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Preserving history | A local group's effort to transform Berlin's Worthington Meeting House

The building has stood empty for decades, and the historical society is trying to make sure the iconic, historic landmark in town isn't forgotten about
Credit: FOX61

BERLIN, Connecticut — Covered in chipping ochre paint, sitting atop a small hill in Berlin is a building in limbo. 

The Worthington Meeting House sits between the town's historic Worthington Ridge and the Berlin Turnpike (Route 5/15). But, despite the traffic, the nearly 250-year-old building has sat dormant since 1974. 

The building - constructed in 1774 as a counterpart to its sibling the Kengsington Congregational Chuch located on the westside of town - has served as a meeting house, a church, a school, library, town hall, and offices for the Board of Education.

The building's past is rich, and now the Berlin Historical Society is trying to give it an equally rich future. 

The Friends of Worthington Meeting House (FOWMH), the society's sister organization, is looking to raise funds to restore the building and make it a space that anyone can visit and utilize.

"The [current] community center hours are limited," Lorraine Stub, president of the Friends of Worthington Meeting House, told FOX61."There's a really nice room at the library but they take priority for use of that, so it's hard to book that. We always thought it would be cool to be able to have events in a historic building and be surrounded by the town's history, displays, and things on the wall — it'd just be a really great experience."

Credit: Friends of Worthington Meeting House/Berlin Historical Society
Concept art of a newly upgraded Worthington Meeting House. The plan is endorsed by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service.

And it's not even just what the building itself could hold. In the back of the property, not viewable from the road, is about an acre of green space, extending back to a small forest that separates the quiet history from the bustling turnpike. Stub said the space would be available for those who visit as well. 

Along with the green space is the Woodruff House, purchased by the Historical Society and is separated from the meeting house by a narrow driveway. The Historical Society has renamed it '1771 House' as it's believed to have been built in 1771. Stub said it may have been moved to the location and used as a sabbath day house. The purpose of those types of houses was for churchgoers who would live far away to rest between morning and afternoon services before heading home. 

Credit: FOX61
The Woodruff House, otherwise known as the '1771 House', is believed to have been used as a Sabbath Day house for those who attended church all day on Sundays.

Now, the Berlin Historical Society is contemplating the use of the Woodruff House for exhibits or office space. In addition, a butterfly garden outside is dedicated to Esther Woodruff, a second-grade school teacher who loved butterflies and had previously lived at the house.

"She loved the meeting house," said Stub. "She loved looking at it."

The cost of upgrading Worthington Meeting House isn't cheap. With donations from residents, the town, and a grant from the state, the group has to raise nearly $2 million to get the building to where it needs to be to fulfill FOWMH's plans. 

FOX61 reached out to the Town of Berlin for a comment on the project.

Credit: FOX61
Esther's Garden was installed by the Woodruff House (1771 House) in honor of the late elementary school teacher who wanted the home to go to the town. The Historical Society bought it and plans on utilizing it to help preserve and teach Berlin's history.

RELATED: Building described as the heart of New Hartford is demolished

There's been an interest in preserving Worthington Meeting House, at least somewhat, over the years.

"It was 2005 or so, the town had bonded to stabilize [the buidling] so it would be secure," said Stub, "When the contractors were in there doing the work, they said, 'wow, this is really impressive."

The meeting house in On the National Registry of Historic Landmarks, which gives Berlin the distinction of being the only town in Connecticut with two meeting houses dating back to the 1700s.

The Kensington Congregational Church is the other one. 

The Worthington Meeting House once also had a steeple and a cupola when it was a four-room schoolhouse until 1957. 

Credit: Berlin Historical Society
Worthington School used to be a school until 1957 when the town closed it and resued the building as offices for the Board of Education. The Victorian-era cupola now sits beside the building also waiting to be refurbished.
Credit: FOX61

The cupola now sits alone, off to the side of the property, waiting to be restored as well. 

The project is far from completion, but the group is continuing to reach out for funds. Learn more about the project and how you can help on their website.

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