctuary and to perpetuate the good works that have been so important to the development of this community. While we celebrate the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the present sanctuary, we honor all of the generations who have gone before us who worked to ensure that our community would always have a spiritual center.