Laura Perkins - Oquossoc’s Century Old Log Church
Deep in Maine’s western woods sits an old, historical, log church I've admired for over fifty years. When I was a child, we made the 200-mile round trip on an early fall day. Through Maine’s mountains, we drove on winding roads until we reached a dead-end at Oquossoc Lake public beach. What a strange place for an end-of-the-road — a beach parking lot! I wondered how many cars had gone plowing right into the water on dark, foggy nights.
By the time we reached this stopping point, my head was craned around, looking behind us. I could hardly wait to get out of the car! The dark-stained, pine log church was now visible and I wanted to be free to run back to the church lawn. It felt like a magnet and I loved exploring the church’s small parcel of land, leased from the local power company.
We purchased ice cream cones for the four of us at the local community store, and, after we ate them, I was free to explore. Running across the lawn to the church, I leapt high, peeking in the windows as I circumvented the exterior, wending my way through raspberry bushes and tall grasses. I yearned to get a glimpse into the heart of this old log building.
Almost a century ago, as spring broke across Rangeley Lakes territory in April 1916, giant pine trees were felled on this very spot by William Record, Frank and John Fornier and Gard Hinckley and their teams of horses. The physical structure was erected by Anson Hayford and Leon Wright, and that summer, the first service of worship was held by Leon Wright and Anson Hayford, a distant relative of mine (my mother is Janice Hayford). They were the woodsmen and the architects. Trees crashed from mighty heights with deafening sounds to the still-snow covered ground. Peeled and cut to length within a few days, the logs were then oiled and stained. It was reported that all of this preparation work was accomplished in only two weeks and construction started!
The thirty-two-foot square church quickly rose to completion. The lower half of the log walls were laid horizontally. In the walls' mid-sections, logs were set vertically, leaving open spaces for future windows on all four sides. Above the window openings, the logs were again installed horizontally up to the roof line. Alternating the direction of the logs offered a striking visual feature. This is an unusual construction style, which allowed for no internal roof supports, leaving the sanctuary completely open.
The church was crowned with a bell tower rising above the front door, and a melodious iron-voiced bell rang out twice on Sunday mornings, summoning worshipers. The first pealing of the bell called parishioners to worship, and the second peeling announced the start of the church service. One can imagine the long, sweeping skirts of wealthy Bostonian women’s wispy summer dresses. Husbands' starched, white stay-collared shirts accompanied their elegant summer three-piece suits as couples made their way up the church’s front steps. In the winter, parishioners, wrapped in fur blankets, arrived by horse-drawn sleighs.
Only one year after the first organizational meeting and just six months after fundraising began in December 1915, the Oquossoc Union Church opened its doors as a non denominational community church welcoming all. Local residents were monetarily generous. The Ladies Aid Society contributed annual dues of 50 cents per member and sponsored many fundraisers: bean, hulled corn and oyster suppers, sales of “fancy work” (sewing), dances and festive celebrations.
Windows adorn all four sides of the log church and multi-colored square pieces of glass frame each larger clear-glass panel in the center of each window. A chimney was built and the church was insured in 1919 after a woodstove was installed so services could be held year-round. The parsonage cottage, which had been rented for the minister’s family, was finally purchased from a local resident. The Ladies Aid Society provided funds for furnishings, dishes, silverware and they paid for the woodstove.
Each Sunday, men arrived early to stoke the woodstove as the organist, with her gloves on, practiced by oil lamp light. The minister organized announcements to keep congregants informed of Oquossoc’s births, marriages and deaths. During winter months, this Sunday community gathering was the only place to hear local news and it was often the social event of the week.
After “ice-out” in late spring, summer residents arrived from Boston and other northeastern metropolitan areas. Many of them owned log, lakefront “camps” where the children would frolic in the lake all day long as parents and grandparents sat in rocking chairs on the porches. In cool summer evenings after happy, but exhausted, children were tucked in bed, lemonade and iced-tea coolers inspired conversations and laughter. The summah people,as they were affectionately known by locals, offered much financial support for the new community church. During the first year, Sunday Service collections averaged $20, which is equal to $460 today.
The first Oquossoc Union Church President, George W. Pillsbury, was elected in 1916 and continued to hold office until his death in 1967! Maine folks have always been known for their stick-to-itiveness and he was no exception. The Oquossoc Union Parish was originally organized as a result of an August 1917 meeting when the town was petitioned to request “the church be incorporated for the purpose of forming a religious, social and moral organization.”
Ministers, many possessing high credentials and a love for western Maine, have come and gone. The pump organ, with its charming oil lamps, was probably added in the 1920s, but no one knows for sure. Church records tell us that an organist was paid $1 for each service. In 1944, the parsonage was sold because the church was now meeting only in the summer months. The Ladies Aid Society stopped meeting in 1936; funds were tight and shortly thereafter WWII began. But the little log church survived as a place where the secular meets the sacred.
My first memories of this dear, small log church included wanting to be taller on that first visit so I could peek through the windows. I remember the hymnals being neatly stacked on chairs in the corner (and they still are), the huge old Bible rested on the hand-hewn lectern, where many sermonizers had spoken. The beautiful vaulted ceiling now holds wafted musical memories of voices from those now long gone. The sun still streams through the old leaded-glass windows onto the pine floorboards. If I wait in silence, I can feel the presence of those who “raised the roof in song and gratitude” for the opportunity to share sacred experiences in one of the most beautiful settings in North America.
As an adult, I took my own daughters there and lifted them up to peer, wide-eyed, through the very same windows that had offered me a glimpse into the past. Those magnificent pine trees, hewn to house sacred experiences, still serve. Strong and trustworthy, the sturdy logs have withstood the storms of western Maine, which can ravage some buildings in a few hours. But not the Oquossoc Union Log Church, which remains as a testament to time and fortitude. It’s a silent sentinel, Oquossoc’s precious monument to the past.
This magnificent historical structure has been allowed to remain “natural”– without paint–and those logs still grace the land where they grew from little saplings into mature, towering trees. While the organ is now silent, the peeling church bell and singing human voices continue the unending prayers for peace. Vacationing ministers have filled the pulpit for decades, but now a permanent summer minister, Rev. Tony MacNaughton, guides this small Maine community’s social, religious and moral future.
Added to the U.S. National Register of Historical Places in 1984, the Oquossoc Log Church, as it is affectionately called, now holds services on Sunday mornings in July and August only. All are welcome. Step back in time as you enter this century-old historic log building where you might hear the voices of the Oquossoc, Maine ancestors singing.
The quaint, small town of Oquossoc is located just six miles N of Rangeley on Route 4. It is 125 miles almost due N of Portland, 210 miles NNE of Manchester, New Hampshire and 230 miles NNE of Boston, Massachusetts. Oquossoc (pop.221) and Rangeley (pop.1168) offer a variety of wonderful restaurants and comfortable accommodations, including Rangeley State Park for campers. The area is truly a four-season treasure!
The Rangeley Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce
207-864-5364 or 1-800-MT-LAKES
P.O. Box 317 / 6 Park Road / Rangeley, ME 04970.
Oquossoc means "place at other side of little stream" where Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley Lakes are connected by a stream.
Laura Lee Perkins, BME, MS has authored 7 books, 150+ published articles, 5 professional CDs, and 3 audio-books. Recipient of 14 grants and 5 artist residencies, Perkins is a 'Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles' author who loves to teach. She lives on the coast of Maine (summer) and in the Arizona desert (winter). Her greatest muse is Nature.