The Church 1818: From church, to town garage, to a stunning, unique home, restored in Sweden, ME.

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THE CHURCH est. 1818



THE CHURCH est. 1818

- Kerry Szympruch Welton ©2020


June 19. 2020 From my first visit to The Church, I pictured myself here, having coffee as the sun came up. Perfection. - KSW


Sometimes you find a place that is so uniquely special, you feel called to make it your own. Without questioning, you know you were meant for this place, as if it was predestined, as if it chose you. There's a little bit of magic to that idea, a bit of mystery. It’s more than simply finding a home, it’s finding where you belong, the ideal setting that will nurture your talents and passions. I feel blessed to be the current caretaker of The Church, and honored to continue the tradition of documenting the restoration and reinvention that continue after 200 years. The property was originally built in 1818 to function as Sweden’s first Congregational Church. By 1884 there were not enough parishioners to continue operating, and the building fell into a state of disrepair. The Church saw its first major reincarnation in 1927- as the town garage of all things! Two large doorways were cut into the walls to allow for tractor storage. In 1970 Robert (Bob) Vile discovered the rundown building and fell in love. Bob spent over 20 years bringing The Church back to life, and this book reproduces the photo albums which documented his restorations. Those albums have been passed on to each subsequent owner. His story was one of vision, of belief that the old can be made new, that history is worth preserving, and that what you feel called to do - DO! In 2008 Jessica Jones purchased the property, completing the unrenovated portions of The Church. The Great Room that showcases the original double-truss roof system and first floor guest room were labors of love that she and her partner, Rick DuBrule worked on together, as well as adding notable pieces such as the pre-Civil War era stained glass windows, 100 year old canoe, the live edge dining table, and building the tiny house. The perennial planting beds around the property were added, and trees were cleared from the back and side yards to open up the view. Included here are photos of the condition of The Church when they arrived, and the profile in Lake Living Magazine (Spring 2012). In 2020, I discovered The Church, or maybe The Church found me. Browsing through online real estate listings, the Church suddenly popped up. It may have been a coincidence that I was browsing the exact moment as the listing went live, or maybe it was destiny. I made an appointment to see it, and was immediately taken by the way the light streamed through the windows. The openness, the space, the white walls - it was everything an artist loves, and the story of its history won my heart. Continuing in the tradition of past caretakers, I’ve added my own updates and touches to The Church, including a favorite motto that hangs over the front door as a reminder for each time you walk out to the world, "blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” - Kerry szyMPruch Welton, Oct. 2020


TIME LINE + CARETAKERS 1818-1823 1818-1885 1885-1927 1927-1974 1970-1973 1975 1975-1981

Ground is broken for The Church, construction continues several years Sweden Congregational Church serves the community, then disbands Property vacant, still owned by the Sweden Congregational Society Leased to the town of Sweden for 99 years for use as the town garage. It is unknown what year the town stopped using the building. Bob Vile discovers The Church, begins restoring exterior and foundation in ‘73 Bob negotiates with the town of Sweden to purchase The Church Restoration of exterior completed, rotted trusses repaired, roof replaced. Well and plumbing installed, 2nd floor choir loft extended, chimney built.

1982-1989

Electrical, interior framing, and sheetrock for living area and choir loft finished, upstairs bathroom and propane gas forced heating system installed

1990

Bob added a 3 car garage and driveway, a new “rear” entrance with french doors (currently the main entrance), created a breezeway porch between the the main house and garage, installed 1x12 pine flooring throughout the living area, kitchen, and 2nd floor choir loft

1991 1994-1996 1998 2003 2008

2020

Floors refinished, kitchen cabinets installed, great room used as Bob’s shop Bob Vile finally moves into The Church, lives here full time for two years until his death. Bob is buried in the Webber cemetery next door, under his favorite tree. The Church is sold to Peter Bulloch, no known renovations Sold to John + Catherine Parrish, no known renovations The Church is sold to Jessica Jones. Jessica + Rick DuBrule fully renovated the Great Room, converted the breezeway porch to a guest room, added pre-Civil War stained glass windows, planted extensive gardens, and built the tiny house. Kerry Szympruch Welton purchases The Church, converting part of the garage to a mudroom entry, updating heating systems, appliances and decor, with plans to refinish the original pine flooring, and eventually build a barn/art studio/guest suite where the original carriage barn once stood.


1973

2020



The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams - eleanor roosevelt -


From: Living, Learning, And Worshiping: Buildings of Sweden, Maine 1813-1913 Published in 2014 by the Sweden Historical Society




NOTES ON THE CHURCH The positioning: The side of The Church that faces Black Mountain Road and the cemetery was originally the front of the building, at what was then a more traveled intersection. Looking closely in the woods opposite Black Mountain Road, you can see where at one time this road continued straight on, and would have intersected with Bridgton Road at Sweden's Town Hall (built in 1827, now known as The Sweden Meeting House). Webber Pond Road was previously known as Plummer Road, and is noted that way in many of Bob's notes. The first school for children in this neighborhood was located across the street from The Church, behind Webber Cemetery, but later burned down. The front facade: Early churches often had 2 front doors, one for the women to enter and exit, one for men. Each sat on their own side of the church, and the stairways on each side leading to the choir loft were also designed to keep the sexes separate. There are no records to indicate which door was which here, but historically women were often situated to the left of men, as is reflected in the tradition that a wife would be on the left side during a marriage ceremony. The original church interior: The altar was centered on the wall where the current glass entry doors are. The ceiling was a curved barrel vault ceiling as seen in Bob Vile's photos, and in the undated interior photo taken in the early 1900's. Carving on the upper beams from the original ceiling curvature are still visible overhead. The choir loft: In the original design, the choir loft was extremely shallow, extending out only to the top of the stair landing. Bob Vile extended the second floor in 1977-1978, framing with locally sourced 8"x8" beams. In the master bedroom he constructed an open closet on the wall opposite the window (traces of the construction are still visible on the overhead beams). Jessica Jones and Rick DuBrule modified this, building an enclosed closet on the window side wall. The repurposed doors for the new closet had been built by Bob, and where originally used downstairs where the French doors currently are. The great room: When Jessica Jones purchased The Church in 2008, what is now the great room was more like the interior of a barn; plywood floor, exposed beams and walls, no insulation, no heating. Bob Vile had used the space as his workshop, previous owners lived in the improved choir loft/living quarters section only. Jessica and Rick DuBrule are responsible for completing the transition to what you see today, insulating the space, drywalling, adding flooring, and lighting. The step down: One of the peculiarities of the great room is the step down into the living space. The original floor level at the altar appears to have been elevated, most likely to avoid excavating a large boulder embedded to the left of the alter. Bob Vile raised the flooring level in that section by 5", creating a type of stage. In finishing the great room, Jessica Jones and Rick DuBrule opted to bring the entire great room floor to this higher level, moving the step down further back as a more natural transition down to the living quarters. The grounds: Early photos show how the property was nearly engulfed by the encroaching forest. Jessica and Rick cleared trees to the right and behind The Church, exposing more of the rock boundary walls, and opening up fall/winter views of Webber Pond and Black Mountain. They also added the extensive perennial planting beds, the small pond in the front, and built the tiny house in the back. Additions: In 1990 Bob built a three car garage with an breezeway porch, connecting it to the main building in the area roughly where the old carriage barn used to stand when the property was used as a church. Jessica and Rick converted the breezeway to a guest room, but neither this room or the great room was heated. In 2020, Kerry Szympruch Welton converted one of the garage bays to a mudroom entrance, adding heat to this new room and to the great room.


Robert (Bob) Vile caretaker: 1973-1996


Reading through Bob’s albums, his

skill as a master builder is apparent, but so is a wry sense of humor and obvious tenaciousness. Along with 3 albums of photos that document his restorations of The Church through the years, I also received a folio of architectural drawings and ideas he had for the interior. The albums yielded no clues to his formal profession, although I later learned he was a mechanical engineer and a self-taught carpenter. One of the most fascinating aspects is that Bob lived in New Jersey for the majority of the years he spend renovating The Church, driving up for one month each summer (plus vacation weekends), staying in the Timberledge camps on nearby Keyes Pond. Doors and windows Bob constructed at his home in Glen Ridge, NJ were loaded on top of a Pontiac’s roof and driven north to Maine. In his captions and photos, you can tell the passion he had for the project, the commitment and fun he had working with his son Scott, who assisted on the restoration. Bob moved to Sweden in 1994 to live full time, passing away two years later. The “handyman’s special” as he called The Church, has continued to evolve. - KSW

To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes A reality. - anita roddick -






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The photos above below the old iron wheelset that is now by the mailbox. It's unclear if this was found in the area also, or was something Bob found elsewhere.

Scott appears often in the photos and notes; This is Scott Vile, Bob's son who assisted Bob during many of the restorations.


1974



craftsmanship names an enduring, basic impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. - richard sennett -


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Scott Vile's vision for the great room as imagined in 1976, titled "The Church" with his signature in the lower right corner.


be daring, be different, be impractical. be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. - cecil beaton -


1977

Scott Vile 's name in the wet cement, 1977. Does Bob has his name on another?

>

boulder


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The Things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling. - fabienne fredrickson -


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always find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive.


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Bob Vile's photo journals end in 1992. In 1994 he moved to Sweden Maine full time, living in The Church for two years before his death in 1996. His health was poor in his final years, and it appears that the kitchen remodel was one of the last major projects he completed. Bob Vile is buried under his favorite tree in the Webber cemetery, across from The Church.


A building is not something you finish. A building is something you start. - stewart brand -


jessica jones rick dubrule caretakers: 2008-2020


While Bob was responsible for making The Church a place fit to live in, Jessica and Rick transformed it into a space reverberating with music, laughter, love, and gatherings galore. Jessica tells how a week before finding the property for sale online, she had commented how cool it would be to find an old church or schoolhouse to convert. Coincidence or destiny? Working together, they breathed new life into the old church. "We were so happy when we purchased the church, and in such love that we celebrated constantly, dancing late into the night to loud music and singing terrible karaoke songs. So many people came to the church. One day the Census Bureau interviewed us and didn't believe that it was only the two of us living there because they had seen how many cars were parked there day to day. We always had friends and family visiting, dancing, a couple of murder mystery parties, salsa bands, lots of live music with Rick's band. We brought a lot of life and people into the space, shared precious memories, and had such happiness and good times there." The stained glass windows they added were chosen to symbolize music (the harp) and a love of celebration (the chalice). The acoustics are amazing, and in The Church, it might be considered a sin to NOT rock out and enjoy yourself.

- KSW

here's to the nights we will never remember anD the friends we will never forget!


2008

Images from when Jessica Jones first purchased The Church. No improvements had been done to the great room since Bob Vile had lived here.

little girls with dreams become women with vision


2008


2008

The Church surrounded by overgrown trees all around: front, sides, and back. Barely visible from the intersection of Webber Pond Road and Black Mountain Road.

The breezeway in almost the same condition as when Bob Vile constructed it in 1990. The front bay window had been replaced, the screened back wall had been framed in for windows, but it was still a very rough space. There's no indication what the breezeway was used for by previous owners, but it would soon be transformed to a lovely guest room.


2008

Living quarters/first floor: The kitchen counter top had been replaced since Bob's original install, but the laundry and water heater had yet to be divided off from the area opposite the downstairs shower.


2008

Choir loft/second floor: The bathroom was much as Bob had left it with exposed plumbing, very basic. Below left, the original open closet is visible along the rear wall of the master bedroom.


2008

the more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate. - oprah winfrey -


2012

Lake Living featured previous owners Jessica Jones and Rick DuBrule on the cover of the Spring 2012 edition of the magazine, with a profile on The Church inside.


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The Tiny House, built by Jessica and Rick, a little getaway to escape, read, write, paint, daydream, or enjoy a glass of wine on the porch as the sun sets.


2020

The entire great room walls and ceiling were drywalled and painted white, showcasing the ceiling beams and architecture. The 100 year old canoe overhead was a gift to Rick from Camp Wigwam; the pre-Civil War stained glass windows were chosen to signify the couple's love of music (the harp) and liquid celebration (the chalice). The six inch thick double live edge blonde mahogany table was imported from Bali and is so heavy, the floor was reinforced to support the weight of it.

Rick constructed the bar which remains in The Church today along with the Bose sound system he installed, but took his prized leopard skin that hung over the front door. All in all, a good trade off! Two sets of double doors leading out to the great room from the kitchen and TV room were replaced with new French doors to allow light to stream through the space, with the solid "built-by-Bob" doors re-purposed for use in the master bedroom upstairs.


2020

The pine flooring in the living quarters and choir loft had not been refinished since Bob Vile installed it in 1990, and will be on the to-do list for 2021. The kitchen cabinets Bob built in 1991 have held up remarkably well over the years.

Visible wear and tear on the original pine flooring in the living quarters bumps up against newer pine boards installed by Jessica and Rick in the great room. The slate hearth that Bob installed during his time at The Church was too shallow and would need to be enlarged.


2020

What had once been a breezeway became the welcoming Colorado lodge style first floor guest room. Upstairs in the master bedroom, an open closet on the rear wall was removed, and a new closet built opposite, using doors from the first floor.

A much needed bathroom renovation brought the living quarters into the 21st century.

Bob's upstairs study transforms into a guest bedroom.


kerry szympruch welton caretaker: 2020

-

present


I joke that it was never my intention to buy a house, much less a CHURCH, that day when I was feeding my online real estate beast; I was only browsing as research for my dream to move from California back to the place I know as home. Destiny intervened though, and The Church needed a new caretaker. I was immediately seduced by how the light streamed through the windows, captivated by the history, smitten with the possibilities. The property existed in my dreams but now here it was in real life! This was love at first sight; irresistible. Tucked into one of the loveliest areas I'd seen and close to family, it was also mere miles away from the high school boyfriend I had reconnected with, my first and forever love. This was not something to take lightly, to pass up. This place was my calling, clearly my destiny, so I took a leap of faith and bought a church! I've changed a few things this year, created a new mudroom entry where once there was a garage bay, updated the decor, colors, and art to reflect my modern, eclectic design style, scrapped a lot of errant paint blobs off the old beams, added more heat for the winter months. I look forward to moving in and making lots of new art in this amazing space, but until that time it's my pleasure to share the history of this property with all that stay here, and my hope is that you enjoy your time in and around The Church. Relax, recharge, be restored!

- Kerry Szympruch Welton December 2020

Before falling for The Church, I fell head over heels for David, my first and forever love.

It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting - paulo coelho -

A window in the woodpile for photo op silliness.

My Dad helping to put up the new sign on the garage.


2020

The exterior of the building has a simplicity I appreciate, and while this building will never be anything except white, the door needed a pop of color (one of the first things I did as soon as it was mine). The door hardware will be updated to something more substantial and worthy of The Church's main entry door, and while a three car garage is many a man's fantasy, I've got other plans for it.

Working with a metal artist to create the sign that hangs over the door was another priority. The quote serves both as a blessing from The Church and a reminder to always be open to adventures every time you leave.


2020

Bob's original slate hearth did not meet code standards, as the burn marks in the flooring from embers demonstrates.

Deciding to make the hearth deeper and wider, I used a porcelain tile that looked like distressed wood. Working out the geometry... was a challenge.

Stubborn grout haze had me panicked that I'd ruined the hearth. After a LOT of scrubbing, I got it looking ship-shape.

A coat of blacking made the wood stove look like new, and I was very pleased with the final look. The way the distressed tile transitions down from the rough brick wall into a modern geometric layout adds the right amount of impact and drama. Tile work can be messy and frustrating, but in this case was well worth the effort.


2020

The original birdcage chandelier - too much cut crystal, chrome, exposed wiring and wild animals for my taste.

The chandelier reno was an exercise in teamwork: I love natural stones so this was the perfect place to bring them in. I swapped out the old crystal strands for lengths of rutilated quartz chip and clear quartz beads, added faceted smoky topaz beads and new and vintage glass drops. My friend and her daughter flew in from CA to visit, and 17 year old Riley wrapped and hid all the chrome and plastic in jute, also covering the bottom of the cage in green moss. The chain and cord suspending the chandelier were wrapped in thick rope, and the exposed wiring concealed with black florist tape.


2020

Many beams throughout The Church had been victims of sloppy painting. While I love the character of this old wood, all the errant white paint really bothered me. Sanding was not an option, so with a putty knife I hand scraped all of them in the living quarters/choir loft area. It's not perfect, but it's much better. These beams are in the master, showing where the original open closet had once been. The newer piece of lumber will eventually be distressed and stained to have an aged look.

Warmer, more natural materials, more of a showpiece now, and much more my style.

At left: the master bedroom with the back wall painted a light terracotta color to bring warmth to the room, no more white paint on wooden beams.


2020

The bar that Jessica and Rick had added needed a refresh. There were a few too many contrasting wood tones, and painting it black created a more modern look that worked with the mid-century inspired stools at the table. I fixate on improving the little details of The Church... case in point, the altar rail on the balcony was shimmed up in sections by pieces of unfinished, natural colored wood that I couldn't unsee. Staining them to match the color of the altar resolved that issue, but there was still the door behind the bar that bothered everyone. I think it was the buckshot look of the holes? We assume they were drilled by Bob Vile with the intention of allowing more air to get to the furnace closet. Functional, definitely not fashionable. I planned on cutting a window into the hollow core door to be covered with a painted-to-match laser cut wooden grate, allowing better air flow while also looking more decorative/intentional. The interesting part of the story was when we cut the window out, we discovered a bullet shell casing inside the door. Apparently the holes were not drilled, but maybe Bob had used the door for target practice? He must have been a pretty good marksman. The pattern on the new window reminds David of a confessional, which seems fitting for The Church. Color is another obsession of mine, and the green Japanese glass floats on the table were one of the first things bought for The Church. It's stunning when the light shines through them. The interior of the bar will eventually be lacquered a deep green to bring my favorite color (green) throughout the room.


2020

The big project of 2020 was making a mudroom from one of the garage bays. Maine can be counted on for snow, rain and mud that I would prefer not be tracked in to the great room! The goal was to design a functional and welcoming alternate entry, also making the exterior look more integrated with the original historical building than Bob Vile's three car garage design had. The first step - remove the garage door and begin framing and electrical work.

I planned for a front window that would have the same ratio of height to width as the windows on the front of The Church, despite being much smaller in scale. The mudroom construction was outsourced; I know my DIY limits.


2020

The mudroom entry should be cozy, but this side of the house had no heat source. Insulation and a new replacement window for the back were essential, as was the propane heater that was installed.

Drywall installed. My good friend Susan came Ceiling and walls painted, the step from the guest room constructed. I told David that all I from CA to visit during peak foliage week and wanted for my birthday was the gift of installing the flooring together, and he made it happen! helped me to prime and paint the mudroom. The windows which were supposed to be ready in five weeks were WAY behind schedule. The propane heater was installed, but needed to be connected to the gas line before winter set in.


2020

Siding is finally up and ready to paint, but even after 8 weeks, there was still no sign of the windows. So frustrating! So much was going on this week with appliances being delivered, a mini-split being installed, plus other renovations, I ended up painting the siding at night using utility lights.

My Dad helped with many of the renovations. I'm so very thankful to have him close by. Bob Vile's son Scott had helped him with many of the early renovations to The Church, it seemed fitting that the family-working-together tradition continued.

I had reached out to Scott Vile and invited him to come visit this crazy week in early November (shown here with his partner Christa). He had not been inside The Church since the 1990's. Thanks Scott, for all you did to make The Church what it is today, and I look forward to hearing more stories about Bob!

Finally, ten weeks later, the mudroom has windows, thankfully installed before the first big storm. The trim wasn't what I requested (to match the large windows on the front of The Church) but I wasn't about to wait another ten weeks for a replacement.


2020

The long awaited windows, and the nearly completed mudroom.

The mudroom mixes old and new, like The Church itself. On one wall is a photo of Main Street in Bridgton Maine from 1943, a new sign on old barn wood for nearby Shawnee Peak, an original drawing of the church (unsigned, probably from 1973 or '74, has been passed down from caretaker to caretaker), a tin roofing tile from 1930's, painted with a "5", covered bridge paint-by-numbers found at The 207 in Bridgton, a favorite quote, a modern clock.


2020

Finally in December, the mudroom and other updates are completed. This year's renovations would not have been possible without the help of David Cullinan, Joe and Michele Szympruch, Kevin and Tara Weed, Susan and Riley Hobbs, and Rob Pettis. Thank you all! - KSW


December 2020


those who don't believe in magic will never find it - roald dahl -


let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. - rumi -

- Kerry Szympruch Welton Š2020



this is the Beginning. of anything you want.

- Kerry Szympruch Welton Š2020


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