Wilton Baptist Church is up for sale

The Wilton Baptist Church on Danbury Road, consecrated in 1864, is up for sale. The congregation is hopeful it will not be torn down.

The Wilton Baptist Church on Danbury Road, consecrated in 1864, is up for sale. The congregation is hopeful it will not be torn down.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — One of the most iconic buildings in town is on the sale block and some people — including its current owners — are worried it might not survive the transaction.

The 180-year-old “red-door” stone church at 254 Danbury Road — originally the home of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and over the past 49 years the home of the Wilton Baptist Church — is up for sale.

The Wilton Baptist congregation doesn’t want to sell, but given the dwindling numbers of its flock it’s become financially untenable to maintain ownership.

“We made the decision a number of months ago that we needed to sell the building,” explained Phyllis Boozer, chair of the deacons at Wilton Baptist Church, “because financially it was getting to be very difficult for us to keep up … with utilities and those kind of things, and also pay our staff a wage that was commensurate with living in this area.”

While the congregation is hopeful it can keep meeting in town at a new rented location, there is trepidation that the historic building — once sold — could be leveled by a new commercial developer.

“Our hope is that whoever buys the building would be able to maintain the integrity of the structure and find ways to use it that wouldn’t cause it to be torn down,” Boozer said.

This month the group sought unofficial counsel from Allison Sanders, co-chair of the Wilton Historical Society and chair of the Historic District & Historic Properties Commission, to see if there were procedures that might help make that happen.

“We don’t want to do anything that makes it an unattractive selling point,” Boozer said, but they want to explore possibilities.

“I just wanted everyone to be aware that a contact had been made,” Sanders told her commission last week for informational purposes.

“If we can be helpful, we certainly will,” she said, “or if you know of any people who are buying fabulous structures and they’re not going to tear them down, please send them over to the church.”

She and her fellow commissioners expressed strong appreciation for the historic building, as well as hope it can somehow be preserved.

“It’s very distressing,” said Sanders, who explained to the congregation representatives that by making it a local historic property it would give the structure a large degree of protection.

The state registry is also a consideration, and would provide tax credits for the future owner should they do renovation work.

“They took in all this information and are going to be contemplating that as they go along,” Sanders said, “so I do not know if they will decide to move forward with making the property protected.”

“They probably cannot stay in that building past the spring, so they have been quietly shopping the property around for a while,” she said, “but now have made the decision to actually put a sign out front.”

The Rev. Caroline Smith said that, though the church historically hosted 240 people on a Sunday, when she first came to the congregation over three years ago there were just 19 people in attendance.

“We love being in Wilton,” she said, “so we want to continue to be in Wilton, but the property itself is just more than we can afford really to maintain as a small church.”

Still, she said, she’s seen firsthand how important the building is to the community.

“Anybody you talk to — not even from Wilton — you say the church with the red door, they know exactly what church that is,” she said.

According to the Historical Resources Inventory prepared by the Wilton Historical Society, the well-preserved church “is an excellent example of the picturesque ecclesiastical structures that were promoted by the Episcopal Church during the second half of the 19th century,” calling it “one of the finest ecclesiastical structures in Wilton.”

While the interior — including the original windows — were damaged in a 1971 fire, the church was consecrated in 1864 and had additions made in the mid-20th century that included the parish hall, school and offices.

Boozer said that there has been some interest expressed by buyers who might potentially keep the building intact, making use of the current space.

“We’ve had several people express interest,” she said, noting that there is no list price.

“I would say we’re accepting offers,” she said.