The Hoch Congregational Church is an abandoned Protestant church turned community service center in Massachusetts.
The actual name of the location has been modified to protect the location as much as possible from vandalism.
The first Hoch Congregational Church was founded as a place for “traditional forms of New England orthodoxy” in 1824 and formally organized with 50 members on June 26, 1826. 1 The first permanent building was completed on land donated by the Locks & Canals Company at the cost of $13,000 in 1827. The design followed the traditional meetinghouse layout with a barn-like auditorium.
A larger facility was designed by Otis A. Merrill and Arthur S. Cutler of Merrill & Cutler in the High Victorian ecclesiastical style and constructed in 1884-85. 1 It involved the installation of terra cotta by H.A. Lewis, firestone masonry by I.G. Coughlan, granite by Sweatt & Davis, and other brickwork by Wilder Bennett. The new Hoch Congregational Church building cost $42,397 and was dedicated by Rev. Smith Baker.
The larger church featured a facade gable flanked by brick piers and a three-story entrance bay. 1 The western facade was finely finished with fully enframed windows and a large pointed-arch window in the side gable while the eastern facade contained plain rectangular granite sills and lintels as it abutted buildings until the adjoining roadway was widened in 1914. The dates 1827 and 1884 were inscribed in an ornamented terra cotta band near the top of the gable. Inside was an amphitheater-plan sanctuary designed in the High Victorian Gothic style, with cherry wood and crimped iron and room for 600 seats. 1 3
Hoch Congregational merged with Christ Church United and the last services were held in the church in 1968. 1
After Hoch Congregational moved out of the church building, the complex was re-dedicated as the Deborah Community Center by the Acre Model Neighborhood Organization as part of the Model Cities Program on December 14, 1969. 4 Office space was rented to the regional Council on Aging. 2 The city purchased the former church building in 1975 for $85,000.
The Council on Aging moved out in 2002 2 and the Community Center vacated to new quarters in April 2003, 3 leaving the former church building entirely empty. The city declared the property surplus in July 2011 and made attempts to sell it to a private party with no bidders. 2 3 The goal was to entice a developer to rehabilitate the building into a multi-purpose event venue for lectures, musical performances, and poetry readings in the 600-seat auditorium, with the first floor featuring an art gallery, a cafe, classrooms, film editing and sound recording suites, and rehearsal rooms.
The city tried to sell the former church again in 2015 and received a bid from The Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA), who had planned to renovate the building and turn it into a community and performance center at the cost of $16.5 million. 2 4 Funding would be derived from a combination of federal and state Historic Tax Credits, New Market Tax Credits, grants, and donations. 4 While the city approved the sale of the former church and community center for $300,000 to the CBA, the language in the contract proved to be an issue. 2 It required the project to be completed within a certain period of time or the fundraised money would revert to the city, a barrier in attracting investors.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- Massachusetts Historical Commission, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Lowell First Congregational Church. December 1983.
- Dobbins, Elizabeth. “Lowell again seeks proposals for Smith Baker Center.” Lowell Sun, 11 Jul. 2019.
- Myers, Jennifer. “Smith Baker Center, ‘Lowell’s cathedral,’ seen as cultural hub.” Lowell Sun, 16 Aug. 2011.
- “Reviving the Smith Baker Center.” Coalition for a Better Acre, 10 Apr. 2018.