James Gardiner has a construction trailer parked outside and is busy setting up a temporary workshop for his specialty concrete sink business. His workspace will be in the former pew section of the church, and residential space will be created in the former altar and sacristy areas.
Eventually, he said, a second floor will be added to the main body of the church and the residential space will be walled off from the workshop.
Gardiner purchased the deactivated church from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $45,000.
He expects his renovations will take a few years, and after a closer inspection, he knows it will involve some shoring up of the structure through new wall and other support features.
Sitting idle and exposed to the elements since 2011, the church, which features a high-arched cathedral ceiling, now tilts slightly, he said.The church was built during the late 1890s by a parish established to serve the many French Canadian immigrants arriving to work in New England textile mills, like the one that once stood a few hundred yards to the south on the eastern bank of the Hoosic River. Our Lady of Lourdes opened in 1898.
Gardiner, who moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is the owner of Atmosphyre. He offers home and farm sinks and vanities for $500 to $2,500, which he sells around the country.
Gardiner, 50, said he began working in construction early on, focusing on historic preservation projects. He began creating concrete countertops in 2001, before establishing his current business several years ago. He said he sells the majority of his sinks to buyers in California, especially in the Los Angeles area, and in Texas, and hopes to expand more into the New England market.
Deciding to settle in North Pownal came at the end of a long search process, he said, in which he considered many other areas, including Asheville, North Carolina, Berkshire County in Massachusetts and other sites around the Northeast. He said the Bennington area became his prime focus recently, but no suitable commercial property was available.
Finally, Gardiner said, he began looking for a house with a large barn that could become his workshop, and that is when he noticed the former church and eventually decided to make it both his shop and his home. The decision was clinched, he said, when a Google Maps street-level image showed nearby mountain ridges to both the east and west of the church.
One reason for his interest in the area, he said, is that he often visited Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where an uncle lives, when he was younger, and his “favorite artist of all time is Norman Rockwell,” who lived in Arlington as well as Stockbridge for many years.
Originally from New Jersey, Gardiner lived in Maryland for 20 years before moving to Lancaster.
When the former church closed in 2011, the Bennington Banner, quoting local historical society records, said Catholic Masses for the French Canadian immigrants here were first held in private homes, then upstairs in the general store building near the textile mill, beginning in 1887.
Later, Albert C. Houghton, of North Adams, Massachusetts, the first mayor of that city and at one time owner of the local mill, sold a parcel of land in North Pownal for a church to the diocese in Burlington for $1. There were 85 Catholic families in the village at the time, and they contributed money for the construction and held fundraisers to cover the contracted price of $5,700 to build the church.