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How the Friends Saved the Pearl

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Saving the Pearl

Remodeled in 1984 for a restaurant that later closed, the building was subsequently purchased by Margaret Britton, spiritual advisor to the Unity congregation. She operated the former sanctuary as a function hall for a wide range of weddings, community forums and nonprofit meetings.

The Friends of The Pearl began as a volunteer committee concerned with the long-term future of the Pearl Street Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the first Black-owned church in the state. The ad hoc group evolved into the project fundraising committee of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Inc.

In 2001 the Portsmouth Advocates helped by winning a Preservation Services Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assess the physical damage from delayed maintenance. Timber framing specialist Arron Sturgis evaluated the building's preservation needs and ranked the costs of the renovations.

Using his condition report, The Friends of The Pearl proposed a three-plan to rescue Pearl Street Church from its most serious long-term deterioration. The plans also offered a unique solution -- to preserve the privately owned building and protect public access to its historic interior, while allowing continued commercial use.

In 2002 the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail spearheaded the restoration of the Pearl Street Church with the support of Boston University's nationally recognized Preservation Studies Program, directed by Prof. Richard Candee. Graduate students prepared the National Register nomination, researched local funding opportunities and advocated Block Grant funds for handicapped access, written grant proposals to state and national agencies, and exploring bank financing and income opportunities. That same year the Greater Piscataqua Foundation funded a capacity-building grant for fundraising and outreach.

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CONTINUED 

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