FRYEBURG, Maine — Fryeburg selectmen agreed last Thursday to accept a bid for renovations to the town’s historic Registry of Deeds building on Main Street, pending attainment of grant funds to cover the nearly $200,000 cost of making upgrades to the 200-plus-year-old structure.
The small, red building sits between the Fryeburg Town Library and the Irving gas station.
Selectmen Kimberly Clarke, James Dutton, Thomas Kingsbury and Tom Klinepeter (Richard Murray absent) voted unanimously at their Jan. 9 meeting to have the town inform the winning bidder, Maine Highlands Contracting of Etna that their bid, at $198,757, would be accepted and that the town will proceed with the work pending its ability to secure grant funding to cover the cost.
Selectmen also received a communication from Crowell Construction of Harrison, Maine, indicating a bid would be forthcoming, but since that communication did not contain a bid, selectmen deemed it “non-responsive.”
Future use of the building is intended for library purposes, including meeting and programming space, noted Town Manager Katie Haley.
Tasks to be performed in accordance with the estimate included the repair of structural deficiencies and to “generally make the building safe and usable.”
The contractor’s stated secondary goals include making the structure “look like a respectable, historic building” while updating the interior of the building.
Work would also include installation of new windows, a new roof, insulation, sheetrock on interior walls, repairing mortar on the brick exterior, servicing the heating system, addressing any damaged roof stringers and replacing lights with energy-efficient LED lighting.
Voters will have to approve the project at town meeting, which takes place in June.
“This is not a short-term project; it’s going to be long-term,” noted Klinepeter, chair of the selectmen.
Clarke said it is important to take care of the building as it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building was placed on the National Register in 1987. It was recognized as the “only 19th-century governmental office in western Oxford County.”
In addition, the edifice features “the unusual representation of a clearly stated Greek Revival style composition on a building of this size and of this material,” according to the nomination form filed with the National Register.
Haley said the town will proceed with seeking grant-funding sources.
“The first priority is to make sure the building is structurally sound and to make the exterior look respectable,” she said.
“We are going to immediately begin researching potential grants and establishing their submission timelines," Haley said. "We need to take into account whether they require a match and what their maximum awards are to determine how to best try to make this all work.
"I don’t expect to find any one grant to fund the project," she said, adding, “Being a historic building that is intended for community purposes may increase the ability to get some funding.”
National Register records indicate the gable-roofed, brick building was built between 1840 and 1850, but Fryeburg historian and former president and executive director of the Fryeburg Historical Society, Diane Jones, said the structure was built in 1801 of local brick, and was frequented in 1802 by statesman and orator Daniel Webster when he was preceptor at Fryeburg Academy.
“He worked out of that building. He wrote deeds there,” Jones said.
The building functioned as the Registry of Deeds until 1918, when records were moved to a new building nearby on Portland Street.
That registry building was closed by the county in 2019 and records were moved to the Registry of Deeds in South Paris, the Oxford County seat.
Prior to the closing of the newer building, Oxford County had two functioning Registry of Deeds offices — one in Fryeburg and one in South Paris. The latter continues to serve in that capacity.
Oxford County was formed in 1805 from parts of what were then York and Cumberland counties. The county predates the state of Maine’s establishment in 1820.