BECKET — A local congregation is rallying the town to save its historic house of worship ravaged by a wood-boring bug.
The 40-member First Congregational Church needs to raise $200,000 toward renovations and repairs of the 171-year-old church, which is being eaten away by the powderpost beetle.
Church officials hope townspeople will kick in the first $100,000 by spending money saved through the Community Preservation Act, a state-backed municipal tax assessed on home and business owners for preservation, saving open space, and encouraging recreation and affordable housing in a Massachusetts city or town. Rita Furlong, a church trustee and organist, says the funding request will be on the warrant of Becket’s annual town meeting scheduled for May 8.
The town meeting coincides with a fundraising kickoff event the Saturday before Mother’s Day at the church that has stood on YMCA Road, just off Route 8, since 1850. The church neighborhood is known as Becket Center, where the town originally was settled.
“This will be a huge undertaking for this small church, and so we are beginning to hold fundraisers for the needed work. The first will be a Mother’s Day hanging plant and patio pot sale on May 8,” Furlong said in an Eagle phone interview.
The plant sale is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Church officials first discovered the insect-infested damage two years ago.
At the 2020 annual town meeting, voters approved spending $15,000 in CPA money for an engineering study and architectural work to assess the extent of the damage. Furlong says engineer John Wallen, of Chesterfield, and historic preservation architect Jeff Penn, from Huntington, found that more than 50 percent of the wood in the building was hollowed out or damaged.
According to the Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension website, the larvae of powderpost beetles burrow into wood and can go undetected for years. They can thrive in colder climates, like in the Northeast, and feast on unfinished or unvarnished woods, which are harder to penetrate. The destructive insects’ calling card is the flourlike dust they leave behind, hence the name powderpost beetle.
Unlike other wood-boring insects that only infest trees, powderpost beetles specialize in wooden structures. The more moisture in the wood, the more likely they will attack the lumber.
Furlong says the damage to the church is such that some of the wood will be repaired; some of the wood, such as the flooring, which is over damp ground, will be replaced; and the damaged beams will be shored up with additional beams.
“The belfry is the most in jeopardy, and we have to replace that first,” Furlong said, “but the church is not in danger of collapsing, and we can still use it for now.”
Furlong says the belfry houses a recast bell originally crafted by Paul Revere — the only one of its kind in Berkshire County.
She notes that the church has had an exterminator come in to keep the beetles from doing further damage.