reprinted from The North Shore Sun

By Samantha Brix | November 26, 2010 in Featured Stories

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Members of the Middle Island United Church of Christ were presented with the 2010 Robert H. Pelletreau Distinguished Service Award in Historic Preservation, along with a $2,000 grant to go toward the congregation’s historic preservation efforts.

In 1984, Middle Country Road in Middle Island was peppered with 16 historic buildings. Today, only one such structure is standing, looking almost exactly as it did in 1837, when it was built. And it looks like it will be around for quite a while.

Its current owners, members of the Middle Island United Church of Christ, were presented with the 2010 Robert H. Pelletreau Distinguished Service Award in Historic Preservation, along with a $2,000 grant to go toward the congregation’s historic preservation efforts.

The church won among seven other competitors from Suffolk County in part because it is the last historical building on Middle Country Road and also because of the community interested in the church, said Kate Carmel, a trustee at The Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society in Bellport, which presents the award on alternate years to an organization that has contributed to historic preservation in the county. “A very small congregation of 34 people were able to mobilize to help preserve the church adequately,” Ms. Carmel said.

The church’s uniqueness also comes from its vernacular style, which lends a New England feel to the area.
The building, formerly the Middle Island Presbyterian Church, was abandoned by its congregation in 1966 and then rented and sold a number of times over the next few decades. It fell further into disrepair with each passing year, Ms. Carmel said.

The Middle Island United Church of Christ congregation has spent $70,000 so far in its efforts to restore the building to its original appearance.  The congregation, which had previously worshipped in a rundown farmhouse a mile east on Middle Country Road, traded properties with the owners of the historical building, the Christian Fellowship, in addition to paying them $200,000.

The historic white building is a late-Federal vernacular interpretation of the Wren-Gibbs form of English church architecture, with large, multi-paneled arched windows and a steeple with Gothic arch louvered windows, said church moderator Sue Pennenga. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings placed on the register must be over 100 years old and must not be renovated or changed so much they no longer resemble their original appearance.

Ms. Pennenga said attending service in a historic building is meaningful to her and the rest of the congregation.
“That building was erected as a spiritual place,” she said. “To go back now and worship somewhere that people over 170 years ago worshipped makes it special.”

When the church was built in the 1800s, a burial ground, which is still intact, was also set up across the street. “When you’re riding along that corridor, it’s a busy, whirring, heavily trafficked, unsightly corridor of small shopping malls and garages,” said Ms. Carmel. “All of a sudden there’s this beautiful cemetery. It’s really quite amazing to see.”
samantha@northshoresun.com