First Universalist Church of Southold, or the “Church on the Bend,” is taking steps to rebuild after a devastating 2015 fire.
In March 2015, the Main Road church was left in ruins after a fire that started around 11:30 p.m. More than 150 firefighters from a half-dozen departments responded to the scene. At the time of the fire, the church was a century and a half old.
A building team was commissioned by the church’s board of directors and has been meeting weekly ever since. Recording secretary Mark Sisson said the church has had site plans drawn up and is ready to move forward with the town Planning Board process.
A concert fundraiser held in Greenport Saturday night to support the building effort netted $1,100. After the performances, a conceptual site plan was unveiled.
“This has been a long process,” Mr. Sisson said. “We want to make sure the community realizes we are still working on getting everything right before we start building.”
The new church will be rebuilt on the same property the former church occupied. The site was cleared and leveled three months after the fire. Mr. Sisson also said that they are trying to remain true to the church’s history but must include some modern features to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and current fire code requirements.
“We’ve been meeting with the [town’s] historic preservation committee and we are making sure we are following their guidelines,” Mr. Sisson said. “Not having a super modern-type church, but we are updating our project so it’s a 21st-century building.”
“We are working with architect Peter Marren and builder Eugene Burger to construct a building that reflects our old building, but looks forward to the mission of the First Universalist Church of Southold as an open and affirming sacred space that welcomes all,” the building team said in a statement.
First Universalist Church was restored in 1907 and its steeple was replaced roughly 80 years later after it was damaged by Hurricane Gloria. The original church was said to have been built in 1837, according to Suffolk Times articles.
In the new site plan, the building has been rotated slightly to open up the view from the east, with parking laid out in smaller units than before, according to Mr. Sisson.
The rotation will leave part of the original building footprint open, Mr. Sisson said, and landscape architect Stacy Paetzel has suggested using that space to create a memorial garden — possibly a sunken area with benches or even a labyrinth.
“Ms. Paetzel and Mr. Marren feel this would be a fine way to remember the original building and [provide] a contemplative area for rest and reflection,” he said.
“While there is currently no firm date for completion of our project, it is hoped that the empty spot “on the bend” in Southold will soon be filled with a building of which everyone will be proud,” the building team said in its statement.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated with a new site plan photo.