Historic Pine Orchard Chapel undergoes necessary renovation | News

BRANFORD — History has a way of repeating itself. At least in the case of the Pine Orchard Union Chapel.

Back in 1897, money was raised for the construction of the chapel. The Wallace brothers donated the land, neighbors held parties to raise $1,600 and children dug and sold clams and raised nearly $7 for the project.

Now, with extensive renovations needed to preserve the building, neighbors are again working together to raise money. And, they will see their donations at work when the groundbreaking for the restoration project takes place 11 a.m., Oct. 19, at the chapel.

This past summer, Sienna Torella raised some $4,000 selling homemade, fresh pink lemonade, along with tie-dyed masks, bandanas and shirts.

Her slogan, “Raise a Glass of Lemonade to Save Our Beloved Chapel.”

The Mary R. Tisko School third grader talked about the importance of this neighborhood.

“People have a lot of weddings there and we have arts and crafts there and it’s just really fun,” the 8-year-old said.

“It would be sad and no one would really get married,” she said about the possibility of the chapel not existing in her neighborhood.

Carole Brown shares this love of this historic building and with her matching gift up to $100,000, Sienna’s donation will double.

“Especially at that age to think they were able to make that much money and then have it matched makes them so much happier,” she said of the lemonade stand. “They should be proud.”

Brown remembers attending church services when she was a young girl, while summering in Hotchkiss Grove with her family.

“It’s just so much a part of the area here,” the 85-year-old said.

“Architecturally, it’s a gem of Queen Anne Victoria architecture and there’s so many memories for so many people,” she added.

While originally built as a nondenominational chapel, over the years it has been home to a neighborhood arts and crafts camp, birthday celebrations and weddings.

About 10 years ago the roof was replaced and the chapel has been painted over the years, but other than that, the chapel is original to its construction date of 1897.

The complete restoration is expected to cost close to $588,000 and will be done in three phases.

While the committee is soliciting donations, part of the restoration campaign will be applying for a preservation grant.

Jennifer Aniskovich explains that the requirement of the grant is that the work done on the building brings it back to its historic structure. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the undercarriage of the building, to the landscaping and roof, work will begin later this month to spruce up this neighborhood treasure.

Phase one is expected to begin this month and will include, among other things, lifting the building and reinforcing the supports.

“Almost everything is still original to the chapel, so all the wood on the exterior is from 120 years ago,” says Jennifer Aniskovich. “You can see the damage, it’s pretty severe, especially in the woodwork.”

This Pine Orchard resident and member of the chapel board of director says the chapel’s age is showing, on the exterior as well as the interior.

Walking around outside of the building she points out the wear and tear, bending down to peer into the belly of the building.

“You can kind of see underneath here that there’s a crawl space,” she says. “There are 21 piers and some of them are damaged and other are fine, but the way these were built, the 21 piers allows for a certain weight load inside. It was fine in 1897, but is out of code today.”

To bring this building up to code, they will add 10 piers, which requires lifting the building 5 feet off the ground to work to allow for the carpenters, electricians and masons to do their work.

Phase two will include restoration of the windows, floors, gables, front entry and bell repair, followed by phase three that will include replacing roof and landscaping, among other work.

The chapel was constructed on one of three building lots. Some of the work is essential to the upkeep of the building itself, other work involves the land around it.

While plantings adorn the outside of the chapel Jennifer Aniskovich emphasizes that this work was done many years after the original construction.

“In the 1800s when you built a house you would not plant trees and shrubs next to house because it would make the wood rot,” she explains.

Yet, plantings are part of the renovation plan.

“Here and in the back, we should do plantings and a gazebo and some things that will allow brides to really use it for,” says Aniskovich, standing on one of the vacant lots surround the building.

Donors can choose from a number of specific items to sponsor, from the cupola to the side vestry to the chandeliers.

Jennifer Aniskovich’s oldest daughter, Celia Aniskovich, didn’t have to dwell too long on what she wanted to sponsor.

“I looked at the list and said, ‘That’s the No. 1 thing I want,” the Brooklyn resident says. “Why wouldn’t anyone want the bathroom? This is great. Who wants a leftover window pane? Who cares about that when you can have a bathroom?”

Celia Aniskovich explains that she holds fond memories of growing up in the shadow the chapel.

“So rarely do you get to donate to a place that has had an impact on your life, personally, and an impact on generations of your family,” this 28-year-old documentary film director says.

With work about to begin, Jennifer Aniskovich says there is excitement about preserving an historic structure that has been part of the landscape of Branford for over 100 years.

“We think it is a fixture in our community,” she says. “It’s a unique historic structure. It’s an example of Queen Anne and Victorian summer chapels that doesn’t exist in many places.

Indeed. The chapel had a celebratory opening in the 19th century.

The chapel’s well-attended dedication on July 4, 1897, as reported by the New Haven Evening Register, noted that “The hall was very prettily decorated, the stars and stripes hung over the platform and ferns and marguerites constituted the floral decorations.”

The occasion was marked by local clergy as well.

“Six ministers of various denominations … occupied chairs upon the platform and the Pine Orchard Orchestra furnished music,” the account reads.

“They were a thing — seasonal chapels — and many of them have been torn down and are gone,” Jennifer Aniskovich adds.

“We think it tells our community’s history and we want to make sure that history’s intact and we have very little of that left.”

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