Agora Grand Events Center & Inn at the Agora, Lewiston

Originally known as Kelsey Hall, the Italianate mansion on Walnut Street in Lewiston was designed and constructed in 1850 by Captain Albert Kelsey, a noted architect and Lewiston’s original city planner. Sixteen years later, Monsignor Thomas Wallace purchased the mansion for the Catholic Church, and in 1890 constructed St. Patrick’s Church on an adjacent plot. This enormous Neogothic sanctuary was designed by Patrick Keely, architect of Portland’s Cathedral, and his impressive plan features asymmetrical towers, one of which held the record for Maine’s tallest structure. Sadly, in 2009 the Portland Diocese closed the church, selling off most of the stained-glass windows as well as copper in the pipe organ, rendering it mute. Both the mansion and the sanctuary remained vacant until 2014 when Andrew Knight moved to Lewiston. He quickly fell in love with the property, purchased it and spent the next several years methodically rehabilitating both landmarks.

Structurally, the buildings were in good shape. Knight’s primary challenge was finding an appropriate use for them in this economically depressed part of Maine. Converting both structures to commercial use required extensive life safety updates (fire alarms, sprinklers, etc.) as well as new bathrooms, ADA accessibility, HVAC systems and upgrades for kitchen and liquor licensing. And then there was the stained-glass Rose Window; though intact, it called out for painstaking restoration and cleaning.   

Acting as General Contractor, Andrew spent most of 2015 transforming Kelsey Hall into a boutique hotel he christened the Inn at the Agora. Shortly thereafter, he began renovating and repurposing the church, which opened in April of 2016 as the Agora Grand Event Center. Appropriately, “agora” is the ancient Greek word for “gathering place.”

The revitalization of these landmarks, and the financial success of a luxury hotel and event center in downtown Lewiston has not only challenged assumptions about the economic viability of Maine’s second-largest city, but attracted potential new investors while insuring that two of Maine’s stunning witnesses to the past remain a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell Center

The First Meeting House in Harpswell Center, completed in 1759, was the original gathering place for the town. In early 1843, local architect Anthony Coombs Raymond designed a new church using a combination of Greek and Gothic Revival elements. Built by master joiner and Harpswell native Moses Bailey, it was dedicated in the fall of 1843 and later named in honor of its first minister, Elijah Kellogg. In the early 1960s the original sanctuary was raised up to allow for the construction of classrooms and a fellowship hall. In 2000 a significant addition, with more classrooms, and a larger fellowship hall was completed.

Unfortunately, time and deferred maintenance took a toll on the building and in 2013 an effort to restore and preserve the Elijah Kellogg Church started in earnest. A comprehensive approach was required to address a multitude of systemic problems, including mold, drafty windows, flaking layers of lead-based paint on the exterior, and rot in the belfry and steeple, as well as in the millwork framing the church’s arched doorway. The scope of the project also included improving access to the entrance by replacing wooden entrance stairs, a ramp and walkway, all of which suffered from rot and were deemed safety hazards.

The overall intention of the congregation was to preserve this historic structure for the future. A campaign, “Threshold to the Future,” was developed with a goal of raising $350,000, but, thanks to outstanding support from the Harpswell community, fundraising exceeded that target! With funds in hand, the church’s Preservation Committee, led by congregants with decades of experience in carpentry, woodworking and national preservation efforts, took the lead and oversaw the project.  Multiple other committees involving much of the congregation worked in tandem to ensure its ultimate success.

The project began with the removal and restoration of the sanctuary’s 20-over 20 windows. The steeple, bell, weathervane and decorative accents were all assessed, leading to the removal of vinyl siding and the installation of two eight-foot-long braces to support the belfry as well as the replacement of the bell’s rotted framework. Unexpectedly, a bent roof timber was identified, requiring roof removal, timber repair and reattachment. Layers of paint were removed from the clapboards, as well as the shutters and louvered arches. Additionally, the church’s entry was made more accessible with a granite porch and steps, and a concrete, paver-surfaced ramp with iron railings. To contain lead levels, pews, walls and ceilings were repainted, and new carpeting and pew cushions were installed.

This community-based preservation project has met or exceeded the Congregation’s ambitious goals. Today, the church thrives as a religious magnet, and serves as the setting for countless concerts and community events. It remains a shining example of quality workmanship - both that which went into creating the historic structure in the 19th century, and that which recently made it new again.