Abyssinian Meeting House
73 Newbury Street, Portland | Nominated to Places in Peril in 2012
Built in 1828 as a house of worship, the Abyssinian Meeting House at 73 Newbury Street is the third oldest standing African American meeting house in the United States, and is of local, state and national historic significance. The Abyssinian became the center of social and political life for Portland’s African American community throughout the 19th century. The building served as a church and a segregated public school, as well as a hall for concerts, dinners and entertainment. Its members and preachers included former enslaved people, leaders of the Underground Railroad movement, and outspoken advocates for the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Meeting House was closed in 1917, converted to tenement apartments in 1924, and finally, abandoned and taken over by the City of Portland for back taxes. In 1998, the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian bought the property and began restoration.
The property is currently undergoing an extensive renovation to preserve the original character and intention of the building for community use. A committed community group has spearheaded the restoration. Although enormous progress has been made including the removal of the remains of the tenement apartments and reconstruction of the façade, progress has been slow because of the significant cost of the restoration work. An estimate of at least $1 million in additional funding is needed to complete the renovation. Without further investment, the project cannot be completed, and the building will only be publicly accessible on a limited basis.
The Abyssinian Meeting House is a hidden gem in Portland. It is a designated city landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was recognized by the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom as the first site listed in Maine. The site could serve as an educational resource to aid in the discovery and celebration of Portland’s and America’s African American history under a plan for future public programming once the restoration is complete.
The Abyssinian Meeting House can benefit from increased awareness to facilitate the fundraising needed to complete the restoration and ultimately provide public access to the building. Nominated by Greater Portland Landmarks, the Abyssinian Meetinghouse was named to National Trust’s Top Endangered List in 2013. The national designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation boosted the understanding of the significance of the site and the state of its fragility.
Landmarks continues to work with the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian to connect them with national and other potential sources of funding.
- The Abyssinian Meeting House
Portland Daily Sun
- Blacks in Maine mainememory.net
- Abyssinian Meeting House National Park Service
- History of Portland's India Street Neighborhood Researched and written by Julie Larry and Gabrielle Daniello for the City of Portland's Historic Preservation Office
- 11 Most Endangered Properties List National Trust for Historic Preservation