Parishioners Paid a Price for Snoozing Here!
In this commanding former church in Alna, fiddling and falling asleep were once punishable offenses.
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIE SENK
A step through the 1789 Alna Meetinghouse’s heavy pilastered doors reveals two levels of spindled box pews facing an imposing raised pulpit with inset wood paneling and a bell-shaped sounding board. The building’s stimulating architecture was no match, however, for the snoozy three-hour church sermons that were once given here. A 1938 Lewiston Daily Sun article reported that, in the early days, a dignitary armed with a long pole kept watch over the congregation: “. . . one end of the pole bore a feather with which a sleepy woman would be tickled to wakefulness. The other end was hard and the men felt it dig into their ribs if they dared try a catnap!”
One of the oldest buildings in Alna, constructed by one of its earliest residents, Joseph Carleton, the meetinghouse’s exterior is purposefully austere, as befitted Puritan sensibilities and the church’s first minister, Jonathan Ward. (According to the Sun, when members introduced a bass viol, Ward expressed his aversion to such “worldliness” by compelling them to sing Psalm 119, the Bible’s longest, in hopes “that amount of fiddling would content them for a while.”) Churchgoers filed through the doors centered on a two-story projecting stair pavilion until the late 1800s. Today, the meetinghouse can be reserved for town functions and private events, with decorations early patrons might have frowned upon, such as banners and bouquets, permitted.